There’s no doubt about it: The COVID-19 pandemic is stressful. Worries about getting sick, concern for loved ones, feelings of isolation, financial uncertainty, loss of support services and school closings can all contribute to anxiety and increased stress.
According to the CDC, stress during an infectious disease outbreak can cause:
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Worsening of mental health conditions
- Increased use of tobacco, alcohol or other substances
Everyone reacts differently to the stress of the pandemic, and how we respond has a lot to do with our resilience. Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.
Resilience can help us get through difficult times, but it’s not something that we are born with. It is built over time, and you can learn how to increase it. The American Psychological Association (APA) compares increasing resilience to building a muscle—it takes time and intentionality.
So what can we do to build resilience during the COVID-19 crisis? The CDC and the APA suggest the following:
- Identify those things which you do not have control over. Do the best you can with the resources available to you. Remind yourself that everyone is in an unusual situation with limited resources.
- Increase your sense of control by developing a consistent daily routine when possible—ideally one that is similar to your schedule before the pandemic. Keep a regular sleep schedule. Take breaks from work. Spend time outdoors, either being physically active or relaxing. If you work from home, set a regular time to end your work for the day, if possible. Make time for things you enjoy.
- Accept change. Accept that things are going to be different for some time and that change is a part of life.
- Know the facts about COVID-19. Understanding the risk and how to protect yourself and others can reduce stress.
- Remind yourself that each of us has a crucial role in fighting this pandemic.
- Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting and mentally exhausting.
- Practice mindfulness. Journaling, yoga and meditation, for example, can help restore hope, making you more equipped to manage stress in a healthy way.
- Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns, how you are feeling or how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting you.
- Check on others. Helping others improves your sense of control, belonging and self-esteem.
- Learn from your past. What was helpful to you in previous times of stress? Can you apply any of those strategies to this situation? You may already have more resilience strategies than you realize.
When to seek help
Call your health care provider if your stress or anxiety becomes overwhelming, gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row or if you feel you may be misusing alcohol or other drugs, including prescription drugs, as a means of coping.
Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19, CDC
Speaking of Psychology: The Role of Resilience in the Face of COVID-19 with Ann Masten, PhD, American Psychological Association
Building Your Resilience, American Psychological association