Dealing With Stress And Anxiety During The COVID-19 Outbreak
By Dr. Tijuana Frank
Faculty Member, School of Education, American Military University
With the growing demands from work, family, friendships and financial responsibilities – as well as the stress caused by the current coronavirus pandemic – people are feeling stressed. However, stress was a problem before the COVID-19 outbreak and is the body’s natural response to danger.
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When we encounter a threat, the body activates hormones that prepare us to either stay or confront the danger. This reaction is known as the “fight or flight” mechanism. According to Medical News Today, “the body produces larger quantities of the chemical cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine” in a threatening situation.
What Are the Indications of Stress?
Medical News Today notes that the physical symptoms of stress are a racing heartbeat, sweating, increased blood pressure, a lack of sleep, tiredness and tense muscles. Stress can also cause irrational or exaggerated thoughts such as “Everyone is going to get sick!” or unusual behavior such as obsessively washing one’s hands due to a fear of contracting the virus.
Long-Term Stress Can Damage the Body
The stress hormones protect the body in dangerous situations. But if stress hormones remain elevated for long periods of time, Healthline says that the elevated hormone level causes health risks, such as:
- Rapid breathing
- A weakened immune system
- Elevated risk of heart attack
- High blood sugar
- High blood pressure
- A pounding heart (tachycardia)
- Muscle tension
What Is Anxiety?
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” Anxiety is a normal and natural reaction to everyday stressors.
But when anxiety interferes with a person’s daily activities and persists for a long time, this feeling can cause health problems. Medical News Today notes that the symptoms of anxiety include:
- A feeling of restlessness and being “on edge”
- Uncontrollable feelings of worry
- Concentration difficulties
- Sleep difficulties, such as problems in falling or staying asleep
Long-Term Effects of Anxiety on the Body
Everyone has experienced anxiety at some point in their lives. For example, going on a job interview, preparing for a speech or a performance, or attending the first day of school can cause someone to experience anxiety.
Experiencing anxiety in these situations is normal, but if anxiety symptoms persist, this can cause health problems. Healthline notes that people who experience long-term anxiety may have other medical problems such as depression, difficulty concentrating, headaches, panic attacks, irritability, a pounding heart, difficulty breathing, stomach pains, fatigue, increase in blood pressure, and unexplained muscle aches.
What You Can Do to Relieve Stress and Anxiety
If you’re feeling particularly stressed and anxious during this time, that’s normal. Be aware of the symptoms of stress and anxiety, and acknowledge those symptoms rather than ignoring them.
Don’t forget to live a balanced life. Your Coaching offers a handy “Wheel of Life” worksheet to help you assess what factors are off balance in your life.
Take Care of Your Body
During this stressful time, don’t forget to take care of your body. Download breathing apps to learn relaxing breathing techniques and download mindfulness apps. Get plenty of rest and exercise. If your stress and anxiety problems persist, talk to a mental health practitioner.
Concentrate on controlling only those aspects of daily life that you can control. We like to be in control and when we lack control, it exacerbates our stress and anxiety.
Most of the time, we are trying to change things that we can’t. This useful worksheet from Teachers Pay Teachers is designed to help you identify what areas you can control and what areas are beyond your control.
Focus on What You Can Do to Prevent COVID-19
Protecting yourself from the coronavirus is within your control. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends these precautions:
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid large gatherings.
- Use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Distance yourself at least six feet from other people.
- Stay home if you are sick.
- If you are sick, wear a face mask.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces that you frequently touch.
There are various activities you can do to relieve stress and anxiety. For example, you can:
- Take a walk or get some other form of exercise
- Reflect on positive things
- Listen to music
- Practice breathing techniques
- Use a diffuser with essential oils
- Do enjoyable tasks such as gardening, yard work, drawing, journaling, painting, sewing and writing poetry
Ideally, do activities that require your complete focus. Also, consider doing something kind for someone else who needs help or do volunteer work. In addition, limit your exposure to the news and social media sites.
Live Your Life
During this stressful time of social distancing and stay-in-place edicts, it’s important to remember that life goes on. Remember the acronym “LIVE”:
- L – Live a balanced life and laugh
- I – Identify the symptoms of stress and anxiety
- V – Volunteer or visit a mental health practitioner
- E – Exercise
Text HOME to 741741 and you’ll be connected to a trained Crisis Counselor. Crisis Text Line provides free, text-based support 24/7.
Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. The Disaster Distress Helpline (DDH) provides crisis counseling and support for anyone in the U.S. experiencing distress or other behavioral health concerns related to any natural or human-caused disaster, including public health emergencies.
Helpline – Need to Talk?
Call 211 or 1-800-684-2324
Text helpline to 898211
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline
Crisis text line: Text: NAMI to 741741
For any victims and survivors who need support, call 1-800-799-7233 or use 1-800-799-7233 (TTY). If you’re unable to speak safely, log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522.
About the Author
Dr. Tijuana Frank is a part-time instructor of School Counseling at American Military University and the University of St. Thomas. She is a certified professional coach and a certified school counselor with specialized training experience in trauma and crisis prevention. Her academic credentials include two associate degrees in general studies and paralegal studies from McNeese State University, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from McNeese State University, a master’s degree in counseling from Prairie View A&M University, and a doctoral degree in counseling psychology from Argosy University.