Northwest University Blog

Managing Stress and Anxiety During COVID-19

Managing Stress and Anxiety During COVID-19

It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, worry, and grief during an outbreak. We are going to experience a wide range of responses over the length of the COVID-19 crisis. We are also going to react differently from each other, requiring us to be gracious with ourselves and others. Though we have little control over what is happening in our world right now, we do have a significant way to manage our response.

Thanks to neuroscience, we have an understanding of how our brain functions in these types of unknown circumstances. It is actually a greater stress to face an unknown than if we were certain to experience a negative outcome. Our brain has a difficult time processing the unknown and tends to ruminate over information, not knowing how to draw conclusions or problem solve. This can lead to spiraling, racing thoughts as our stuck brain is trying to solve unsolvable problems. For example, our brain does not know how to handle the uncertainty surrounding how the virus is contracted, so it sends out stress signals. More stress signals are sent when we read about the run on toilet paper, causing us to wonder if our basic needs are going to be met. This type of ambiguity taxes our mental health. Here is what can be done to create healthier boundaries for thoughts and emotional responses.

  1. Know the facts and actual risk involved with COVID-19. Staying informed by reputable sources such as the CDC, WHO, and your local government can be helpful—but even then, limit your exposure to a specific amount or check for updates once or twice per day (but not before bedtime).
  2. Understand how the virus functions and be diligent to reduce risk through recommended preventative measures such as handwashing for 20 seconds, refraining from touching your face, coughing into a tissue or sleeve, staying home when you are sick, and social distancing.
  3. Redirect any thoughts, images, or emotions that are unhelpful. If you have swirled into the unknown abyss, your brain needs help getting out. This can be done with a distraction such as a phone call to a trusted friend, prayer—giving it all to our heavenly King who sees our struggle, or an engaging activity such as exercising or a walk in a natural setting.
  4. Create a routine in your current circumstances. Set a wakeup alarm, start the day with a devotion, exercise regularly, keep a work schedule, make healthy meals, and set up daily appointments to digitally connect with people. Include something you love to do such as a hobby, practicing an instrument, streaming a Broadway show, or reading a book for fun.

When you are experiencing overwhelm from the circumstance, take a break to unwind and remind yourself that these strong feelings will fade. Soothe your mind with scripture, prayer, and the facts, knowing you are doing all you can.

Reframing Isolation

Social distancing is new for us and comes with a stigma. We often think of isolation as an indicator of poor relational and even mental health. Let’s reframe our thinking to see this as an opportunity for slowing down, being intentional with our time, and giving our physical systems a much-needed break from constant input. Do activities you always wished you had time for, learn a new skill, and cross something off your bucket list. As a Christian, the timing of this outbreak occurring in the middle of Lent increases our focus to hope in the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Let’s embrace additional practices that can keep our sights on the eternal.

  • Spend some time in silence every day.
  • Do acts of mercy in secret.
  • Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Recognize them for what they are and cut them off at the start.
  • Read the scriptures regularly.
  • Live a day, and even a part of a day, at a time.
  • Be faithful in little things.
  • Do your work, and then forget it.
  • Do the most difficult and painful things first.
  • Be grateful in all things.
  • Be awake and be attentive.
  • Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
  • Don’t judge anyone for anything.
  • Be defined and bound by God alone.
  • Be merciful with yourself and others.
  • When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
  • Get help when you need it, without fear and without shame.

Use this as an opportunity to increase faith, hope, and love while we find strength in solitude.

Quick Tips for Coping with Disaster

  • Take care of your body: eat well, exercise regularly, and get adequate sleep.
  • Connect with others by maintaining healthy relationships and build a strong support system.
  • Take breaks to unwind and remind yourself that these strong feelings will fade.
  • Practice 4x4 breathing (4 second breath in, hold for 4 seconds, and exhale for 4 seconds).
  • Reduce time watching the news to a certain amount from reputable sources a couple of times per day and not before bed.
  • Engage in activities you enjoy.
  • Enjoy the offers for free streaming of plays, concerts, and movie viewing as a virtual group.
  • Create a routine including fun, exercise, and connection.
  • Set up designated stations in your space for work, hobby, and relaxation.
  • Seek help from family, friends, and professionals as needed.

Common Signs of Distress

  • Feeling of numbness, disbelief, anxiety or fear.
  • Changes in appetite, energy, and activity levels.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Difficulty sleeping or nightmares.
  • Upsetting thoughts and images.
  • Physical reactions such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes.
  • Worsening of chronic health problems.
  • Anger or short-temper.
  • Increased use of harmful substances.