8 Tips for Coping With COVID-19 Stress

Remember: You're not alone in feeling this way.

The COVID-19 pandemic is stressful no matter what aspect you're looking at: overrun hospitals, permanent work-from-home situations, wearing a mask wherever you go. But even though the world has measures to protect against infection (thank you, science, for multiple safe vaccines), you may still have some lingering anxiety regarding *gestures* all of this.

First off: Know you're not alone in experiencing a higher-than-usual stress level because of COVID-19: According to an April 2022 poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), about 50% of US adults said "their own personal mental health has been negatively affected". Additionally, four out of 10 adults said that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted their physical health and finances.

Luckily, there are some steps you can take to soothe your mind. Here, mental health experts share their best tips on coping with COVID-19 stress.

1. Answer Any What Ifs

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many of us to ask questions we may not have considered before: What if I lose my job? What if I get sick? What if a loved one gets sick? It can feel impossible not to think about these hypotheticals, given the scale of the pandemic. But you can use these what-ifs to your advantage, Shannon O'Neill, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, told Health. Answering your questions can help you establish plans you never thought you needed. Knowing who you would call and where you'd go if you got very sick might help you feel less nervous about the hypothetical scenario.

2. Differentiate the Workday From the Rest of the Day

The pandemic stripped many of daily routines, including the way we work. For example, during the first week you worked from home, it might have been nice to wear sweatpants or leggings every day while you worked on your couch. "But dressing the way you used to might help to restore a sense of normalcy to this decidedly not normal time," said Dr. O'Neill. "This can enhance structure by helping you differentiate the workday from everything else you're doing at home during quarantine."

Another tip: End the workday with a "virtual commute" by clearing your head for a few minutes after sending your last email of the day, the way you would on your walk, drive, or bus ride home from work each day. This can be as simple as watching a TV clip or reading a few pages of a book. Try to focus on nothing else for however long your commute would take.

3. Monitor How Much Time You Spend on the News

The news can be frightening, especially during a pandemic. "This is how the news works, giving us the hard and fast truth," said Dr. O'Neill. Reading about rising death tolls and the financial suffering of others who lost their jobs may cause panic or dread. To stop obsessing over the news 24/7 (without totally detaching yourself from reality) is to set up a time each day to catch up on the news. The key is to put your phone down and/or turn off your TV once that allotted time is over. Try not to return to the news until the following day.

4. Focus on What You Can Control

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many people to self-evaluate how much control they have over their life—particularly what they can and can't do. "We can't wave a magic wand and make the coronavirus disappear. We have to focus on things we do have power over vs. we don't," Susan Albers-Bowling, PsyD, a psychologist at Cleveland Clinic, told Health.

If you worry about getting exposed to COVID-19 every time you leave your house, try changing your focus to what you can do rather than what you have no control over. For instance, you can reduce your risk for a COVID-19 infection by getting vaccinated, standing six feet away from others, wearing a mask, and staying home as much as possible to avoid unnecessary contact.

5. Stay Present

When you compare what your life looks like during the pandemic to pre-pandemic times, there's a solid chance you'll get a little sad. "Stop comparing, [and] keep moving forward," advised Albers-Bowling. "Looking back on seemingly less complicated times is a recipe for bumming yourself out."

6. Look for Good News

Many COVID-19 stories have been extremely sad, but there are some silver linings that look different for everybody. Some people have spent more time with their families, and others focused more on self-care while in quarantine. "Whatever your personal circumstances have been, it's crucial to look for (and focus on) the good rather than the bad," said Albers-Bowling.

7. Be Patient With Yourself

Patience is an important skill, and it's extra important during a pandemic. In a pandemic, you must learn to adjust and cope with the risk of getting sick from a deadly virus. Give yourself time to adapt and forgive yourself when you cannot maintain productivity at work or in life in general. "This is definitely a marathon rather than a sprint. Just being as patient and kind to ourselves as possible is important," said Dr. O'Neill. For example, try not to be too hard on yourself when you don't finish everything on your to-do list, if you don't feel like cooking dinner, or simply don't feel like tuning into that zoom happy hour.

8. Don't Underestimate Healthy Habits

There's a reason all doctors harp about the importance of resting, exercising, and eating nutritious foods that give you energy. Prioritizing these three activities keeps your mental and physical self as healthy as possible. "This is something that goes without saying," said Dr. O'Neill. "Establishing routines around these three lifestyle habits can help you find some normalcy during this tumultuous time." They also fall into the category of "things you can control" so they're truly a win-win.

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