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COVID-19: Six Essential Coping Strategies

Published on May 15, 2020

Coping with stress COVID-19 Munson Healthcare

Facing an unprecedented situation like the COVID-19 pandemic can cause an entirely different level of stress for many people. And even if you don’t necessarily feel stressed, your body’s physical signs or reactions may tell a different story.

“COVID-19 is a new territory for all of us,” shares Scott Wagner, MSW and Executive Director of Behavioral Health at Munson Healthcare.  “We can’t see it. It’s not like a tornado flattened our house or someone was involved in a tragic accident. It’s this droplet thing that seems like it’s everywhere, endless, and only getting worse.”

Moreover, so many aspects of our lives seem to be indefinitely on hold. We aren’t yet sure when we will be able to visit loved ones, return to work, run essential errands without feeling afraid, or enjoy a community gathering. Even worse, we wonder if we, too, may get sick and to what degree.

“The uncertainty is really hard. We don’t know what we will be dealing with in many aspects of our life, nor do we know how long this stress will last,” Scott shares.

Acknowledging that you feel stressed – and that it’s okay to feel this way – is the first step to begin coping with the unusual or intensified feelings you may be experiencing. Sure, acknowledging your stress won’t change the COVID-19 crisis, but it can help inspire you to take some additional steps for reducing stress. Below are some useful ways to help you get through your days.


1. Routine, Routine, RoutineCoping with stress Munson Healthcare

Humans are really wired for habit. Neuroscience reveals that our brains work in such a way to support these habits, which makes all the more sense for why you might feel a little off-balance, if not downright disoriented right now. Our routines become such an ingrained part of our lives that being asked to stay-home unless absolutely necessary can be very bewildering. But you can still stick to a steadfast routine even in your new situation. Waking up and going to bed at the same time is one way to help reinforce this routine – and with the added bonus of ensuring your body gets the true rest it still needs.

You can also re-create a sense of routine by sticking to the same meal times, choosing a certain time of day to shower and get dressed, exercise or get some movement, and even reach out to loved ones virtually. Consider other activities you typically do throughout the day, such as chores, a special ritual you have with your children, or the things you normally feel joy doing, such as reading or crafts. These should also be incorporated back into your daily schedule, even if you decided to change where and when you do them. 


2. Get Some Fresh Air

Don’t underestimate the sheer healing powers of fresh air. Try to get outside if you can practice safe social distancing. You may be amazed at what it does for you! As the weather warms, open a window where you spend most of your time throughout the day. Let some fresh air flow through and plug into nature. And if you can, take that conference call or your daily chat with a loved one on your front porch or balcony.


3. Limit Your Exposure

It’s important to know what’s happening, especially as we’re being asked to stay home and limit our trips to the grocery store, bank, etc. But a few quick scans of the headlines and lead paragraphs or a once-a-day tune-in to your local news station can often tell you what you need to know. This coping tool can be more difficult for some than others. If you know that news exposure is a stressor for you, it’s especially important to consider cutting back.

Here are a few extra tips to help:

  • Pre-determine a defined amount of time to check-in with the news.
  • Set a certain time of day that’s less likely to be upsetting or disruptive to your routine. For example, right before bed or the start of your day may not be as ideal.
  • Think about an activity you can practice after you’re done watching or reading the news to help refocus on what brings you joy and peace.
  • Consider removing distractions such as news notifications from your phone so you’re not tempted or disrupted.

4. Embrace Your Inner Homebody

Coping with COVID-19 Munson Healthcare

People who love being home tend to find value in projects. From solo hobbies like reading, sewing/knitting, or just good old-fashioned tinkering to hobbies you can share with live-in loved ones, such as listening to new podcasts, working through a crossword puzzle, or playing cards, you may be surprised at what’s available at your fingertips.

You might also think about a home project you’ve wanted to tackle that doesn’t require things you may not be able to purchase during this time. Perhaps you’ve wanted to organize your garage or basement, sort through your junk drawer, or make room in your closet for the upcoming summer season. It’s also a great time to consider spring cleaning, like deep cleaning your fridge and/or cupboards, washing windows, wiping down your ceiling fans, or just surveying your home to determine what clutter you need to clear out.

Finally, what’s something you’ve always wanted to do, learn, or research but never had the time? Activities such as future trip-planning, journaling, exploring yoga, learning a new language, practicing meditation, writing a poem, or teaching yourself a new skill can help spark a sense of personal fulfillment during a time you may need it most.


5. Nourish Your Mind with Positivity

Coping with COVID-19 Munson Healthcare

You’ve probably at least heard of the importance of healthy eating. But what about feeding your mind with the goodness it needs? Negative thought patterns from time to time are a normal part of being human. Perhaps you’ve noticed an increase in these gloomy thoughts during especially difficult times such as the COVID-19 crisis. Being mindful of these thoughts and counterbalancing them with positivity can really help.  Even if you don’t view yourself as the peppy type, try adding a dose of positivity at least once a day and make note of how it affects you.

Here are a few different ways to let a little sunshine in, in addition to tips 1-4 above:

  • If you love TV, movies, or online streaming, take some periodic breaks from crime, mystery, and thriller genres and opt for comedies, feel-good dramas, and even children’s movies – they are often written with both child and adult audiences in mind.
  • The same goes for books and music. Add in some more uplifting genres that make you smile, laugh, or put some extra pep in your step.
  • Showing gratitude can have a similar effect. “Ask yourself, ‘What are two things I’m grateful for today?’” shares Scott. Writing them down as opposed to saying them out loud can help you really acknowledge them as well.

6. Ask for Help

Seek help if you need it – connecting to others is huge during uncertain times. Lean on a friend who tends to be insightful or good at listening. If you want to connect with new people, consider some online or Facebook-based support groups. “Just don’t get dragged into constant COVID talk about how bad things are,” Scott advises.

If you feel you could use the help of a professional who has the education and experience to guide you through your stress, be reassured that you can find and get help right from home. Many counselors are now using online platforms or can talk to you over the phone. If you have benefits through work, find out what kind of counseling is included.

“That Employee Assistance Program (EAP) thing at work you have never used might have a very helpful listener for you,” Scott shares. And if you’re feeling that talking to someone isn’t possible for financial reasons, know that there are many helpful resources you can turn to.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free, confidential, 24/7 emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Call 1-800-273-8255 and speak to a counselor today.