Day-to-day life during the COVID-19 pandemic can feel overwhelming and cause stress, fear, and anxiety in adults and children.
Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations; how a person responds to the outbreak can depend on their background, their personality and the community they live in. Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso licensed professional counselors provide the following tips for helping to reduce stress during these uncertain times.
One way to manage stress and anxiety is by changing your mindset. Instead of saying, “I am doomed,” say, “This is temporary, and it too shall pass.”
|I am stuck at home.||———->||I get to be SAFE in my home and spend time with my family.
|I will get sick.||———->||I will self-isolate and wash my hands; this will significantly decrease my chances of getting sick.
|I will run out of items at home during self-isolation.||———->||I have prepared for this, and I will use my items wisely. I have everything I need for now. I can always order curbside delivery—many businesses now deliver for free.
|Everything is shutting down! I am panicking.||———->||The most important places, such as hospitals, pharmacies and grocery stores, remain open. I can always call 911 in case of an emergency.
|There is too much uncertainty right now.||———->||While I cannot control the situation around me, I can control my actions. Doing breathing exercises, calling my loved ones and friends, getting enough sleep and proper nutrition, prayer, and doing activities I love at home (reading, playing board games, writing in your journal) will all help during this time.|
Managing your emotions
Staying at home in close quarters for an extended period time with a significant other, children, family members or roommates can cause frayed nerves and lost tempers. TTP El Paso mental health professionals recommend:
- Walking away from heated discussions and not allowing frustration to turn into aggravation or anger (go to your bedroom, bathroom or outside).
- Going for a walk in the morning, afternoon and evening. Exercise helps reduce stress.
- Google or YouTube at-home exercises you can do with your family or alone.
- Reading something interesting. There are plenty of free books online.
- Watching a movie that you like. Comedy will help you decompress, and laughter reduces stress.
- Reaching out to friends with a phone call or video chat.
- Finding an online mental health therapist. Many therapists offer telehealth consultations and hold sessions via video.
Motivation and self-care
There may be a temptation to stay in bed all day, but that could do more harm than good. Force yourself to get up, shower, get dressed and move around, all the while reminding yourself that this is temporary and nothing in life is permanent. Everything has a beginning and an end.
Self-care and keeping busy are two ways to manage stress and anxiety, along with:
- Drinking plenty of water.
- Staying positive.
- Playing with your dog, cat or other pets.
- Fixing things around your house.
- Organizing your closet and putting things aside for donations in the future.
- Rearranging your furniture.
- Cleaning your house.
- Trying new cooking recipes you find on the internet.
Keep a schedule
Keeping a schedule can not only help reduce stress levels but also help everyone to get along better, and provide a feeling of being more in control during uncertain times. The schedule should include:
- Physical activity.
- Family/social time.
- Some alone time.
When to wake up and when to go to bed should be included in the schedule as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner at regular meal times.
Examples of physical activity that can be done while social distancing include, walking, hiking, cycling, jumping rope, watching free yoga videos online or trying a free dance class online.
Examples of family/social time include, playing board games, playing cards, watching movies and using apps with videoconference to keep in touch. Several companies and attractions have provided ways to stay entertained with things like Netflix Party, which allows you to watch movies remotely with friends, and free, virtual tours of famous museums. You can also listen and watch free concerts online.
Examples of chores that can be done while staying home include basic and deep cleaning, laundry, cooking, gardening, cleaning out closets and separating items for donation, organizing the garage, etc.
Finally, a few examples of some needed alone time include:
- Taking a bubble bath or a warm shower.
- Taking a walk.
- Going outside to meditate (you can also use an app like Headspace).
- Listening to music.
- Watching your favorite TV shows.
- Taking time to remind yourself of all the things you are grateful for.
Relax your mind with meditation
Meditation is a mind and body practice that has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness, and enhancing overall health and well-being, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a division of the National Institutes of Health.
Several studies have been conducted on how meditation may be helpful for a variety of conditions, such as high blood pressure, certain psychological disorders and pain. A number of studies also have helped researchers learn how meditation might work and how it affects the brain. Visit https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/tips/things-to-know-about-meditation-for-health to learn eight things to know about meditation for health.
Enjoy the outdoors and stay active
The second edition of the Physical Guidelines for Americans, published by Health and Human Services in 2019, states that any amount of physical activity can have health benefits, including doing active chores around the house, yard work or walking the dog. Hiking and walking around a nearby park or around your neighborhood are some examples of outdoor activities.
The American Heart Association generally recommends a target heart rate of moderate exercise intensity should be 50% to about 70% of your maximum heart rate, while vigorous exercise intensity should be 70% to about 85% of your maximum heart rate.
New evidence in the Physical Guidelines for Americans supports that physical activity:
- Can have immediate benefits: A single episode of physical activity can reduce anxiety and blood pressure and improve quality of sleep and insulin sensitivity.
- Helps manage even more health conditions: Physical activity can decrease pain for those with osteoarthritis, reduce disease progression for hypertension and type 2 diabetes, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improve cognition for those with dementia, multiple sclerosis, ADHD and Parkinson’s disease.
- Helps prevent even more chronic conditions: Physical activity has long-term benefits, such as improved brain health, reduced risk of eight types of cancer, reduced risk for fall-related injuries in older adults and reduced risk of excessive weight gain. These benefits are in addition to the other long-term benefits — like preventing conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and breast and colon cancer — that have been well-known since the first edition was published.
The guidelines recommend that:
- Adults need at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (five hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, plus muscle strengthening activities on two days each week to attain the most health benefits from physical activity.
- Youth ages 6 through 17 need at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity every day to attain the most health benefits from physical activity.
Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes (five hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.
If you plan on exercising at a park, the City of El Paso’s Parks and Recreation Department urges residents not to use playground equipment or workout stations if they visit city parks during the “Stay Home, Work Safe” order.
In addition, the El Paso Department of Public Health urges parents to keep children away from playground equipment because the virus can live on surfaces for hours, even days.
All Parks and Recreation facilities remain closed until further notice as a precautionary response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Parks and trails remain open to the public with some recommendations that include:
- Maintaining at least six feet of social distance from others.
- Choose less-populated parks and trails.
- Do not park in a crowded parking lot or use a crowded trail.
- Wash hands before and after each visit.
“Fresh air and exercise are an important part of maintaining wellness during this unprecedented period in which we work to contain the outbreak of COVID-19 in our community,” said El Paso Parks and Recreation Department Interim Director Ben Fyffe. “Families are urged to use caution, avoid playgrounds and exercise equipment while still enjoying access to El Paso’s parks.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you are in crisis, call the national crisis line at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor or local crisis line at 915-779-1800. They provide services over the phone.
For more information on managing stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 outbreak, visit the CDC’s Stress and Coping page at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html