There are aspects of all of our lives that are affected by the new pandemic, regardless of our political, religious, age, or national background. This virus is a reminder that we humans are all vulnerable to what nature throws at us, and that we are in it together.
Overnight, our ability to dine out, be at a coffee shop, or exercise declined. This is important especially for those who had routines including these activities, or those with less social support, whose social interactions were limited to such activities, or whose social lives did involve such activities like spending time with friends at the gym. Remote working, reduced work hours and income, and inability to predict future of work, especially for those with limited financial resources, or jobs mainly affected by the crisis, are highly stressful. We all are also stressed by the news, especially given the inherent emotionally triggering nature of the U.S. news media, and too much focus on disaster pornography, as well as contradicting news, predictions, and recommendations coming from different outlets and authorities. The constantly changing and evolving nature of such news is also stressing on all those who follow them.
I am a psychiatrist specialized in research and treatment of anxiety and stress, and here are some bullet points to advise about how to deal with the stress of the current state of our lives. Instead of going into long details, I decided to keep it short and practical.
How to deal with the stress of COVID-19 and the new physical isolation lifestyle.
- Get your facts from medical experts, and websites such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or local health authorities, and not from rumors or random social media posts. Unknown and uncertainty are major causes of stress and anxiety. By knowing the facts about the pandemic, you can have an objective estimate of the risks. Also, knowing legitimate ways of protecting yourself and your loved ones will give a sense of control, and help reduce anxiety. Just know enough to protect yourself and your family. Do not get obsessed with the news, and do not keep checking the news and especially cable news for hours and hours. Make sure to give yourself an hours-long break from the news. They are always there for you to come back to them.
- Give yourself a chance to be distracted from the bad news, which is all over the place on social media and cable news. Watch movies or TV series, documentaries (animals are awesome), or comedies if you have time to watch.
- Remember all the activities you had always wanted to be able to do, but did not have time for. Get to those. This does not have to always be errands or housework. It could be (and should be) fun activities and hobbies.
- Try to keep your routines. If you are a social person, stay connected via the use of technology (phone, video chat, etc.). We are social creatures, and physical isolation should not lead to social isolation. Connect, especially now that you have more time on hand. Go to bed and get out of the bed at the same times you did before, and eat your normal meals. Now that you have time, you can spend more time cooking and eating healthy. Do not let the good habits change.
- Stay physically active. This is extremely important. There is abundant research showing how regular exercise (especially moderate cardio) helps with not only physical health and an enhanced immune system, but also mental health. Research shows a positive impact of exercise on anxiety and depression. This is not just because you will “feel” good working out. Regular exercise has a positive measurable impact on the size and function of the brain, and reducing inflammation. Especially now that you have more time, you can start working out if you didn’t before, or do more if you did. There are a lot of trainers who are offering free home exercise training these days online. You can also use exercise as a means for bonding with your loved ones.
- Meditate and use mindfulness techniques.
- If anxiety is out of control, get help. Your doctor can refer you to the help you need.
- Know that this will also pass. Medicine is advanced enough to ultimately get a hold of this and control the pandemic. We are a very resilient species and have been around for millions of years. We can survive this with wisdom.
- Remember your mind is like your stomach: if you feed it good food, it will be healthy and you will be happy. If you feed it garbage, you will feel sick. Stay away from excessive negativity, whether through acquaintances or the media. Now that you have the time, expose yourself to all the good things you could not when too busy.
- Spring is also a great time for working on your yard or gardening projects. You will be safe, active, and productive.