Dealing with stress during a pandemic

Anxiety and stress can be self-managed, but mental health professional help does exist – contact your primary care doctor to put you in touch with a mental health care professional.

Stress and anxiety can feel like a cloud following you everywhere you go, showering you with thoughts of concern – what will happen, what am I going to do to care for myself and my loved ones, when’s the last time I washed my hands and is 250 rolls of toilet paper enough?

The novel coronavirus pandemic has created new heightened anxiety of uncertainty during these unprecedented times. The urge of health and state officials to cancel gatherings, closure of some establishments and continually washing hands has caused widespread unease and stress. However, learning what it means to have anxiety, accepting it and smartening your approach to dealing with stress can help reduce overall anxiety and the feeling of helplessness.

What does anxiety and stress look like?

“For a lot of people with anxiety, they start to overthink a lot because they are worried about what is going to happen, those things they cannot control and what the future is going to look like. If they had anxiety before, this (pandemic) has exasperated that quite a bit more with everything that is going on,” Melissa Gedrose, a mental health professional at Birchwood Psychological Center in Breckenridge, Minnesota, said.

Stress can cause struggling with the ability to concentrate, increased mood irritability, sleeping issues, consistently racing thoughts of worry, increased muscle tension causing body aches, restlessness and having constant, uncontrollable energy.

Gedrose explained that most people can assess anxiety as being constructive because it is active and things are getting done. Whereas those with depression, most often, experience being really down, sleeping a lot, loss of interest in activities that once brought joy and overall feelings of being helpless, hopeless and worthless.

“Most people with anxiety don’t recognize they are anxious because they are being productive and because they are getting things done,” Gedrose said. “However, the problem is they aren’t really getting the stuff done because they jump from one thing to the next and so they aren’t completing tasks because of this overactivity and lack of concentration.”

What are practical approaches to coping with stress?

“A lot of times people aren’t really taking good care of themselves because they are focusing on everything else around them,” Gedrose said. “They may be taking care of what needs to be done, or at least they as best as they can, but they aren’t really taking care of themselves. So they should exercising, practicing mindfulness and grounding, eating healthy, drinking water and also staying connected during this time.”

In a time of social distancing, self-isolation and many establishments closed, it can be difficult to interact and stay healthy during the pandemic. However, thanks to technology, there are near-insurmountable ways of staying connected and practicing good physical and mental health.

Practicing deep breathing is a simple technique that can be used to reduce anxiety and provide mindfulness. Rick Hanson, a psychologist and New York Times best selling author, recommends first focusing on bringing awareness to your body through internal sensations such as your chest rising and falling as you inhale and exhale. According to Hanson, becoming mindful through deep breathing helps switch off the neural circuitry that anxiety ramps, leading to an overall feeling of calmness.

“There are many apps out there that you can incorporate into your day and they don’t take very long,” Gedrose said. “Some people say they don’t help but the thing is you have to keep doing them cause once your body gets used to it, it will start doing it on its own and help you feel better.”

According to Healthline, the best five free meditation apps for this are The Mindfulness App, Headspace, Calm, Sattva and Stop, Breath & Think. Additionally, through a Google or YouTube search of ‘mindfulness,’ ‘grounding’’ and ‘meditation’ can provide many video tutorials.

“Eating healthy food – not processed or fast food – you need to fruits and vegetables, you need to drink water and drinking water helps your brain calm down,” Gedrose said. She also recommended exercising for 30 minutes a day whether that be going outside for a walk, doing yoga and going outside for fresh air.

“You need that social and emotional connection to not feel so isolated. its important to not put so much strain and pressure on yourself to get everything done and that you have to push yourself so hard either. It’s OK to sit down and watch a movie and just relax and do something breathing,” Gedrose said.

Gedrose recommended that using communication-technology such as Facetime and Skype are useful tools for staying connected. Additionally, staying connected to friends and family through text messaging and phone calls will help individuals stay connected and feel less alone.

Is my anxiety normal?

“Everybody feels anxiety at different points in their life. Anxiety doesn’t become a mental health disorder until you’ve had an issue with worrying excessively for six months or longer and don’t feel you can control it,” Gedrose explained. “Normal, everyday anxiety is just that you are anxious about something currently going on. That doesn’t mean you have a disorder. It just means that what you are experiencing at this moment in time is stressful. Recognized that it’s OK to say ‘I’m overwhelmed right now’ and then asks what they can do so they don’t feel like that for a long period of time.”

With the current situation the world is experiencing, it is easy to adapt to tunnel vision and focus on the current stress of the pandemic. However, enlightening oneself with perspective and the bigger picture follows the idea that this experience is not ever-lasting

“People need to understand that this something that is out of their control and when we feel that, we want to gravitate towards the things that we can control and for some that are hoarding toilet paper or getting as much groceries as they can because that is something they have control over,” Gedrose said. “This is not going to stay forever. They are going to feel better as time goes by. That is just their initial reaction because it is scary and they don’t know what to do with that feeling so they are doing what they can around them to control.”

Anxiety and stress can be self-managed, but professional mental health help does exist – contact your primary care doctor to put you in touch with a mental health care professional.

The Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990, provides immediate crisis counseling to people affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The helpline can provide counseling to anyone who is seeking help in coping with mental or emotional effects caused by development related to the coronavirus pandemic. The helpline can also be reached by text ‘TalkWithUs’ to 66746.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or considering self hard, text CRISIS to 741741 to the Crisis Text Line for confidential crisis counseling or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255. If it’s an emergency, call 911.

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