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Mitigating the Stress Effects of Covid-19

By Ame Wadler

Hands

As the world slowly emerges into the next phase of life with COVID-19 pandemic, many will feel a sense of relief and freedom.  There may be a sigh of relief that we are moving forward and that we are alright – the worst is over.  But the truth is, we will all be impacted by the reality of a new way of life as we watch and wait to learn what the Fall might bring. 

While we are all seeing the devastating mental health effects of COVID-19 on those on the frontlines -- healthcare workers as well as our grocery workers, truck drivers and sanitation workers – it’s important to remember that this crisis has been a trauma for all of us.  The mental health effects of COVID-19 are real and important to recognize and address. 

A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that Irritability, anxiety, anger, fear, frustration and grief are all common feelings associated with a traumatic event like the Covid-19 pandemic.  Even if you have not been physically impacted by COVID-19, the pandemic has caused enormous stress in everyone’s lives. So, it’s not surprising that Betty Pfefferbaum, M.D., J.D., and Carol S. North, M.D., M.P.E, the article’s authors suggest that we be mindful of the strong emotional implications that may occur as we adjust to a new world with Covid-19.

Just as there have been steps to take to prevent new infections, there are some things we can do today to help prevent a pandemic of mental health issues:

Know the Symptoms

Nightmares and having difficulty sleeping, feeling anxious, stressed or unusually irritable, difficulty concentrating…these are all things that most of us will experience episodically.  Sometimes, people become hypervigilant and can’t stop themselves from imagining the worst.  One way to disrupt those thoughts and keep them at bay is to find a coping mechanism - maybe it’s a Zoom visit with a friend or throwing oneself into sweat-inducing exercise.  But, if symptoms such as these occur with regularity, interfere with your daily life and don’t abate with time, the Centers for Disease Control recommend talking to a family doctor to see if there’s a deeper issue or to identify actions you can take to relieve the anxiety. 

Yep, this news junkie said it…Turn off the news

No one loves the news media more than me (well, actually I can think of a few that do) but when it stresses you out, it’s time to hit pause and start streaming something fun.  Truth is, there are studies that show that media coverage of collective traumas can trigger distress, even amongst those not directly affected.

Practice Resilience

There’s great news in that most people are highly resilient even those who feel stress acutely.  Remember what we’ve learned through our Headspace meditations and all the other great tools that are often right at our fingertips to help boost our coping mechanisms. Activating and habituating the social support systems and other strategies that work for you today, can prevent a longer-term problem with stress. But, if for some reason, your normal approaches aren’t helping reach out for support.

Finally, we’re all in it together

Sometimes the best way to relieve our own stress is to be a source of calm and support for someone else.  Think about what you can do for someone who seems to be struggling.  It may be as simple as asking them “How are you doing?” and listening closely to the answer. 

That sensitivity is also important for those people around you who seem especially strong. Often, people who are seen as resilient are less likely to acknowledge their need for help.  If you are one of those people, know that there’s immense power in vulnerability – there is greater heroism in asking for support than in going it alone.

For more information or resources that can help, please see these tools from Mental Health America.