Coping with COVID-19 Stress and Anxiety

The emergence of COVID-19 and subsequent major changes to our day to day lives can be stressful for people. 

Stress in these unpredictable times is a normal reaction but you can implement techniques that can help you, your coworkers, employees, and friends and family get through these challenging times.   

The unfolding of this pandemic can lead to individuals experiencing a range of emotional reactions with accompanying symptoms that can occur at varying levels of severity.  You may find yourself shocked, scared or traumatized by this experience. You may even cycle between these feelings, going from being scared for what the future might hold to later noting how well you can adapt to the new normal.  Below you will find some tips on effectively coping with the stress and anxiety brought on by COVID-19.    

Common Reactions to Stressful Events 

Your response and the responses of people in your life can vary based on a multitude of factors including perceived risk from COVID-19 to yourself and others, financial status, mental health history, familial/social support, and those helping with the COVID-19 response such as health care providers.  

Common Reactions: 

  • Denial, shock, numbness 
  • Feeling vulnerable, unsafe 
  • Anxiety, panic, worry 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Withdrawal, isolation 
  • Remembering other life traumas 
  • Headaches, fatigue, sleep disturbances 
  • Helplessness, hopelessness 
  • Sadness, crying, despair 
  • Irritability, anger 
  • Appetite changes 
  • Being hyper-alert 

Coping Strategies 

Stress and anxiety are common responses to scary events like COVID-19.  It’s important to remember that psychologically speaking, anxiety and stress are not emotions.  Anxiety and stress are physiological responses to physical or emotional threats.  Our bodies get into fight or flight mode when we experience psychological danger just as it does when we experience physical danger.  The more we can become aware of our emotions and effectively process them, the more you can effectively manage your anxiety.   

Times like these can provoke a lot of fear, but how we manage our fear can make a big difference in how much psychological distress we experience.  Many of us are prone to excessive worried thinking without the COVID-19 pandemic, but it may be even more likely given the current global situation.  As much as possible, try to be aware of your thoughts, your emotions and what your body is experiencing.  Much of the time we are on autopilot and not aware that our minds are going around and around on the same issues.  Take a slow deep breath in and out.  Check in with your body and see if you are holding tension in your shoulders, chest or jaw.  What is your body telling you?  Are you feeling fear, sadness, helplessness?  What is the narrative going through your mind?  Are you worried about the future or catastrophizing?  Slow down, breath and count to ten.  Now is a good time to remember that there are things that you can control but many that you can’t.  Try to let go of the things that you can’t change and change the things that you can.   

Some other good practices to cope with in these uncertain times: 

  • Talk about your feelings – Use the time that you may have been commuting to work to talk to friends or family about your feelings.  Instead of texting a friend you haven’t seen in a while, give them a call.  Social distancing means that it is more vital than ever to make sure that you are still connecting socially by phone, video chat or in-person (as appropriate).   

  • Take care of yourself - Feeling scared can make you act more impulsively. Take care of your body by watching what/how much you eat; your use of alcohol, drugs, caffeine, nicotine, sugar, and medicine. Be sure to get regular exercise by walking around your neighborhood or instituting a daily workout in your home.  Now is also a great time to try out that meditation or mindfulness practice.  

  • Take a newsbreak – In times of fear you may want as much information as possible, however relentlessly reading every article is likely to exacerbate your anxiety rather than relieve it.  Get quality information that informs you rather than inflames you and try to limit the number of daily instances of looking at the news.  Each time you read something you may be increasing your anxiety which will take time to dissipate.   

  • Practice gratitude – Try to find things that you are grateful for.  Try to reframe the shelter in place as an opportunity to spend more time with family, catch up on home projects or get outdoors and exercise.   

  • Utilize self-compassion – Try to give yourself latitude and kindness during this time. Don’t expect that your level of energy and focus on everyday tasks will be the same as it was before. Expect that some days will be better than others. 

Tips for Working Remotely: 

  • Keep a routine – There are many things out of our control right now but having a consistent routine can help us feel more in control.  Routine and structure are particularly important for kids during these uncertain times so try to maintain a routine as much as possible.   

  • Take breaks – For many people at work, small breaks naturally occur as we interact with our coworkers and transition from task to task.  It’s just as important to have breaks when working from home.  

  • Set boundaries – As much as possible try to set a boundary between your work day and your personal time.  If your computer is at your kitchen table, it’s very easy to never feel like you are off work so try to hold to your regular work hours.   

  • Use video chat – We don’t know how long working remote is going to last but it’s important to remain connected to other people including our coworkers.  Email in particular makes discerning someone’s tone very difficult, but the cohesion that is created through small day to day interactions can be lost if we don’t see each other’s social cues.

  • Notify others – Use a white board or place a note on your office door to let family members know when you are working.   

Other Resources: 

ASAP offers confidential, cost-free assessment, counseling, consultation and referral services to all UC Davis Campus faculty, staff, and their family members. Whether the problem is work-related, personal, career or relationship focused, ASAP can assist you in evaluating and resolving the problem. 

You can call UC Davis Campus ASAP at 530-752-2727 for an appointment.