Taking physical steps to reduce the risk of contact with the novel coronavirus, such as avoiding crowds and washing your hands, are key to limiting the spread of COVID-19. And, especially for healthcare workers, who work in hospitals, nursing homes, clinics and other places where the risk of encountering the virus may be higher, it’s important to protect your mental health as well. The stresses of the job are only compounded by the worries about the potential for our loved ones to fall ill, and the emotional impact of that stress can itself have serious repercussions on our health.
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston offers tips for managing worry and stress during this global health crisis, starting with unplugging yourself from the 24-hour news cycle:
It’s human nature to want to stay informed, however it is important that overexposure of media coverage can cause more stress. “Many people will turn to social media or the news to learn more about what’s happening, thinking that this will help. While being informed is important, continuously checking the news and seeing repeated images and reports about the virus can provoke more anxiety without necessarily increasing knowledge about virus transmission,” said Leslie K. Taylor, PhD, an assistant professor in the Louis A. Faillace, MD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at McGovern Medical School at UT Health.
Instead of information overload, consider designating specific time to check reliable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Both organizations give regular updates on COVID-19 and share methods for coping with the outbreak.
Individuals with preexisting mental health conditions, including substance use, may be more vulnerable to stress. “Keeping a routine, eating healthy, and resting will help alleviate stress. If self-quarantining, maintaining a sense of connection with friends, family and community is also important. Isolation from others can result in feeling sad or hopeless,” said Taylor, who is also a psychologist specializing in postdisaster behavioral health functioning at UT Physicians Psychiatry Outpatient Clinic.
Taking time for ourselves by doing things that we enjoy or keep us calm can help us get through this difficult time. Create a list of practical relaxation activities and perform them a few times a day. This can be meditating, deep breathing, stretching or even just sitting quietly and mindfully.
“It’s okay to be upset, but we should all stay hopeful. Experts in public health are working across the world to deliver high-quality care and ensure everyone’s safety,” said Taylor.
Prolonged isolation and separation as a result of quarantine or illness could have a traumatic impact on families as a whole.
Learn more about managing stress and coping with the pandemic from the CDC, and keep abreast of developments from the WHO. Also look to your state and local boards of public health for updates in your area.