Health & Wellness

How Do I Manage Stress and Anxiety During COVID-19?

If you find yourself worrying about coronavirus, remember that it's normal to feel anxious. Here's how to cope.
How Do I Manage Stress and Anxiety During COVID-19?

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Laura Worcester

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Laura Worcester,   

Apr 16, 2020 • 4 min read

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We’re all living in a worrisome and unsettling time. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our daily lives and made it difficult to maintain a sense of normalcy and calm. Beyond the fear of getting sick, many people are experiencing economic stress, job uncertainty, loneliness from social isolation, and family pressures.

New research from Qualtrics highlights the mental health challenges we’re facing worldwide based on the coronavirus. Here are some of the key points:

  • 67% of people report higher levels of stress since the outbreak of COVID-19.

  • 57% say they have higher levels of anxiety.

  • 54% say they are more emotionally exhausted.

  • 53% say they feel sadness day-to-day.

  • 50% feel they are more irritable.

  • 42% report their overall mental health has declined.

  • 38.1% report increased insomnia.

While anxiety is a normal and expected reaction to any crisis, too much can start to cause harm. Feeling stressed and fearful every day takes a toll on health and well-being. In a video published by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), mental health experts share the following seven empirically-supported tips for how to deal with rising levels of stress and anxiety about coronavirus.

1. Practice Media Distancing

“I find in my practice that the people who are the most anxious, are the people who are consuming the most media,” says Ken Goodman, LCSW, author of The Anxiety Solution Series, and a Los Angeles-based therapist specializing in the treatment of anxiety disorders and OCD. It’s best to limit the amount of TV, internet, and social media you consume related to coronavirus. Stay informed from reliable sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), and check them only a few times a day. At least 60 minutes before bed, try to put away your devices too.

2. Exercise Your Mindfulness Muscle

“All anxiety comes from an intolerance of uncertainty,” says Reid Wilson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who directs the Anxiety Disorders Treatment Center in Chapel Hill and Durham, NC. “There is a distinction between being concerned and allowing it to intrude. People don’t realize that they have a choice,” says Wilson. Try to compassionately disengage from “what if” questions and gently bring your attention back to the present moment where nothing catastrophic is actually happening. “One way to get out of the imagined future is to move away from thinking, and into your senses. What can you feel, what can you smell, and what can you see right now in this moment in time,” says Sally Winston, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and co-director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland.

3. Be Aware of Body Scanning

Notice when your mind starts to assess what physical symptoms you’re experiencing and how those may relate to coronavirus. There are key differences between symptoms of anxiety and coronavirus. (For quick reference, symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, difficulty breathing, and dry cough). If you have an existing anxiety disorder, notice when following health recommendations become compulsions that feed the anxiety cycle, such as compulsive hand washing, taking off your clothes before you come into the house, over isolation, and seclusion. 

4. Keep Doing What You Enjoy

“It will take some creativity, but be kind to yourself and take this time to find some recovery from the fast-paced life we’re in,” says Debra Kissen, PhD, CEO of CBT treatment center Light on Anxiety in Chicago. Preserve a sense of normalcy by modifying the activities that bring you joy. For example, if you like watching sports on TV, try turning on a sports documentary or revisiting games of the past. Instead of worrying about not seeing your loved ones, call and text them more often. Look for the silver lining.

5. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

“We’re all just trying to get by and everyone is having messy moments,” says Kissen. If someone or something triggers that ugly feeling of negative comparison, stop and remind yourself of what’s good in your life. Focus on relationships, maintaining your health, and things you can control. Screen time, junk food, and online shopping may provide temporary highs, but they inevitably fail to provide lasting joy. “Instead of trying to be perfect, aspire to be good enough. Good enough is the new perfect,” says Kissen. 

6. Try Stress Reduction Activities

“It’s time to have quiet moments,” says David H. Rosmarin, PhD, ABPP, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Founder/Director of the Center for Anxiety. “Find places to create sanctuary moments, where you can be alone and focus on the positive aspects of life.” Guided meditation, yoga, exercise, spending time in nature, and using a gratitude journal can all help “to reduce the intensity of our emotional experiences. Giving yourself permission to engage in those quieting strategies, especially during a hard time, is something that is a fundamental human need,” says Rosmarin.

7. Seek Professional Help

“You don’t have to meet the criteria for a full-fledged anxiety disorder to get a little help. This is a very stressful time and we’re all moving through it in our own way,” says Kissen. Try calling your primary care provider, or finding a mental health specialist based on your needs. Many providers are now offering their services by phone, video, and online appointments. 

If your treatment plan includes new medications, check to see if your prescription is available for less with Blink Health. Keep in mind that most medications for anxiety disorders—usually SSRIs such as citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil, Paxil CR), and sertraline (Zoloft)—often take 4-6 weeks to take effect, and may not be the best option for temporary stresses, like those caused by COVID-19. Additionally, more short-acting anti-anxiety medications, like alprazolam (Xanax), are not meant to be taken on a daily basis and can be addictive.

The takeaway: By practicing self-care, engaging in activities that bring you joy, and taking breaks from the news and social media, you can alleviate stress and anxiety. If you’re not finding these approaches to be effective, consider booking a visit with a healthcare provider to receive guidance on the best options to further address your mental health.

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This article is not medical advice. It is intended for general informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your physician or dial 911.

Blink Health is not insurance. The discount prescription drug provider is Blink Health Administration, LLC, 1407 Broadway, Suite 2100, New York, NY 10018, 1 (844) 265-6444, www.blinkhealth.com.

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