Help & Advice

Stress, Anxiety, and COVID-19: Strategies for Coping

Erika Krull, MSEd, LMHP

Written by

Erika Krull, MSEd, LMHP

Last updated March 16, 2021

Stress, Anxiety, and COVID-19: Strategies for Coping

Feeling stressed and anxious because of the coronavirus pandemic? If you’ve been struggling emotionally the last several months, you’re not alone.

Experts estimate that a third of adults are coping with anxiety symptoms and over half of adults feel stressed. Most attention-grabbing headlines report on physical risks from the virus. But the pandemic’s impact on mental health is a growing concern for people around the globe.

The recent approval of several vaccines gives hope at the end of an uncertain year. Social distancing and restrictions will still be part of life for a while, causing additional stress for months to come. Fortunately, you can do a lot to boost your well-being and reduce your anxiety. The following suggestions can help you cope with stress using simple things you already have.

Stay connected with others

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way the world socializes. Staying connected may be more difficult in some ways, but it’s more important than ever. Social connection keeps you from feeling isolated and lonely, making social time and essential activity.

  • Try video meetings, phone calls, and social media apps to keep in touch with loved ones. It’s easy to go long stretches without contacting others, so find the methods that work the best and make plans to stay in touch.
  • When you can, follow social distancing guidelines for safe in-person visits.
  • Reach out to older relatives and neighbors that may be more isolated.
  • Even though special days and holidays look different this year, find ways to share and celebrate them.

Stay physically active

Where do you hold stress and anxiety in your body? Do you get headaches, feel tension in your shoulders, or wince from back pain? Gentle stretches and regular exercise can keep your muscles relaxed and comfortable. You’ll also sleep better and have more energy throughout the day.

Deep breathing exercises quiet your mind and relax your body. It only takes a few minutes of deep breathing to have a positive effect on your mood. Sit quietly and notice your breath, then consciously breathe more slowly and deeply. With some practice, your body will learn to respond and relax. Do this every day as often as you need to, and try it with a short guided meditation for more benefit.

Refresh yourself by stimulating your senses in the great outdoors. If you experience seasonal depression during months with less sunlight, some extra time in nature can help you feel better. The exercise and change of scenery can boost your mood as well. Find small pockets of nature or unique spaces to explore wherever you are.

Take care of your thoughts

Protect your mind from overload and despair by making choices about the information you consume.

Keep the positive in mind

Make a list of as many positive things as you can think of, from the past, current moment, and the future. Take special notice of things you can enjoy in the present. Think about things you normally take for granted or don’t pay much attention to. Focusing on the here-and-now can increase feelings of gratitude and appreciation.

Reduce your intake of news and coronavirus updates

Hearing repeated news about the pandemic can set up a cycle of stress. Anticipation, information overload, and mental exhaustion can be tough to cope with. Whether this information comes from your social media accounts or someone in your family, be intentional with your news consumption.

  • Instead of checking for updates all day long, pick a set time to catch up on the day’s news and limit yourself to a few trusted sites. 
  • Stick to your local news outlets and the information that’s most likely to affect you personally. 
  • Be more social with people who seem positive and comforting, and step back from anyone who seems overly focused on sharing lots of pandemic news. 

Focus on what you can control

Much of the stress and anxiety stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic comes from uncertainty and lack of control. Writing things down can help you turn worrisome thoughts into a helpful plan.

  • Follow guidelines in your community and find ways to reduce your risk. Use online grocery shopping and staying home whenever possible.
  • Plan ahead with grocery shopping so you are well-supplied, and share extra with others in need.
  • Write down your plan for managing quarantine or isolation. Think of the best options you have but try not to get hung up on every detail. Place this plan somewhere safe and easy to find, then leave it alone.
  • If your mind starts spinning with “what if” worries, breathe slowly for several minutes. Do this until you feel calmer.

Create relaxation habits

Don’t wait until you’re stressed out to try a relaxing activity. Instead, create habits that give you positive moments to look forward to throughout your week. Focus on activities that give you physical and emotional comfort.

  • Take a warm bath or shower with scented or exfoliating soap.
  • Heat a washcloth or a warm compress and place it on your forehead to relax your face.
  • Snuggle with comfortable blankets, pillows, or objects with a soft texture.
  • Cover up with specially weighted or heavier blankets for a hugging sensation.
  • Create a cozy atmosphere with candles, soft music, and a quiet activity like reading or a puzzle.
  • Make time for a hobby you enjoy or want to learn.
  • Give yourself a scalp massage or brush your hair.
  • Spend time playing with pets and stroking their fur.

Seek counseling or call a crisis hotline

The coronavirus pandemic is causing stress in everyone’s lives right now. Consider counseling therapy if you don’t find the previous ideas helpful. Medicare and insurance often cover mental health therapy. Some therapists also provide treatment at reduced rates if cost is an issue.

If you feel overwhelmed, have thoughts of hurting yourself, or are concerned about someone else’s mental health, call one of the following hotlines for immediate help.

Create more peace in your world

There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic is making life more stressful. But you aren’t alone in this. By trying a few ideas from this list, you can bring more peace into your world today.

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Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

Ask Doctor a Question

Question:

Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient

Answer:

You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

Ask Doctor a Question

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