The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected the lives of so many people physically, financially, and even mentally. Feelings of isolation from being quarantined and practicing social distancing can make people feel lonely and increase stress, anxiety, and depression. Financial stress and feelings of uncertainty have also contributed to emotional distress.
For some people, this pandemic has intensified pre-existing emotions, and for others it has brought on new feelings and symptoms that may have never existed before.
Why Is This Pandemic Potentially More Stressful Than Other Stressful Life Events?
Many of us have experienced a stress response after a difficult event such as finding out that a loved one is sick or losing our job. It would be easy to assume that the pandemic would elicit the same response as stressors from other times, yet there are some unique features of the pandemic that make it particularly stressful.
These Are Medically Uncharted Waters:
Finding out that our loved one has a disease like cancer can be incredibly scary. Yet, after talking with knowledgable doctors and scouring the internet for years of peer reviewed studies on treatment protocols, many are left with some sense of certainty for the path ahead. The pandemic is particularly stressful as it truly is a “novel” circumstance. Scientists do not yet understand the long term health ramifications of this disease, who is most likely to have severe reaction to the virus, what are the best treatments, nor when/if a vaccine will be available.
The result is that many of us are tremendously anxious and unsure of how to overcome this anxiety.
There Is a Great Deal of Financial Uncertainty:
Many of us were in the midst of making big life decisions — Changing jobs, selling our house, starting a business, moving to another state. The pandemic has caused a great deal of financial uncertainty and little is known about when the market will recover, if things will get worse before they get better, and what the world may look like on the “other side” of this ordeal. Without an end date in sight, we can feel paralyzed to make important or necessary financial decisions.
Our Closest Communities Are Changing:
In past times of distress, individuals likely felt they were able to pull their community close and feel a sense of comfort from the love and support of those around them. However, in this increasingly polarizing time, our community of support feels much smaller than in times past. Neighbors may not act like friends as we may hold differing opinions on current events. This makes us feel even more isolated than we were before social distancing began.
We Have Little Breaks or Distraction From the Hardship:
During other times of stress, individuals that use distraction sparingly often fare much better than those that cannot stop thinking about the stressful situation. However, the pandemic has left us with little options to distract, disengage, or distance ourselves from this painful time. As a result, burnout can feel inevitable.
Tips for Managing Stress During the Coronavirus (COVID-19)
1. Arm yourself with the best peer reviewed, up-to-date, and reputable scientific information about this disease and follow the guidelines of expert health professionals:
As the evidence is developing, be prepared for recommendations to change and your strategy to protect yourself and your loved ones to adjust over time. The situation is fluid and healthy individuals are able to embrace the flexibility needed for this time of uncertainty.
2. Continue making decisions with the best information that you have at the time and do not blame yourself for what you do not and cannot know.
It would be easy to kick yourself for making a decision to change jobs without any inclination that a global pandemic was just around the corner. As much as we try to feel in control of our world and like to make “good decisions” to prevent hardship or pain, there really is so much that is out of our control. Healthy people accept this reality and instead focus on their tenacity, grit and determination to never give up.
3. Stay informed, but do not let this divisive time make you feel far from your community and loved ones.
Families have always had people on different sides of the political aisle, but in the past we knew that having a strong sense of family and community were always more important than being in agreement about politics.
In fact, the happiest individuals have always been the ones that have robust connections to many friends and family. Deep down we know that connection is key to a happy, healthy life. So don’t spend too much time consuming daily news and focus instead on how to grow or maintain your connections with those around you…socially distanced, of course.
4. Be very creative and keep searching for safe ways to engage in activities that help you cope.
Having our best coping skills ripped away from us is awful. Developing new coping skills in the midst of stress seems like a tall order. Yet, honestly, we have no other choice. This pandemic is not going away any time soon and refusing to find new ways to destress is just not an option for healthy people.
Was traveling your deal? Start planning and saving for the most amazing trip abroad for 2022. Was the gym your place to destress? Challenge yourself to find new hikes across your state with a little outdoor therapy. Or, better yet, don’t just replace your old coping skill with something mediocre, challenge yourself to find something completely new. Talk to people who inspire creativity in you and take the time to brainstorm about new ideas and interests.
How do I know if my symptoms are “normal” or if I could use some professional help?
So here’s the deal, there are a wide range of mild to severe reactions to the pandemic that are totally normal. Having a “normal” reaction to stress does not necessarily mean healthy or optimal. Remember how we said earlier that the healthiest and happiest individuals have many robust connections to supportive family and friends?
Well, having a psychologist or counselor to help navigate there unpredictable times can be an invaluable resource. So even if you are just “getting by,” know that counseling can be an important resource during this time.
Despite many symptoms being normal, here is a list of symptoms to stress that should not be ignored:
- Excessive and persistent fear or worry about your health, financial future, or future decisions that must be made
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Changes in appetite
- Frequent changes in mood accompanied by increased anger, sadness, or hopelessness
- Acting out or clinging behaviors (in children)
- Increased use of maladaptive coping skills such as alcohol or other substances
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
- Urges or thoughts to hurt others
I will often hear people express guilt for their symptoms of stress saying things like, “Well, we are all going through this, aren’t we. My situation isn’t different from anyone else.”
Yet, the commonality of our distress should not take away the legitimacy of this experience. Instead, it should do the opposite. If we are all struggling in this difficult circumstance, then we should remember that we are not alone.
Leaning on our relationships with friends, family, our community, and a trusted professional is key to healthy survival through this incredibly difficult time. The psychologists and counselors at BPC get it. We are living it too. But we know that there is a way to grow during this time of stress and quite possibly come out on the other side with renewed energy, creativity and passion for our lives ahead.
We’re Here to Help
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Dr. Melissa Estavillo is a Licensed Psychologist and founder of Biltmore Psychology and Counseling. With over 7 years of experience, she specializes in both individual and couples therapy in Phoenix and Scottsdale, AZ. She integrates complementary methodologies and techniques stemming from Emotionally Focused Theory, Psychodynamic Theory and Other Evidence Based Practices to offer a highly personalized approach tailored to each client.