Anxiety is high. The deadly coronavirus is sweeping the globe. Businesses are shutting down and laying off workers. Families are confined together for the foreseeable future.
And we’re just at the start of this pressure cooker.
So how do you manage the stress?
Make time for activities that combat all the stress: exercising, keeping in touch with loved ones, playing outside, said Ben Kearney, executive vice president and chief clinical officer of OhioGuidestone, a family services organization.
“Biologically we’re not supposed to be cooped up. We’re supposed to hunt and gather,” Kearney said. “Be patient with each other. Be kind with each other. And have fun. Make these joyful experiences as joyful as you can. Joy will offset the experience of stress in homes and families.”
That’s a difficult directive when you’re worried that COVID-19 — with no vaccine and no known cure — will strike your elderly parents. Or when you’re trying to juggle home-schooling your children with working a full day.
The pandemic could strengthen depression and addiction, and people will likely act out in ways that could cause harm to themselves or others, Kearney said. OhioGuidestone is prepping clinicians to respond. But he believes this period, however many weeks it lasts, is also an opportunity to grow.
Here are some ways to cope:
Yes, obviously, coronavirus is a serious illness. But don’t let statistics or scary photos blow up your anxiety. Know the facts.
About 80% of cases of coronavirus have mild symptoms, according to a Chinese study. Children are not at higher risk and can often show no symptoms.
In explaining the disease to kids, just explain that we’re all doing our best to keep people from getting sick and going to the hospital, Kearney said.
For adults, “seek out valid, accurate information and come at this from an analytical perspective rather than a worst-case, worst-fear perspective,” he said.
Create a routine
Uncertainty creates anxiety. So create some normalcy in your life with routine.
Sticking as much as you can to your normal routine keep you active and less likely to spiral, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Try to incorporate writing in a quarantine journal or another stress-relieving ritual. Go to bed at a regular hour. Get plenty of sleep.
If you’re working from home, that means taking a shower and getting out of your pajamas. Create a soothing workspace, maybe with some natural light.
Grant yourself grace
You’ve seen some of the amazing home-schooling set-ups on social media. Or someone you know is using their extra time to give their whole house a Chip-and-Joanna-style makeover.
But maybe you’re barely making it through some days with all your responsibilities. That’s fine. It’s totally OK if you want to live for the next two months in stretchy pants or if your kids watch a movie every day.
“One of the things we really need to do is give ourself permission to live in the 21st century,” Kearney said. “It’s OK if children have more screen time during this challenge. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up.”
Connect with loved ones
Maybe you can’t go to book club or drink a beer at the bar with your regular gang. But that doesn’t mean you can’t interact. Text friends. Set up FaceTime dates with family members. Religious traditions can be helpful. If you have a faith community, watch services on TV or online.
Staying connected builds our immune system and emotional resiliency, Kearney said. Maybe you can leave notes for your neighbors, decorate their driveway with chalk, wave from the window. Be creative in spreading kindness.
Try to unplug
While online resources are definitely coming to the rescue as we’re confined to our homes, you can also get overwhelmed by screens. Spending 20 minutes in nature can significantly lower your stress hormone levels, according to a Frontiers in Psychology study. To ramp up the relief, exercise outside. Exercise can reduce stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, and stimulate endorphins. It can also help you sleep better.
You and your partner may be working from home for the first time ever, getting on each other’s nerves. Say someone keeps leaving their coffee cups in the sink. What can you do? Make a joke. Blame an imaginary co-worker.
Anything you can do to bring humor to the challenges is helpful, says Kearney.
“We are social creatures. But we are active social creatures. That’s why this can be stressful,” he said. “That’s why, put the joy first.”