By Teresa Faulkner, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
COVID-19 affects everyone, not just those who have caught the virus. Even if you haven’t been physically infected, you most likely have been affected by it emotionally in one way or another. And the longer the pandemic lasts, the more challenging it can be to find ways to cope with the feelings it has caused.
How you deal with COVID stress depends on your background, your level of social support and many other factors. But by using these five tips, you will be better equipped to deal with the current situation as well as other stressful times in the future.
It’s important to recognize and acknowledge what you’re feeling. It’s natural to feel anxious, afraid, frustrated or lonely. And don’t be surprised if your feelings change over time. One day you may feel full of energy and the next day be unable to focus. Accept how you are feeling and practice good self-care: eating healthy foods, exercising and getting enough sleep.
Feeling helpless? Remind yourself that there are steps you can take to reduce the odds that you will contract the virus, such as following the CDC guidelines: wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, avoiding crowds and washing your hands.
Take those deep breaths. It may sound like it’s too simple to really have any impact, but deep belly breathing not only gets oxygen into your body but can also slow your heartbeat and help stabilize your blood pressure. This counteracts the negative impact of stress breathing (short, shallow breaths) that can lead to symptoms like chest tightness, heart palpitations or dizziness.
Also, during the day, take periodic breaks and practice relaxation techniques. This will help generate a sense of calmness and relaxation.
One of the biggest challenges with the pandemic is that it has increased feelings of isolation. No longer can you meet a friend for dinner to talk over your problems, since doing so would put both of you at risk. However, there are ways you can share how you feel with those you trust. Phone calls or video chats can help replace in-person get-togethers. Even occasional walks (with masks and practicing social distancing) can make you feel less alone. Sometimes when you share your emotions, you find out others feel the same way, too.
COVID-19 has undoubtedly disrupted your schedule and way of life, forcing you to try to adjust to a new “normal” that seems to change every day. When everything around you seems out of control, creating a routine can actually give you a sense of power. Make it simple and do-able—for example, eating and exercising at established times or setting small goals to work toward. While your COVID routine may bear no resemblance to the one you had pre-pandemic, the objective is to follow a schedule, which will then give you a feeling of security. An additional benefit is that by having a routine, you will also be taking better care of yourself.
While you may think it’s a good idea to stay on top of all the latest virus developments, this can actually increase your stress level. Periodically, give yourself a mental break by shutting off the info flow. Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to virus news stories, including those on social media. Instead, seek out pockets of calm: read a good book, go for a walk, listen to music or find activities that engage your mind and body.
And when you are ready to catch up on pandemic news, make sure that you are getting it from a reputable source like the CDC. You’ll have a better understanding of the risks and will be less likely to spread misinformation.
While COVID-19 is unlike any health crisis we have faced before, it’s important to remember that it is a temporary situation. Thanks to medical research, vaccines are now available to combat the virus and new treatments have been developed to help those who contract it.
However, if you have trouble coping with your emotions, develop physical ailments that last for several days, or turn to unhealthy coping mechanism such as drinking or drug use, then consider seeking professional help.
Here at Southern Indiana Community Health Care, our offices include a mental health counselor as part of our care team. This allows us to treat the whole individual, physically and mentally. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, SICHC has expanded our behavioral health services to include virtual visits, offering the same high-quality care from your trusted provider. We have also added two virtual group sessions: substance use and anxiety.
For more information, contact one of our four offices, and a staff member will help schedule you for the type of appointment that best fits your needs. You can also request appointments through your FollowMyHealth account.
Trust our team to help you through the emotional challenges caused by COVID-19. Reach out to us. We’re here to help you. Remember, we are all in this together.