Managing your stress is as important as managing your physical health during the Coronavirus pandemic. If you’re feeling anxious and stressed about the Coronavirus, you’re not alone. As the outbreak spreads, it’s a natural response to be worried about the impact of COVID-19. Managing your mental health should be part of your response. Developing strategies to build resilience and reduce coronavirus stress & anxiety during the outbreak can help, that’s why we created this free Coronavirus stress & anxiety toolkit.
Stressed? Who, Me?
Stress, Anxiety or Overwhelm? Let’s take a look at the difference between Coronavirus stress, anxiety and overwhelm.
Stress is an evolutionary response in your body to a particular trigger or threat. We all respond to stress in different ways. Learning to recognise your own stress signs and symptoms (and those of colleagues) can become a useful early warning system. Once you recognise it you can begin to employ stress management strategies to dial down your stress.
Generally, anxiety is the body’s response to stress. It can result in persistent worry, fear or panic about what might happen in the future. Stressful situations like the outbreak of Coronavirus may trigger anxiety. It can disrupt your daily life, skew your perception of events and reduce your ability to respond effectively. Most of us will experience anxiety at some point when faced with stressful events.
This is when you feel that you just can’t cope. Calming your brain during stressful situations is a skill that you can learn by adding a handful of simple coronavirus stress and anxiety management techniques to your day. The first step is recognising that you’re stressed. Here’s how.
Identify Coronavirus Stress
It sounds counterintuitive but sometimes stress and anxiety can creep up on you. It can be hard to recognise that you’re stressed and anxious before you start to feel overwhelmed. We all react differently to stress , but some common signs that you or someone else is feeling anxious about the current outbreak could be
- Frequent worry
- Moments of fear and feeling helpless
- A change in sleep patterns
- Withdrawal from activities that you normally enjoy
- Feeling of frustration, resentment or anger
- Sadness and or tearfulness
Recognising coronavirus stress is information that you can use to regain control and begin dialling down your stress levels whilst still taking necessary precautions . Allow yourself to recognise these feelings without beating yourself up for your response. It’s ok to feel what you’re feeling. Stress is information, it becomes unhelpful when it turns into panic.
Arm Yourself With Coronavirus Facts
The more you know about Coronavirus, the more proactive you can be in terms of prevention. Facts will minimise your fear. Seek out accurate information from credible sources. This will help you to avoid the fear and panic that misinformation produces. If you find the news distressing limit your news and social media consumption to intervals that work for you e.g. once a day.
Mindset & Stress
Alia Crum, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Stanford University explored the role of mindsets and how they impact our stress response her research suggests that the way we perceive stress may be critical in terms of how we respond to it. Crum found that viewing stress as part of life, as a skill to be mastered, resulted in better health, emotional well-being and productivity at work – even during highly stressful periods. Viewing stressful events this way helps us to manage threats more effectively. Knowing the facts puts you back in control and enables you to take proactive steps to protect yourself. Useful sources of coronavirus information are:
- WHO Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) technical guidance: Patient management
- WHO Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public
If you’re a bit of a science nerd (we know we are)
- Kai Kupferschmidt, science journalist
- Nextstrain Genomic epidemiology of novel coronavirus (hCOV-19)
- EMCRIT Internet Book of Critical Care COVID19
- European Respiratory Society. Novel Coronavirus Outbreak Information & Resources
Create News & Social Media Limits
Whilst informing yourself is a positive, being constantly connected to Coronavirus news feeds and social media can amplify feelings of anxiety and result in overwhelm. Remain informed but consider limiting the amount of time that you spend reading about Coronavirus. Manage tech time in the same way that you already mitigate against digital overload by switching off alerts, setting a time limit on your use of apps and removing your phone or device from your bedroom. Create news breaks and consider taking a day off from checking coronavirus news. Instead, spend that time on something that renews and energises you instead, for example, reading, listening to music, going for a walk, exercise or spending time in nature.
Focus on What you can Control
Energy spent on what we cannot control is wasted. Ruminating on what you cannot do will feed into stress and anxiety. Focusing on what you can control enables you to take more effective action.
- Follow government guidance on what to do
- Wash your hands regularly. Maybe you know how to, but if you’re a soap dodger you might want to adopt the correct technique here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PmVJQUCm4E
- Can’t get to soap and water? Here’s how to use hand sanitiser correctly https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnSjFr6J9HI
- For some light relief – here’s an article by the British Psychological Society about psychologists who lurked in loos to take a a look at how men and women wash their hands differently Toilet Psychology. Why do men wash their hands less than women
- Identify what you can control e.g. saying ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to requests from others or what you can influence e.g. safe working practices and what you can’t.
- What can you do to prepare or plan for the areas that you can control? This might include preparing supplies in case you are quarantined, or talking to your family and friends about how you will manage a quarantine in practical terms e.g. how you will provide care.
- Preparation can also include building your resilience (with our free toolkit) making sure that you prioritise your own self care or creating space in your day for stress reduction strategies such as mindfulness (another free mindfulness toolkit can be found here) or exercise. Even small, stress reduction interventions of 5 minutes will begin to add up.
- Maybe there is something that you’ve been putting off – reading books, watching a DVD, a project a home, learning a language or new skill? If you are quarantined or your town or city is locked down you could use that time to begin a new project. It will help to shift your focus from constant news updates and help you to feel more in control of the situation.
- Create an action plan with a timeline.
Minismise Unhelpful Strategies
Whilst short term strategies like smoking and alcohol might work temporarily, they’ll add to the mental and physical stress in the long term. If you can cut down on these maladaptive stress strategies do – even a small reduction will help.
It’s official. Kindness is good for you. The Honey Foundation’s research found that 5 acts of random kindness a week will increase your level of happiness for up to 3 months. Not bad. Random acts of kindness have also been found to increase oxytocin, lowering blood pressure and improving heart health. So even if you’re feeling like the Grinch during Coronavirus, we figure you’ll benefit from being kinder.
Find ways to help others. Being kind and helping someone else is a great way to benefit yourself and someone else. Phone and check in on a friend or neighbour.
Be empathetic to people who have been affected by Coronavirus. Remember that no one s to blame for the transmission of COVID19. Avoid stigmatising communities or ethnicities. Consider the language you use, referring to people as ‘victims’ is unhelpful, instead, use the terms “people who have COVID-19” or “people who are being treated for COVID-19.”
Coronavirus Stress & Sleep
Coronavirus stress may well keep you awake. It sounds obvious, but making sure that you get adequate sleep will help you to manage stress. Churning over the day or tossing and turning will exacerbate overwhelming thoughts and feelings. Take a look at your sleep hygiene and develop a bedtime routine.
If you can, go to sleep at the same time every night. If that’s not possible and you’re working night shifts, develop a regular pre-sleep routine that soothes your mind and body. That might include a hot bath, herbal sleep tea or relaxation app, along with anything else that relaxes you. Keep your bedroom gadget free, promoting a wind down space before you go to sleep.
Consider practising mindfulness. As well as helping to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, a randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for chronic insomnia discovered that building mindfulness into your day can reduce chronic insomnia in adults.
Connect With Others
Stay connected with family, friends and support networks. The psychological impact of working in the centre of an outbreak or being isolated in quarantine are well documented. It’s easy to withdraw from others and shut down when you feel stressed. Talk to others about how you are feeling. Remember that sometimes it can also be helpful to deliberately talk about non Coronavirus topics, limiting the time you spend on topics that are likely to deplete you. Now is the time to consciously limit the time you spend with mood hoovers who drain your energy by being negative.
It’s possible to remain connected digitally if you find yourself quarantined. Speak to friends and family using video calling apps or phone calls to manage feelings of isolation.
Think about the way that your day is structured. It may be that circumstances mean that your routine needs to change, at least for a while. Think about how you can design your day around self care and resilience. What new routines can you introduce that will renew and replenish you? For example, if you commute to work, getting off a stop early and incorporating a walk into the journey. Is it possible to limit the things in your day that drain you? This might mean saying ‘No’ to requests from others and putting yourself first. Are there opportunities within any changes you might experience that you can use to your advantage?
Exercise Self Compassion
Research has demonstrated that self compassion has consistently found to be key to wellbeing and resilience. It has also been linked to decreased amygdala responses – reducing the likelihood of an amygdala hijack. Instead of berating yourself when you experience stress and anxiety you can generate positive emotions and accept that sometimes things are difficult without apportioning blame.
Self Compassion Hacks
These compassion practices can be used to build kindness and self compassion into your routine.
- When things get tough, take a self compassion break, even if it’s just 60 seconds.
- Keep a journal focusing on the areas that you’re struggling with. Reflect on your journal entry with compassion. Imagine that you are responding kindly to a friend with your reflections.
- Reframe your perception of failing as an opportunity to learn, grow and improve.
- Monitor your self talk. When you hear your inner critic, talk back to it with kindness. Use phrases like “It’s ok to be angry about the situation.” “I don’t need to be perfect.” And when things don’t go as you wanted “Failing is part of being human.”
- Limit the time that you spend on social media. Use that time for self care instead.
- Prioritise your wellness and speak to someone when feelings of overwhelm persist.
What to do if you are asked to work from home
Working from home can feel strange at first, especially is you enjoy the social connection of colleagues and it you don’t, well, we’ll call it respite.
- Maintain your routine as much as you can. Get up at the same time as you would normally. Create regular breaks where you move around and do something different.
- Limit your exposure to news during the day. Take in information at regular intervals that work for you.
- Keep in touch with friends and family. If you need to set boundaries about your working hours with them, do so.
- Consider setting up a buddying system with colleagues so that you can support each other whilst working from home during quarantine periods.
- Add relaxing activities into your home working routine, listen to music, play with pets, meditate.
How Should Leaders & Managers Respond to Coronavirus Stress?
It’s crucial for leaders and managers to protect their staff from chronic stress. It’s important to model good practice during periods of high pressure, so looking after yourself is paramount. All businesses and organisations will be under pressure for some time so it’s important that as a leader you take care of yourself, recognising the importance of your own renewal (and making sure to model it).
Strategies for Leaders
- Take breaks, make sure that when workers are working through periods where there is intense pressure that the next task they are allocated less intense tasks afterwards. Create a high stress to low stress system. Take a look at our piece on periodisation for more information about how to do this.
- Buddy less experienced workers with more experienced colleagues for additional support. This will help teams to monitor stress, provide support and reinforce any safety procedures that are in place.
- Check in with staff who are working from home. Use digital communication to offer support if needed.
- Offer flexibility for staff who are, or have family who are directly affected by Coronavirus.
What to do if you are quarantined or asked to self isolate
- Try to stick to your regular routine.
- Eat a healthy diet and get exercise whether it’s walking, doing exercise DVDs or using an at home app.
- Take time to appreciate small things e.g. a cup of coffee, reading a book, sunshine.
- Organise a virtual ‘coffee’ with friends to check in on them, share ideas and support each other at the same time.
- If you have been asked to limit physical contact by health professionals, stay connected with email, phone, video calling and social media.
The three secrets of resilient people | Lucy Hone | TEDxChristchurch
The paradox of trauma-informed care | Vicky Kelly | TEDxWilmington
The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong | Amy Morin | TEDxOcala
We’ll be adding to the Coronavirus stress and anxiety free toolkit each week so please let us know if there’s something that you’d like to see here. Let us know how you’re getting on, we’d love to hear from you – you can contact us here.