3 Ways to Cope With Pandemic-Related Stress
Many people have begun to realize that Covid-19 isn’t going away overnight. Like the flu, it will continue to be part of our lives for years or generations to come.
At the same time, countries with access to vaccines have seen a slow return to something resembling our pre-pandemic lives, with returns to our workplaces, schools and favorite restaurants.
Yet a certain cloud continues to hang over many of us.
The last year and a half resulted in long-term impacts to our brains that we’re only just beginning to understand. News media are calling it “the shadow pandemic,” and many doctors and medical professionals are calling it a widespread problem that needs to be addressed.
Surveys in the US and Europe found that the pandemic stresses continue to impact worker productivity and mental health. In a study about the growth of depressive and anxiety disorders during the pandemic, researchers concluded that “the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has created an environment where many determinants of poor mental health are exacerbated.”
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, take a moment to read the following Centers for Disease Control recommendations for coping with stress, and consider the ways you can replicate these behaviors in your own life.
Turn Off the News
This first one is pretty easy. When the only connection to the outside world is through media, it’s understandable that we would all increase our consumption of it.
Yet knowledge of the day-to-day events, especially when they’re negative, can have a negative impact on our mental health, as the aggregate of all that news becomes its own psychological burden.
As the CDC puts it: “Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. It’s good to be informed, but hearing about the pandemic constantly can be upsetting. Consider limiting news to just a couple times a day and disconnecting from phone, tv, and computer screens for a while.”
Early on in the pandemic, some medical studies made a connection between Vitamin D deficiency and higher case numbers of Covid-19.
At this point, however, it’s probably more helpful to point out that going outside and getting both sun and exercise is just going to make you feel better in both body and mind — as well as boost your immune system.
Research has shown that spending more time outdoors reduces the risk and frequency of mood-related disorders.
“[Many people] may not want to turn to medication or therapy for help,” Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance, said in the article. “For many, interacting with nature is one of the best self-improvement tools they can use.”
The CDC suggests to:
- Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate
- Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals
- Exercise regularly
- Get plenty of sleep
- Avoid excessive alcohol, tobacco, and substance use
Consider Spiritual Support
More people than ever are seeking the help of a therapist.
As mental health issues rose with the pandemic, the sudden interest in therapy overwhelmed mental health professionals across the country, resulting in longer wait times and heavier caseloads, leaving many therapists themselves struggling to cope.
Finding a therapist is a great idea, but it isn’t the only option. The CDC’s suggestions have two versions of this:
- Connect with others — Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling
- Connect with your community- or faith-based organizations — While social distancing measures are in place, try connecting online, through social media, or by phone or mail
This can be a bit tricky, as not everyone is religious. But even secular people have found benefits to finding someone to talk with about their inner lives. You could start by looking around your local community for places of spiritual study or worship that appeal to you.
There are also many virtual alternatives. For example, Canadian author and “spiritual pioneer” John de Ruiter has offered remote Zoom meetings throughout the pandemic, often fielding questions about pandemic-related stresses and how to cope with them.
There are also reiki practitioners, or energy healers, like Kelsey Patel, who has been doing remote sessions for years.
All these suggestions could be helpful to you, but perhaps the most important takeaway is this: You’re not alone. This problem affects so many of us, and we’re just beginning to have the emotional resources to deal with it.
Remember the first and most important CDC suggestion: Take a moment to just breathe.