The Coronavirus pandemic has created a community wide mental health crisis. To survive it, we must recognize our psychological responses and what we can do to cope with them.
Our reaction to COVID-19 thus far, according to Dr. James Gordon, is as if we’re being chased by a predator. The center of anger and fear responses, our amygdala, is firing on all cylinders.
As a result, we feel anxious and agitated, while also struggling to focus and sleep—which leaves us irritable.
Dr. Gordon warns that this constant high stress level corresponds to a chronic state of fight or flight, similar to symptoms you would expect from people who have been traumatized.
So how do you care for yourself and others during these unprecedented times? How do you cope with stress and a stressful situation—like a pandemic? The first thing to do is examine what we can control.
1. STAY INFORMED
We may feel more anxious if we believe we’re missing important information, so watch, listen, and read updates from officials.
Be aware that there may be some rumors especially on social media, so check your sources, and turn to reliable outlets like medical and government authorities.
2. AVOID OVEREXPOSURE TO NEWS
Staying informed is important during a pandemic, and it can be effective at stress reduction, but you must stay informed appropriately, with balance in mind.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “It can be upsetting to hear about the crisis and see images repeatedly.”
Take breaks from watching coverage to avoid negative thoughts, and get your essential updates in between other activities.
3. MANAGE YOUR FIGHT OR FLIGHT RESPONSE
If you’re suffering from that chronic state of fight or flight, try this stress relief exercise: Just breathe.
Start with slow deep breathing, in through your nose, out through your mouth, with your abdomen soft and relaxed. When you engage in this exercise for a few minutes, your blood pressure will go down and you will feel calmer.
This simple, yet very effective strategy, helps us realize that we can control our stress response and more importantly we can affect how we feel.
4. TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY
How we treat our bodies plays a tremendous role in how we feel. Lethargy, depression, and stress can often be a direct result of these decisions.
That’s why it’s highly recommended to eat well-balanced and healthy meals, get moving with regular exercise, and get plenty of deep sleep.
Simply living a healthy lifestyle can reduce stress, anxiety, fear and depression.
Try to continue a routine of completing activities you enjoy. Take time to unwind and know that the strong feelings will fade.
5. CONNECT WITH OTHERS
Although many of us cannot meet in person, group support is one of the most productive interventions for psychological trauma.
Whether it’s through video, email, text, or phone, maintain healthy relationships and seek to communicate with friends and family. By doing this, you’ll build a stronger support system.
Right now, it’s important to remember that what we are experiencing is a normal response to an abnormal situation. Connections will help us cope.
6. SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
Sharing your concerns and how you’re feeling with a friend or family member can be an effective stress reliever in itself. But sometimes professional help is necessary when feeling overwhelmed in daily life and relaxation techniques prove ineffective.
Don’t be afraid to seek help from an expert. You can receive professional help by contacting a counselor, doctor, or contacting the SAMSA help line at 1-800-985-5990.
Although things may seem dark, we will get through this together as long as we make the right choices when we feel stressed.