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Mental Well Being

Manage Anxiety & Stress

The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) may be stressful for people. Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Coping with stress will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger.

Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations.  How you respond to the outbreak can depend on your background, the things that make you different from other people, and  the community you live in.

People who may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis include

  • Older people and people with chronic diseases who are at higher risk for COVID-19
  • Children and teens
  • People who are helping with the response to COVID-19, like doctors and other health care providers, or first responders
  • People who have mental health conditions including problems with substance use

If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others call

  • 911
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. (TTY 1-800-846-8517)

Stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms. Additional information can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSAexternal icon) website.

Taking care of yourself, your friends, and your family can help you cope with stress. Helping others cope with their stress can also make your community stronger.

Things you can do to support yourself

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

Call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.

Reduce stress in yourself and others

Sharing the facts about COVID-19 and understanding the actual risk to yourself and people you care about can make an outbreak less stressful..

When you share accurate information about COVID-19 you can help make people feel less stressed and allow you to connect with them.

Learn more about taking care of your emotional health.

For parents

Children and teens react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with the COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children. Parents can be more reassuring to others around them, especially children, if they are better prepared.

Not all children and teens respond to stress in the same way. Some common changes to watch for include

  • Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
  • Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, toileting accidents or bedwetting)
  • Excessive worry or sadness
  • Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
  • Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens
  • Poor school performance or avoiding school
  • Difficulty with attention and concentration
  • Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
  • Unexplained headaches or body pain
  • Use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

There are many things you can do to support your child

  • Take time to talk with your child or teen about the COVID-19 outbreak. Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child or teen can understand.
  • Reassure your child or teen that they are safe. Let them know it is ok if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
  • Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.
  • Try to keep up with regular routines. If schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities.
  • Be a role model.  Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members.

Learn more about helping children cope.

For responders

Responding to COVID-19 can take an emotional toll on you. There are things you can do to reduce secondary traumatic stress (STS) reactions:

  • Acknowledge that STS can impact anyone helping families after a traumatic event.
  • Learn the symptoms including physical (fatigue, illness) and mental (fear, withdrawal, guilt).
  • Allow time for you and your family to recover from responding to the pandemic.
  • Create a menu of personal self-care activities that you enjoy, such as spending time with friends and family, exercising, or reading a book.
  • Take a break from media coverage of COVID-19.
  • Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed or concerned that COVID-19 is affecting your ability to care for your family and patients as you did before the outbreak.

Learn more tips for taking care of yourself during emergency response.

For people who have been released from quarantine

Being separated from others if a healthcare provider thinks you may have been exposed to COVID-19 can be stressful, even if you do not get sick. Everyone feels differently after coming out of quarantine. Some feelings include :

  • Mixed emotions, including relief after quarantine
  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
  • Stress from the experience of monitoring yourself or being monitored by others for signs and symptoms of COVID-19
  • Sadness, anger, or frustration because friends or loved ones have unfounded fears of contracting the disease from contact with you, even though you have been determined not to be contagious
  • Guilt about not being able to perform normal work or parenting duties during quarantine
  • Other emotional or mental health changes

Children may also feel upset or have other strong emotions if they, or someone they know, has been released from quarantine. You can help your child cope.



Routines are Helpful

For individuals who feel anxious, we know that routine is helpful in calming that anxiety at times.  Right now, all of our routines are thrown out and many of us feel increased anxiety. Even those who may not have felt much anxiety before are now struggling with figuring out life without their normal routines.  What does “normal” even mean for us right now? We may need some help figuring that out in order to help slow the anxious train from running us over. Here are some things you may try to help you figure out your new normal during the time of social distancing.

  • Figure out your new routine.  This may look very different from your old routine.  That’s ok. Spend some time today thinking about what routine can work for you now.  This is the perfect time to let your body help you figure that out. Figure out if you work better early in the day or later in the day.  Schedule your “work time” (whether it is doing your job from home or studying) at times that really work well for your body. That might mean getting out of bed earlier or later than you usually would.  Just adjust your day from there. 
  • Try to stick with your routine as much as you can during your normal “work week”.  Things will feel different. Things will interrupt your routine. That’s ok. Life gets in the way sometimes.  Take a deep breath, pause, and come back to your routine when you can.
  • Continue to take breaks in the day.  If you were used to being at work or at school, you would have had natural breaks to get up and stretch, go to the bathroom, etc and during those times you might have run into a friend in the hall and chatted a few minutes before getting back to work. Keep those breaks in there.  Call or text a friend to see how they are doing. Continue to be social as much as you can and as much as you need.
    • Take a break and hug whoever might be at home with you (if that is a good and safe thing for you to do).  Family members who suddenly have people back at home all day are also going to be off their routines. Take time to acknowledge them and how they are feeling.  If they can help with your new routine, let them!
  • Remember that anxiety is not bad.  It is trying to tell you something.  Take a moment to stop and listen to it.  Not all anxiety needs a response. Sometimes it just needs you to slow down.  Here are some things to try in the face of that anxiety.
    • Take a break to go for a walk or do yoga or tai chi or whatever makes you feel energized.  We may not be able to go to the gym, but we can still exercise. There are lots of online resources for exercising at home. Research supports using exercise to reduce stress. Any kind of exercise is good for you.  It will take your mind off the anxiety and give you a boost of great brain power. Do what feels right for you in the moment. You could get friends together for an online dance party!
    • Yoga is especially can help with anxiety.  There are many free yoga classes through YouTube.  Here is one of my favorites. Yoga with Adriene.
    • Make a gratitude list.  It may literally change your brain! Take a minute to think of 5 things you are grateful for.  Once you think of them, repeat them to yourself for one minute as you consciously breathe a little deeper.
    • Take a break to kiss a puppy or a cat or a snake.  Your pet, your choice! If you are working from home and have a pet, they are probably also off their routine.  Take a break to play with them periodically. That will be good for both of you. If you don’t have a pet to play with, google baby animals! Take five minutes to sit and breathe and look at babies of all sorts online.  
    • I like to combine several of these and go on short mindful, gratitude, nature walks!  Go outside, no matter where you are, walk mindfully by paying attention in that moment to how you are walking and on your breathing.  Then focus on noticing what is around you. If you can walk in a more natural setting, start to notice the trees, the grass, the birds singing.  Spring is coming. Look closely at the trees for those new signs of life. If you are in a city setting, see what nature you can find there. Find a tree or a bush and just notice it for a moment or two.  Notice its colors. Notice the branches. See if you can find tiny buds that may become new leaves or flowers.  Look down. There may be lots of new growth right below you.  In a city, also notice buildings you may not have noticed before.  Notice diverse facades to different buildings. Ponder how and when those buildings were made.  This is a type of mindfulness that keeps us in the moment, without judgment, we are just noticing.  You can really savor those moments by paying attention to all of your senses. Here is a great brief video example of a “savoring walk”.




Links to Help

Coping with Grief and Loss: Many links to articles about specific kinds of grief 115 links to grief resources  An article about the anxiety of freedom

Resources from Spalding CaPS program: