There’s a lot to be stressed about when it comes to COVID-19. Quite beyond the simple facts of the novel coronavirus, there’s government response to it on local, regional, national and international levels to be worried about. There are changes to the way we do work and the way businesses operate. Some businesses we rely upon may have closed, while the way others do business may have changed. We may be cooped up at home with cantankerous children or at-risk loved ones, or quarantined with people who do not take the virus as seriously as we do.
What does stress look like?
So what does coronavirus stress look like? The CDC website has shared the following signs of pandemic-induced stress:
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Worsening of mental health conditions
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
It’s important to remember that stress is the body’s response to dangerous situations, whether perceived or actual. Stress means different things to different people, and some people handle stress better than others. According to WebMD, some physical symptoms of stress include:
- Low energy
- Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
- Aches, pains, and tense muscles
- Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
- Frequent colds and infections
- Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
- Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet
- Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
- Clenched jaw and grinding teeth
Emotional and cognitive symptoms include:
- Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody
- Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control
- Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
- Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed
- Avoiding others
- Constant worrying
- Racing thoughts
- Forgetfulness and disorganization
- Inability to focus
- Poor judgment
- Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side
The first step to controlling stress is understanding what it looks like. That said, it can be tough to recognize the difference between the little, daily stresses that we can accommodate, and the level of stress that puts us at our breaking points.
Who is at risk?
According to the CDC, the following demographics are most at risk for corona-induced stress:
- Older people and people with chronic diseases who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19
- Children and teens
- People who are helping with the response to COVID-19, like doctors, other health care providers, and first responders
- People who have mental health conditions including problems with substance use
Because these are the people most at risk for stress related to the coronavirus pandemic, they are the ones who will need the greatest levels of support.
Ways to cope with stress
The CDC has provided a list of ways to cope with the stress of a national pandemic. Try some of the following:
- Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
- Take care of your body.
- Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
- Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals. According to the National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI), “Eating unprocessed foods, like whole grains, vegetables, and fresh fruit is the foundation for a healthy body and mind. Eating well can also help stabilize your mood.”
- Exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs. According to NAMI, “They don’t actually reduce stress; in fact, they often worsen it. If you’re struggling with substance abuse, educate yourself and get help.”
- Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy, such as reading or taking the dog for a walk.
- Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. This could be friends, family, a counselor or even a support group.
Resources to cope with stress
If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others:
It’s important to keep a lookout for stress in your children, especially since not all children and teens respond to stress in the same way. According to the CDC, some common changes to watch for include:
- Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
- Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, toileting accidents or bedwetting)
- Excessive worry or sadness
- Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
- Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens
- Poor school performance or avoiding school
- Difficulty with attention and concentration
- Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
- Unexplained headaches or body pain
- Use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
You can support your child by doing the below:
- Talk with your child or teen about the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child or teen can understand.
- Reassure your child or teen that they are safe. Let them know it is ok if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
- Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.
- Try to keep up with regular routines. If schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities.
- Be a role model. Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members.