The last few months have brought dramatic changes to all our lives, from how we do our shopping to how we connect with our family members and friends. Each of us is likely to experience different degrees of stress as a result of the impact of COVID -19 on our lives. Here are some ideas based on several articles as well as my own experience working with Sunny Hill residents to help you identify and cope with the symptoms of stress you or your family members may be facing.
Identify the signs and symptoms of stress
The symptoms of stress can be physical as well as emotional and can include:
- Sadness (including feeling grief over what has been taken from you due to COVID -19)
- Worry/racing thoughts/trouble concentrating/loss of energy
- Changes in sleep and eating patterns
- Relationship problems
- Physical symptoms including headache, teeth clenching and muscle aches
- Increased use of alcohol and tobacco
Acknowledging that what you are feeling is stress and talking about your experiences and emotions helps to validate that these emotions are real and allows you to take the steps to manage them. Note that if any of these symptoms are persistent or interfering with your daily functioning (eg. ability to work, study) please contact your health professional.
Identify what you can control and let go of what you can't
While we can't control the choices of other people we can control the choices we make to maintain our safety, such as practicing good hygiene, wearing masks and social distancing. Educate yourself on the latest about the virus through reputable sources. If thoughts about the future and what might happen become overwhelming steps to ground yourself in the present can be helpful. These may include deep breathing, distracting yourself by engaging in an activity like coloring, and reminding yourself that you have overcome difficult times in the past. The three coping strategies listed below are all helpful to manage stress and ones that I also review with residents here at Sunny Hill.
Engage in Self Care
Taking time every day for yourself allows you to recharge your emotional and physical batteries to best be able to manage stress successfully. Strategies may include:
- Physical activity - Walking, exercise, yoga, playing with a pet
- Meditation, prayer or engaging in another kind of spiritual devotion, journaling what you are grateful for
- Crafts, puzzles, reading, games (alone or with family)
- Learning a new hobby or skill
- Maintaining a daily routine
Moderate your Media Consumption
Watching news reports for hours every day can be emotionally draining, so try to limit your media time over the course of the day and note if your stress symptoms increase while watching and step away from the television, radio or computer!
Maintain Social Connections while Social Distancing
While we may not be able to get together in person staying in touch with family and friends remains important to our emotional well being. Strategies may include:
- Phone calls or video chats
- Window visits
- Writing letters or cards
- Sending along or bringing some pictures or reminiscing can be great ways to spend a visit or additions to a card and can spark conversations within the facility as well!
Karen Nekolny Smith, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist