Managing Stress in Difficult Times
Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Undeniably, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the current public health climate, stress levels escalate. The uncertainty of daily activities and how to connect with others takes its toll on our mental and emotional health.
While it seems silly to talk about stress amidst the discussions of viral load and positive cases, managing stress may prove to be an important component to recovery. Research shows that stress weakens the immune system, making it more difficult to fend off attacks from wandering microbes. Now more than ever, maintaining robust immune function to will help keep ourselves and our loved ones strong against the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), Influenza A & B, and other seasonal viruses.
Rightfully so, a myriad of sources shared information about the importance of handwashing. From a public health perspective, handwashing arguably remains the single most effective way to stop the spread of disease between people. In case you need more information on how to do this properly, click here to follow a link to the CDC's website. Social distancing also substantially reduces the spread of illness by limiting contact between people and "flattening the curve". Even if someone doesn't appear sick or isn't immunocompromised themselves, they might carry the virus to someone else who might not have the ability to fight it, thus perpetuating the cycle.
Ironically, in stressful situations like these when life gets turned upside down, we often look for comfort from the people around us. Moreover, the evidence base continually supports the impact of strong social connections on overall health and wellness. As a public health professional and self-proclaimed extrovert, I feel frustrated by the contradiction. Yet, we can remind ourselves that social distancing is likely temporary, and I stress the importance of heeding this recommendation. I find it just as crucial, though, to address how to avoid feeling social isolation in the midst of social distancing. We're all in this together, and need each other to remain positive, energized, and resilient. Fortunately, we live in a time where technology affords the possibility to reach out and virtually touch someone, and opportunities about to keep ourselves uplifted.
Benefits of Slowing Down
One thing not mentioned in the barrage of news stories: the benefit of slowing down and resetting our otherwise frenzied lives.
You'll have time to actually sleep. On average (though it changes by state drastically), between 25% and 50% of adult Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep a night. While you might be thinking, "sleep is a luxury I don't have", consider this: sleep directly impacts immunity, too. Ask yourself, do you have time to get sick?
You can clean or straighten your home environment. Research has shown a connection between a cluttered home and heightened stress, and ancient principles of Feng Shui acknowledged the impact of the home spaces on a person's overall wellbeing.
You can enjoy spending time with the people in your household.
Staying [Virtually] Connected
Connecting to your personal, external network amidst the chaos of this pandemic will help you maintain a level of togetherness.
Find alternate, non-contact ways to connect with friends and family, like using FaceTime or other conversation apps.
Engage in activities with members of your household that bring you joy, like reading, doing puzzles, watching movies, or meditating.
Make time to call loved ones to connect and have a list of things to talk about instead of coronavirus.
Boost Resilience and Positivity
Numerous research studies have correlated optimism and resilience with better health outcomes and enhanced immunity. Here are a few things to consider as you frame your perspective on this public health issue.
Try to get comfortable with tolerating uncertainty. From studying the H1N1 pandemic, people who feel less affected by the uncertainty of the circumstances also have lower levels of stress hormones and anxiety (here's an article about it).
Keep things in perspective. This viral strain is virulent and should be approached with respect, so keep practicing good hygiene and social distancing. Yet, risks abound in everyday life, so try to keep in mind that you successfully manage risk each day. Even though we've likely seen (and contracted) other coronaviruses in the past, our fears escalate because SARS-CoV-2 is new and different from other viruses we've already encountered.
The whole world is embarking on this new journey together. Take a deep breath and find a moment of joy in your day, no matter how small it is. It's a first step toward building a stronger, more resilient world.