It’s probably fair to say that everyone is feeling stressed to one degree or another during the current COVID-19 pandemic, especially as it drags on… and on… and on! Everyone is feeling overwhelmed in some way, whether it’s worries about finances, working from home, having children at home (who you may have to help with schoolwork while you’re trying to do your own work), not being able to work, losing a job, and, of course worry that you or someone you care about will get sick or even die.

When you’re stressed, it can affect your physical and emotional health because of the mind-body connection, but there’s ways to cope.

What is stress?

During this pandemic, many people find themselves feeling stressed much of the time.  Everything is out of the ordinary. Our regular routines have been uprooted. Conflicting information on the news is frightening. And health authorities are asking all of us to restrict our activity and remain socially distanced. It can simply be overwhelming. Being “overwhelmed” is actually part of the definition of “stress” that many psychologists use. That is, stress happens when the demands of a situation are greater than a person’s resources for dealing with it.

From that definition, you might be able to figure out two ways to deal with stress:

  1. Increase your resources for dealing with the issue (coping with the problem or challenge: these are called “coping resources”).
  2. Decrease the demands you’re dealing with (when that is possible).

Now, before we start talking about different resources for coping with stress, it’s important to remember that there are many demands on us—demands for time, money, attention, effort— all of which add to our overall stress level.

How has the pandemic amplified stress?

During COVID-19, it’s also important to remember things that you may have been dealing with for a long time, such as other health issues (physical things like diabetes or mental health issues like depression or anxiety), often in a very significant way. Then, when you add all of the ways that the coronavirus pandemic has impacted us, it can create a perfect storm of stress. It can be exhausting and draining. When that goes on a long time, talking to a psychologist can help you find some relief and new coping superpowers.

How do I cope with stress?

Okay, let’s talk about coping – how to use our resources to help deal with the demands in our life. There are many ways to think about coping. One helpful way is to look at problem-focused coping versus emotion-focused coping. Just like they sound, problem-focused coping helps you deal with the problem itself, and emotion-focused coping helps you deal with the emotions that you feel about the situation.

What are some specific problem-focused coping strategies?

Problem-focused coping is a way of dealing with the problem itself and whatever it is that’s stressing you out. For the COVID-19 situation, there may be lots of different stressors — financial, health-related, work, managing work while also helping your child or children, checking in on elderly relatives. There are too many of them to talk about how to deal with them all in this post, but a few general ideas may be helpful:

  1. Have a schedule. A schedule may be more important the more things you’re dealing with. Also, you can adjust this as you go. You may realize you need more time for something or that you need a little break after a while. Be flexible, and don’t beat yourself up about it.
  2. Set priorities. What are things you absolutely have to deal with now or there will be bad consequences?
  3. Get advice. Ask friends, colleagues, or co-workers for their advice and offer yours to them. Two or more heads are better than one, and you all may be dealing with similar challenges.
  4. Seek help. During the pandemic, we have learned how helpful setting up delivery services has been. We have also seen neighbors checking in on each other and adding their errands to their own to help each other out. Strengthening these connections has been a real silver lining to staying at home so much.

What are some specific emotion-focused coping strategies?

I wish we all had a magic wand, and we could make the coronavirus pandemic disappear but that does not seem likely. The lack of closure and uncertainty has been very hard for all of us to wrap our minds around. How does anyone plan? So many different feelings that may come up for different people and at different times. That is okay and perfectly normal. To some extent we are all grieving the life and routines we used to have before we were dealing with the hunt for toilet paper, being on endless video calls, and not being able to be close to friends, neighbors, co-workers and family.

Give yourself some grace

First, though, I’d say that it’s important to remember that each of us is probably feeling a really wide range of emotions now.  We may feel hopeless or anxious at times because we don’t know how we’ll get everything done, or we don’t know when we can go back to our office, or if we’re not sure what our kid is going to do during the summer or the school year. We may feel angry, sad, or even scared. We may be critical of ourselves if we don’t complete something or if our kids don’t do something they were supposed to do. All of these feelings are pretty normal responses to all of the different stressors we’re experiencing during this pandemic. Don’t be too hard on yourself about feeling these things now.

Try a coping technique or three

So, how do we cope with these emotions? Different coping techniques are helpful to different people and at different times, so here’s some general ideas.

Distraction often works wonders. Getting your mind off of whatever is troubling you can feel good right now, and sometimes the problem will resolve itself over time. it gives you some time and distance, which can shift our mindset and make solutions easier. For example, if your child is grumpy and won’t do their chores, try to take a break either with your child or on your own. Maybe go for a walk, play a game, read a book or watch a little television. Sometimes the intensity of the situation will go down and the chore is a little easier to get done.

Talk with a friend. Venting about what’s bothering you feels better. Talking with someone who can empathize with you is a big relief. Sometimes the friend will have other ideas that haven’t occurred to you. And you can be their sounding board, too!

Consider writing it down. Journaling is another idea, and it’s really easy to do. Find a time and place where you can write or type for 15-ish minutes, and just write whatever comes to mind about whatever is bothering you. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling or sentence structure, just write. Do that for two or three days. Lots of research has found doing that helps you feel better emotionally, improves your immune response, reduces the number of times people visit a health clinic, and even helps improve memory.

Get help from a caring professional

If you have any questions about what I’ve talked about above, and especially if you’re having a hard time solving difficulties with relationships, work, home life, or any other major area of your life, contact me at 512-627-3583, so that we can talk more about it. We all may be stressed during COVID-19, but help is available so you can feel heard, be empowered and feel resilient despite these trying times. Learn more about psychotherapy, the mind-body connection and how I coordinate care for a holistic, wellness approach to helping you live your best life.