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How to manage stress during the COVID-19 pandemic

Worried about COVID-19?

> Know the facts

Change is stressful, and stress leads to anxiety, negatively affecting our mental and physical health. And while sheltering in place serves the public good, it can affect our mental health.

Susanne Ringhausen, manager of Mental Health and Psychological Services at OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony’s Health Center in Alton, offered some solutions.

“Feeling worried is a normal human response to change or challenge. It’s important during uncertain times to understand the difference between an expected reaction to stress and elevating levels of distress that may trigger a depressive episode or anxiety disorder,” Suzanne said. “Taking time for personal self-care helps us to maintain perspective and prevent concerns from becoming more serious.”

Know the signs of stress

Signs of stress include:

  • Abuse of alcohol, tobacco, medications or illegal drugs
  • Avoidance of favorite activities
  • Behavioral regression like toileting accidents or bedwetting
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Difficulty with attention and concentration
  • Excessive crying or irritation in children
  • Excessive worry or sadness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens
  • Stomach and digestion problems
  • Unexplained headaches or body pain

If you are feeling overwhelmed with emotions such as sadness, depression or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others, call 911 or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrative Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. Another option: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Manage your stress

Strategies for dealing with stress:

  • Find hobbies or activities you enjoy. Plan something small each day to look forward to.
  • Interrupt negative thought patterns that cause distress. Instead, focus on what you can do to make this situation better.
  • Listen to your body. Take deep breaths, stretch or take a moment to relax. Focus on eating healthy, well-balanced meals, getting regular exercise and sleep and avoiding alcohol or mood-altering drugs.
  • Limit exposure to news coverage, including social media. This goes double for children. They may misinterpret and become frightened about something they don’t understand.
  • Maintain regular routines. Create a schedule for learning activities, relaxation and fun.
  • Talk to trusted people about your concerns and feelings. Use your phone or safe internet means to connect with others in a positive way.
  • Talk about the COVID-19 outbreak – answer questions and share facts.

Know the facts

One sure way to defuse a stressful situation is to know the facts. Obtain the latest information from credible public health resources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or your state Department of Public Health (IllinoisMichigan). Misinformation spreads quickly and increases anxiety and alarm.

“You can experience some mixed emotions from isolation, worrying about your health and the health of your loved ones,” Susanne said. “Understand that it may take time to get back to your usual routine. Continue to communicate safely with loved ones. Knowing they are safe and healthy will reduce your stress.”

If you are experiencing increased anxiety or stress, you have 24/7 access to the OSF HealthCare online platform for behavioral health, OSF SilverCloud. OSF SilverCloud provides access to online behavioral health tools, and can connect you to in-person resources or telehealth services.

Last Updated: December 21, 2021

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About Author: David Pruitt

David Pruitt is a writer for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare. He has a bachelor’s of journalism from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and worked as a reporter before joining OSF HealthCare in 2014.

An avid golfer and fisherman, David was born and raised Alton, Illinois, which is where he currently resides with his son, James.

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Categories: COVID-19, Mental Health