How to Deal With Stress Brought On By the Coronavirus

These expert tips will help you get through the pandemic.

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Thanks to the rapid spread of COVID-19, the world is in a weird place. We're stuck in our homes, life has almost halted, and everyone is facing changes to their daily life. Maybe your graduation was canceled because of the virus, or you suddenly find yourself living with your parents again when just the other week you were in your college dorm. If nothing else, your favorite shows were put on hold or the movie you were looking forward to has suspended production. Your daily life has been flipped upside down, and it's totally normal to feel stressed, anxious, or depressed in response to all of this. To help you get through this tough time, and to show that you're not alone when it comes to your uneasy feelings about the coronavirus, I talked to Sundeese Borden, a licensed clinical psychotherapist at Thrive Mental Health Counseling who is answering all your questions about anxieties surrounding the pandemic and the best way deal with it.

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Is it normal to be stressed and/or anxious about what's going on?

If you've been feeling overly stressed or anxious recently, don't worry because that is totally called for given what is going on right now.

"It is essential that anxiety and stress about the pandemic be normalized and not stigmatized," Borden says. "The abrupt and unexpected transitions that we have all had to make in our lives to successfully navigate the pandemic is unprecedented for so many of us." You should have a reaction to this change, so don't worry if this strange period is bringing out emotions in you that you've never felt before. You're not alone.

What are some things I can do to feel better day to day?

While your life may have completely turned around in the past few weeks, try to sustain some normalcy from the way things used to be. If you used to debrief the day with your college roommates every night before you went to bed, keep doing that, just over FaceTime from your bedroom at home. If you always went to the gym after school, continue to workout around the same time. Adding structure back into your life will make things feel normal and will keep you from having so much free time to be in your head. Try creating a schedule for the next day every night. Include a wake up time and time allotted to do different activities like read, workout, even watch TV. This will make the days feel less monotonous, especially on weekends when you don't have classes to keep you occupied.

Is there a specific action I can take to relieve anxiety?

Borden suggests that if you are overwhelmed with anxiety you should "try to remain physically present," which includes a specific exercise that helps you take stock of your body.

"Simply close your eyes, begin slowly taking a series of deep soothing breaths, and visualize every part of your body from head to toe while simultaneously moving the part of the body that they are currently visualizing," she says. "In working with my clients, I have found that anxiety can be decreased effectively and rather swiftly by enhancing the awareness of the connection between one's mind and body."

It sounds difficult, but it's also important to try to think positive thoughts. "Our thoughts influence our emotions and our emotions influence our behaviors," Borden says. "So since we have the ability to control our thoughts, we have the ability to control how we feel about the pandemic and ultimately we determine how we are going to behave in response to the pandemic."

If you can't help but worry, when you find yourself filled with negative thoughts, try reading or watching something light on TV. Replace those thoughts with entertainment. Or, write down your worries and then combat each one. If you're nervous about getting the virus you can write, "I have been social distancing and washing my hands constantly so I am taking every precaution not to get it," and things along that line.

Of course, you are allowed to be stressed, again this is a scary time! And having a little bit of stress can help you take the necessary precautions to keep you healthy. Still though, try to recognize when the stress and anxiety is getting passed the point productive. That's when you need to reevaluate your thoughts.

On top of that, Borden emphasizes that it's important to limit your exposure to news and social media. "It's great to stay informed and socialize virtually, but it's important not to engage in obsessive consumption of news and technology." It seems like every piece of news is bad news these days, so do yourself a favor and put your phone down for at least an hour or two each day. I know it can feel weirdly fulfilling to stay up-to-date on the news by constantly checking the updates about the virus, but the news isn't going anywhere and sometimes it's important to just take a break.

How can I lift my mood when I'm stuck at home?

It can be easy to get into a rut when you're doing the same thing day after day, wearing nothing but sweatpants and leggings, and only physically interacting with your parents, but there is definitely some action that can be taken in order to lift your mood when it's waning.

Borden suggests doing at least three of these everyday in order to lift your mood:

  • Get sufficient sleep and rest. Go to bed at a regular time each night and take naps if you're able to.
  • Eat healthy. It's easy to snack on chips and treats when you're Zoom class is just feet away from the pantry, but try to eat healthy in order to boost your mood. Borden emphasizes the importance of lots of water and fruits and vegetables while avoiding excessive sugars, fats, and carbs, which tend to increase lethargy and reduce mood stimulation
  • Exercise. Luckily there are free workout classes everywhere right now with tons of celebs constantly going live on Instagram to share their routines.
  • Engage in healthy coping techniques. That means anything from practicing yoga, reading, meditating, listening to motivational and aspirational content, or even just watching a funny movie.

    My graduation got canceled and I'm really upset about it. What should I do?

    The class of 2020 is facing a lot of disappointment right now as event after event has been canceled thanks to the growing threat of the coronavirus. During this hard time, it's important to remember that just because you can't walk across a stage, doesn't mean the past four years didn't matter. You still accomplished an amazing feat and you should be so proud of yourself.

    That being said, you're allowed to be upset and your emotions are completely valid. It is important to remember that you aren't completely powerless when it comes to cancellations, though. Borden suggests working with classmates to try to organize alternative ceremonies.

    "Create virtual versions of these events using technology as a short term solution," she says. Or, come up with a long term plan to reschedule the event by forming a committee and presenting an idea to your school. This is a great way to distract yourself while also ensuring that you and your classmates have the ceremony you deserve.

    Is there a point when I should see a doctor about my overwhelming feelings of anxiety or depression?

    "Everyone's levels of anxiety are different," Borden says, so it's hard to say at what point someone should seek professional help. Of course, if you're ever experiencing thoughts of self harm, you should absolutely go talk to a mental health professional. But even before it gets to that point, if you ever just feel like it would make you feel better to talk to someone that's enough of an excuse to make an appointment. Many therapists are doing video sessions now, so you can get treatment in the comfort of your home.

    If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or visit their website.

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