Living through the COVID-19 pandemic is hard. How do you cope with a generational crisis that struck like a night-time thief and has upended life as we know it? As the world’s governments grapple with this question from the perspective of reviving the economy and reshaping acceptable social interactions, another important battle is being fought by each one of us. Individually. Alone.
In the scheme of things, we tend to forget that our mental health has been similarly ravaged in all of this, undernourished and starving for relief. Our stress meters have long been in the red and the prognosis is bleak especially for certain demographics.
People Who Are More Prone to Stress
Each one of us responds differently to stress. Some can handle earth-shaking life changes while others get all worked up over minutiae. Regardless of our stress tolerance, the pandemic has been especially bad for the mental health of the following people according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- People who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 (for example, older people, and people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions).
- Children and teens.
- People caring for family members or loved ones.
- Frontline workers such as health care providers and first responders.
- Essential workers who work in the food industry.
- People who have existing mental health conditions.
- People who use substances or have a substance use disorder.
- People who have lost their jobs, had their work hours reduced, or had other major changes to their employment.
- People who have disabilities or developmental delay.
- People who are socially isolated from others, including people who live alone, and people in rural or frontier areas.
- People in some racial and ethnic minority groups.
- People who do not have access to information in their primary language.
- People experiencing homelessness.
- People who live in congregate (group) settings.
Here are 5 Tips to Keep Our Stress Level in Check
1. Understand the Science Behind Stress
Think back to 200,000 years ago. Our ancestors happily resting near a watering hole after a day of hunting. Their magnificent laughter piercing the still sky. Then, a rustle in the bush. A tiger in the dark with bad intentions. Hearts start pounding and sweat starts beading.
When we are in danger, the stress manifestations like the quickening of the pulse and breathing, and the increased tension in the muscles indicate heightened alertness and brain activity. These are all by design to shift our body into gear to deal better with precarious situations.
Today, we experience the same thing. It is important to remember that stress is a normal body response, and we can manage and even use it to our advantage.
2. Dial Down on the Media Consumption
In times of uncertainty, the world craves information. It is with knowledge that we temper down our anxiety regarding the virus. When we know what necessary precautions to take, we feel a little safer. However, it is very easy to get overloaded in this age of 24-hour news cycle.
First, we must make sure that the information we consume is reliable. The internet can be a muddle of semi-truthful muck. Second, limit the times we consume mainstream news each day. News sometimes tend to lean on sensationalism, and we can get easily affected by the prevalence of depressing news which we don’t have control over.
3. Do Something You’ve Always Wanted to Do
To quote from a poem by Atticus, “Time is all we have and don’t.” This may be mere locution, but it takes on a profound meaning today. With everyone staying home, what do we do to pass the time? We now have so much free time in our hands that when we realize we’re not putting it to good use, we feel anxious about wasting it.
Being productive is one way to get our minds off the virus. This is the perfect time to start the first chapter of that book, or to crystallize that business plan you’ve been contemplating on for who knows how long. Do something your future self will be proud of when all this is said and done.
4. Help Others
Giving is a powerful neural pathway to happiness. The brain is hardwired to release oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine—the trifecta of happiness, as a response to altruism. Helping with money is always good, but we can also contribute time, talents, and expertise, and there is no shortage of people who would appreciate such gestures at a time like this.
5. Take Care of Yourself
Our mental well-being and physical health are two sides of the same coin-- body and mind. Therefore, it is very important to monitor our physical condition as well. The intrusion of the pandemic into our lifestyle has left our routines in shambles. We exercise less and get sucked binge-watching Netflix while eating embarrassing amounts of junk food—the ugly side of staying at home. We must refuse to let the virus hijack the parts of our lives where we can exercise control. The new normal is hard, but it shouldn’t be hopeless.