The Coronavirus is reshaping our lives and causing major stress, learn how to manage these changes
Talk about a crazy March, right!?
The novel Coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19, is officially re-writing the rules of living for the entire world.
One of the most important things any of us can do right now is to keep our head screwed on tight and protect our mental health. We need to not panic: you do not need to buy a mountain of toilet paper. In fact, protecting your mental health is the most powerful weapon against this virus.
This is where I can help.
Below are some strategies for reducing COVID-19 induced anxiety and making sure you can function while keeping the stress levels to a minimum. What matters most is that you know how to replace fear with facts, replace panic with planning and stress with self-care.
When you are not managing your stress levels and anxiety your immune system weakens, giving COVID-19 an unforced advantage. When you panic, you make poor decisions. These are all real costs that can derail your ability to come out of this successfully and healthy.
So do yourself a favor, when you feel the stress and anxiety creeping up: take a beat, remember these tips and circle back:
1. FOCUS ON YOUR CENTER OF CONTROL
Right now, whether you are sequestered or quarantined at home, or having to travel to work–there’s a great deal of control you still have.
When we focus on what we can control, we remain empowered. This is essential for maintaining and protecting your mental health.
The greatest form of control against the Coronavirus is about taking as many preventive measures as you can. By now, you should already know how you can contract the virus. If not read here.
You have the power to stay home and practice social distancing, which has already been proven in past pandemics to be highly effective. You also have the ability to limit who comes into your home and thus reducing the chance of exposure. Both of these are firmly in your control.
What else can you control that will reduce your stress?
You can find things to do to occupy your time that are also meaningful, productive and valuable. You can arm yourself with facts, you can find ways to help and assist others without compromising your own exposure. In short, you can do a lot.
Keep in mind that when we choose to focus on the things we cannot control it’s an act of irresponsibility. What we are really doing is running away from real-life and using doom-and-gloom scenarios to justify our own unraveling.
When we feel justified in unraveling then we do not have to take any kind of personal responsibility. We can cry and fall apart and play victim and hope the world takes pity upon us.
This is the kind of thinking that drives poor choices like going to bars and other communal spaces, getting drunk or high or both and then making even worse choices.
Not only that, but these people have exposed themselves to the virus and may then unwittingly pass it on to those they love who may not be strong enough to fight the infection off. Is that who you really want to be?
Focusing on what you have control over is a sign of strength. So, wash your hands, train yourself to not touch your face, be productive and use your time wisely, practice social distancing, make an action plan if you or your loved one becomes ill and requires treatment.
2. FACTS OVER FEAR
Where are you getting your facts? This matters because believing information that is false can influence poor decision making.
For instance, there are people on the internet selling “cures” to the virus. If you believe them, you may be inclined to think you are safe from infection and you would be wrong.
According to a recent article in AARP:
The Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration have sent warnings to seven companies for selling products that would allegedly cure or prevent COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. “These products are unapproved drugs that pose significant risks to patient health and violate federal law,” the two agencies said in a news release Monday.
The FTC and FDA jointly issued warning letters to Vital Silver; Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd.; Xephyr, LLC, doing business as N-Ergetics; GuruNanda, LLC; Vivify Holistic Clinic; Herbal Amy LLC; and The Jim Bakker Show. The products cited in these warning letters include teas, essential oils, tinctures and colloidal silver.
No vaccines or drugs have been approved specifically to treat or prevent COVID-19.by John Waggoner, AARP, March 9, 2020
Alternatively, you may be reading some kind of internet conspiracy that has predicted the Apocalypse arriving and (fortunately for all of us) you would be wrong too.
We need to be very careful about where we source our information. I highly recommend going directly to the websites of proven healthcare authorities and institutions. There are many like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization.
It also pays to look on your local hospital, town/city hall, grocery store websites for any kind of important updates that affect you locally. This is how you properly prepare and maintain your center of control: FOCUS ON THE FACTS.
I strongly recommend avoiding over-consumption of the news. It’s designed to be laced with both facts but also speculative prognostications that are designed to hype and inflame your fear button. It’s the “Doom and Gloom” cycle that is click bait on steroids.
By keeping focus on the institutions and authorities that matter, you have access to the facts and that allows you to make the very best decisions while effectively managing your anxiety and stress levels.
3. SLEEP AND REST MORE
You probably already know that you should definitely be eating as healthy as possible and exercising on a regular basis–but did you know how integral sleep is to maintaining your immune system?
It’s vital, which is why you need to take sleep seriously. If there was ever a justification to get 8+ hours of sleep or to make room for cat naps, now is the time.
According to the Mayo Clinic:
Lack of sleep can affect your immune system. Studies show that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as a common cold virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.
During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you’re under stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines. In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep.Eric J Olson, MD-Mayo Clinic
One of the great benefits of a cat nap is that it can effectively wash away stress, leaving you revitalized. It can also act as an insurance booster if you didn’t get enough sleep during the prior night.
In our country, there’s a stigma associated with napping. People who nap are perceived as being lazy, but let’s move beyond that ridiculous judgement to realize the solid medical benefits. In fact, napping especially when stressed, is one of the most important things you can do for your beleaguered body.
According to WebMD:
Research shows longer naps help boost memory and enhance creativity. Slow-wave sleep — napping for approximately 30 to 60 minutes — is good for decision-making skills, such as memorizing vocabulary or recalling directions. Getting rapid eye movement or REM sleep, usually 60 to 90 minutes of napping, plays a key role in making new connections in the brain and solving creative problems.By Jennifer Soong
So when you are feeling overwhelmed, full of stress or anxiety, especially after reading something related to COVID-19 or due to a major change in your life, make some time to relax and unwind with a nap. This will go a long way to making whatever is happening more manageable.
4. CONNECT WITH OTHERS BY PHONE
If you’re a child from the seventies, eighties or even the nineties then you remember how integral the phone used to be before the internet. It’s now made a comeback, albeit for a host of undesirable reasons.
Social distancing, the practice of avoiding any kind of social gathering is central to preventing infection of the virus. The only downside is that as social animals it deprives us of the connections we need to maintain our mental health.
This is the time to start making phone calls. When was the last time you called your grandparents (if they’re still alive)? Now is the time. Now that so many of us are working from home, we have the flexibility to weave in and out of work and blend in the personal.
Think about giving those people in your life who you haven’t spoken with in a while a phone call, see how they’re doing. The more you do this with parents, old friends and new friends you’re going to strengthen your emotional connections and that will go a long way to warding off loneliness, stress and anxiety.
5. LEARN SOMETHING NEW
Now is the PERFECT time to learn something new. If you are going to be on lock down, like most of us, that means most places except for grocery and drug stores will likely be closed.
Not only that, but you’re probably going to be practicing social distancing too which means the bulk of your time is going to be at home.
How many times have you told yourself you were going to learn something if only you had more time!? Well, it’s time to take advantage of this silver lining.
Now is the time to start writing that novel, learning how to use that new camera you bought, learning how to code, or practicing your French or Mandarin. Is there is a work-related skill that can take you to the next level? Learn it, now!
Learning is one of the best ways to take advantage of extra time because of all the value it creates. It forces you to keep your mind clear and focused on the subject at hand, it also strengthens your mind’s plasticity and cognition–and reduces your levels of anxiety.
So, start now, what does the first step look like? Do some research online to find learning resources that can help you actualize your learning goals.
6. INDULGE AT HOME WITH FUN & GAMES
Creating levity under a stressful time can be a powerful tool against COVID-19 induced anxiety.
Just like learning, now is the time to dig in to those series and movies you’ve been wanting to watch but haven’t had time for. If there ever was an excuse to binge watch everything under the sun, now is it.
Are there books in your household library that you want to read? Grab a cup tea, find a cozy spot and have a wonderful time! If you are looking for more material, try connecting with your public library online. Many libraries will now allow you to check out e-books through your electronic reading device.
There’s also video games and social media, which might just preserve your sanity if you have children. This is a unique moment in human history, let them have those extra hours of playing online, because fun equals stress reduction. When your children are content, that keeps your own stress levels down.
Making time for doing the fun stuff is absolutely necessary to reducing your anxiety levels and keeping your mental health in peak condition.
7. CONNECT WITH NATURE
Cabin fever is a natural response to being sequestered at home during a period of social distancing. So, this is why it’s important to get outside and enjoy some fresh air.
Fortunately for all of us, you cannot get infected by simply breathing in fresh air. You have to be close enough to an infected person to acquire the virus. So, knowing this, have a walk in the park, or if you feel more comfortable, sit outside in your backyard.
As you’re out there, take some deep breathes. Listen to the bird song, let the sunshine touch your skin and feel the breeze that’s blowing through the leaves. Exhale and let the calm wash over you like a fog.
Next Steps and Beyond…
Really, so much of what we’re going through right now is about our own fear and anxiety in dealing with the unknown. It’s about learning how to manage that fear. We must learn to process it and not leave it unchecked. Otherwise, it can ravage our mental health and compel us to make poor decisions that can have unwanted consequences.
No authority can say for certain what the next few months will be like. How fast can we get back to normal? At this point, does that even exist? What’s happening right now will most likely have long reaching consequences for all us.
What I also know is that this can also be a huge opportunity for many of us. We can grow deeper into our strength having learned how to care for our minds, bodies and souls during a profound moment of peril for our way of life.
Just imagine for a moment how extraordinary that is, to realize that in this time of peril and calamity–the hero in you, that so many of us need, is being forged and shaped–and it all began with learning how to protect your mental health.
If you liked this article, please subscribe! I’m officially launching this website in September of 2020, but given what’s happening in the world today, felt compelled to do my part in trying to help others. -Jeffrey