By Shana Palmieri, April 15, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the globe into a sudden, unexpected and intense trauma.  As a result of the global pandemic, lives for people around the world have changed in an instant. Within the first three months of 2020, our societal structure and lives were dramatically altered, causing our entire population to shift course in ways the majority of people have never experienced.

If you are struggling as a result of these sudden, intense changes in your life, you should know it is an expected and normal reaction to an abnormal and challenging situation.

Some common reactions you may be experiencing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic include:

  • Disbelief
  • Emotional numbness
  • Sleep disturbance and/or nightmares
  • Anger, moodiness and irritability
  • Forgetfulness
  • Denial
  • Guilt
  • Panic
  • Emotional withdrawal/isolation
  • Crying
  • Grief
  • Questioning typically held faith or religious beliefs

Implementing strategies to manage stress and anxiety during these challenging times will allow you to stabilize your mood, stress level and improve your overall health.  Times of extreme stress are typically those times we call upon our closest friends and family for connection and support. The COVID-19 pandemic creates the added stressor of requiring us to physically distance ourselves away from our social supports and connections.

While physical distancing is currently critical to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, social connection continues to be key to reducing stress and anxiety. It is important to stay connected to key social supports through available technology to help cope with the current crisis. [Editor’s note: Shana is one of several instructors participating in the Emerging Issues in Federal Employment Law virtual training event April 21-23. Her session Strategies for Stress: Effective Coping in the COVID-19 World will provide more guidance on how to manage change and stress for you and your employees. For more information or to register, click here.]

In addition to staying socially connected while maintaining physical distancing, here are a few additional tips to help manage stress and anxiety through the crisis:

TIP 1: Allow yourself the time and space to feel the emotions caused by this sudden change. It is important to give yourself permission to process emotions related to this current crisis.  Repressing your feelings can, in the long run, create further anxiety, stress, and cause pressure to build.

TIP 2: Socially connect to positive supports and/or schedule a telehealth visit with a therapist. Connect with your friends, family and, if needed, a therapist to talk. Social supports can be helpful to create a community going through a shared difficult experience in unison. It can also be helpful to engage in social connections (while physically distancing) that include conversations or shared activities that are not related to the current crisis to maintain elements of your normal life. (Have dinner together over video chat, play a game over video chat, have a Netflix party.)

TIP 3: Develop a new routine. The majority of society experienced a sudden and dramatic change in their routine.  Kids were sent home from school, workers were furloughed or sent home to telework, all non-essential businesses were closed and the majority of the country has been mandated to stay at home. With the entire family now at home 24/7, it is important to develop a new routine and healthy boundaries in the household. Think about and implement a routine that will help you reduce stress.

TIP 4: Exercise. The gyms are closed and depending on where you live, getting out for exercise can be a challenge. However, exercise is key to reducing stress and anxiety. Consider running/walking outdoors if that is an option, or taking an online workout class.

TIP 5: Limit watching the news to a specific amount of time each day for updates. Constant news watching can increase anxiety and stress. Create a plan to get the needed news updates and information and limit the times spent watching the news. Please remember that Facebook and similar social media sites are not valid sources of the news. Get the facts from a valid source.

TIP 6: Eat nutritious meals. It is well-documented that unhealthy eating habits have a significant impact on poor mental health, including depression and anxiety. Eating nutritious meals will improve your mental health and keep your immune system functioning well.

TIP 7: Engage in healthy sleep habits. Sleep is critical to keep stress and anxiety levels low. Sleep has numerous benefits, including keeping a healthy immune system, reducing the risk of chronic disease and helping with weight loss. A good night’s sleep should include 8 hours a night. Develop a positive sleep routine that is consistent.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented our society with an unprecedented crisis in modern times. While we must physically distance ourselves, we must also continue to unite to support each other, our families and our communities to reduce the spread of the virus and mitigate the emotional toll of the crisis.

We all must do our part to stop the spread of COVID-19 and engage in self-care to keep ourselves and our communities physically and emotionally healthy during these challenging times. [email protected]

*There are situations in which individuals experience serious complications from a stress reaction and have symptoms such as thoughts to harm themselves, aggression towards others, and paranoia/psychosis. If you experience any serious symptoms, please reach out immediately to a mental health professional for assistance. The suicide hotline can be reached at (800) 273-8255.

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