COVID-19 Stress: How to Deal

Here are some tips for coping with stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic and to social distancing and self isolation:

1. Remember that fear and anxiety are normal emotions to have in response to a stressor and are normal and appropriate in this situation. Emotions are our body’s way of motivating us toward appropriate action. So, recognize that fear and anxiety are your body’s way of protecting you, take appropriate steps to do so, then remind your brain that you are keeping yourself safe. Try not to panic in response to fear and anxiety. Instead, try talking to your fear and anxiety as if it was a small child that is afraid. It may also help to remind yourself that this will pass and that resilience develops under stress, so you are growing. 

2. Stay informed, but not overloaded. It is important to stay abreast of new information so that you can take appropriate action for yourself , your family, and your community. However, avoid overwhelming your brain by limiting your exposure to information. I recommend getting your information from sources such as the Alberta Health Services website, and daily press briefings from the City of Calgary and the Province of Alberta (both available via livestream on YouTube) and avoid sensationalized sources that are designed to elicit fear and keep you watching. Also avoid scrolling social media, as this will elicit a stress response, create stress contagion, and potentially expose you to inaccurate information. Use social media to stay connected, but try to avoid mindlessly scrolling. Overall, focus on making conscious choices about your exposure to information, rather than being a passive consumer.

3. Maintain routines. Many of you probably know from working with me that structure and routine help to keep anxiety and depression in check. Our minds and bodies are designed to function within the context of a consistent routine. So, even if you are at home social distancing, maintain your routine: maintain consistent sleep and wake times, shower and get dressed when you wake up, eat at normal meal times, and create a schedule for yourself with tasks to complete each day. Now’s the time to tackle all those projects that you’ve been putting off! Also maintain as much of your usual schedule as possible. Phone into meetings as you normally would, do appointments online, do a workout at the same time you normally would, etc. 

4. Exercise. Exercise helps to maintain good mental and physical health and keep anxiety and depression in check. Even if you can’t engage in your regular forms of exercise, do something at home. Go for a walk, clean your house (yes, it’s exercise!), or use one of the many workouts available online. One of my favourites is “Yoga by Adriene” on YouTube. Many yoga and fitness studios are also working on providing online classes, so you may wish to look into this. Exercise doesn’t need to be intense to support your health. Just move. 

5. Get some fresh air and sunlight. Social distancing does not mean you must imprison yourself in your home. Go for a walk around your neighbourhood. Just be conscious of social distancing when you run into neighbours. At the very least, if you’re not able to get outside due to illness or cold temperatures, try to spend some time in front of a window each day. 

6. Stay connected. Social distancing does not have to mean social isolation. Stay in touch with friends and family through phone, text, FaceTime, etc. Share your concerns about our current situation but also try to support your mind in not becoming stuck in fear by also discussing other things. Talk about other aspects in your life, future plans, or even the latest episode of the Bachelor :).

7. Meditate. If you have extra time, now is the perfect time to start or restart a meditation practice. You can even involve the whole family. This can help to calm the nervous system and prevent your mind from getting stuck in a pattern of fear and anxiety. My favourite picks for free apps are Insight Timer, The Meaning of Life Experiment, and Calm. Remember, you do not need to close your eyes if this is too intense for you. Do what works for you. 

8. Breathe. Deep breathing is a quick and easy way to regulate your nervous system. Throughout your day, stop and take a few deep breaths. This also provides an opportunity to stop and ground yourself and avoid getting caught up in a cycle of fear and anxiety. 

9. Prioritize sleep. Adequate sleep not only helps with stress reduction; it also supports healthy immune function. Prioritize sleep by disconnecting from screens 2 hours prior to bedtime, ensuring your bedroom is dark, and using rituals like a warm bath, meditation, or reading a book to help you unwind and prepare for sleep.

10. Seek professional help if you continue to feel overwhelmed. Many practitioners and agencies are working on offering online counselling services. Now is the time to prioritize health.

Wishing you all courage, kindness, and grace in this difficult time. Never lose sight of the fact that your actions during this time are an act of love and caring toward yourself, your friends, your family, and your community, and that is a beautiful thing. 

Nicole Caines