The unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic has worn on most of us. During the first surge of business closures and stay-at-home orders, we understood that these measures were temporary. And when the country began to reopen, it brought some sense of hope and relief.
But now, coronavirus case numbers have risen again and we’re being asked to accept the return of more restrictions. It’s understandable to feel anxious, stressed or angry. Add that to the stresses of financial and economic uncertainty, and the result may be fear, worry and even depression, notes the American Psychological Association (APA).
Though we’re still living through difficult times, this new phase also brings another opportunity to show resilience and find meaning. Here are some strategies for staying mentally and emotionally strong as you face this challenge and others.
See the Big Picture
Scientists are continuing to learn about COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). As they better understand the ways it spreads, the messages they offer about how best to reduce the risk might change.
That doesn’t mean they were wrong the first time, or that the steps we took to flatten the curve didn’t work. In fact, the reason we’re being asked to return to those measures is because they did prove effective before, and we need them now to contain the virus again. Understanding this may help you better cope.
You can also remind yourself of the basic facts, notes the APA. Most people with COVID-19 will have only mild symptoms. Experts around the globe are working to solve big problems. And while another few weeks or months of restrictions and time at home won’t be easy, looking back, it may eventually seem like a relatively short period of time.
Health care teams are even more prepared now than at the start of the pandemic; with better organization, more data and research, and plenty of personal protective equipment (PPE), experts have more understanding of how to approach and treat the virus.
Recall Your Purpose
Some people — such as front-line health care workers — are quite literally fighting the new wave of the pandemic. Others may feel more uncertain about how their actions matter in the big picture.
Remembering that we all have a part to play in this ongoing crisis can give us strength to carry on. Your role may be to stay at home to reduce the spread of coronavirus and make things safer for people who must go out. Or, you might serve as a critical source of strength and stability to your friends and family.
Recognizing your role and embracing it can make following public health guidelines feel more like a responsibility to uphold than a burden to bear. You may surprise yourself by how you can rise to the challenge.
The first stay-at-home orders sparked a surge of creativity and community. People used technology to connect in all kinds of new and interesting ways, from virtual board game platforms to online weddings. Video calls have become more popular (and important) than ever.
Even when you couldn’t be with the people you loved physically, you likely found new ways to connect. Leaning into these support systems again can help everyone weather the ongoing waves of the storm.
You could also connect with your family at home by disconnecting from your computer and phone. Consider a family “digital detox” one night a week or over the weekend where only tech-free fun is on the schedule.
Staying calm, focused and in the present moment boosts your ability to cope with anxiety. Everyone can be mindful — it isn’t a new skill you have to learn. Rather, it’s a state we can all access with practice.
Start by taking 30 minutes to unplug. Turn off your phone, computer and TV. Notice how you feel and what emotions and impulses arise.
Breathing exercises can also help you practice mindfulness. You can sit for 5, 10 or 15 minutes — set a timer so you don’t have to check the clock. Relax and focus on how your body feels when you inhale and exhale. If your mind wanders, simply return your focus to your breath.
Control What You Can
Even in this new phase, you can’t influence many aspects of the pandemic. You may have no sway over the decisions of government officials, the behavior of others, and the speed at which doctors develop treatments and vaccines for COVID-19.
However, there’s still a lot you can do to protect yourself, your family and the broader community. This includes everything from small daily measures — continuing to wash your hands regularly and wearing a cloth face-covering in public, as The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends — to getting involved in local or national volunteer efforts.
If you are an essential worker whose job requires contact with others, it’s normal to feel even more concerned about getting sick or spreading the virus to others. Fortunately, the CDC has published extensive guidelines on how you can keep yourself — and the people you serve — safe. Reading and following them can bring you a sense of empowerment.
The same types of lifestyle choices that support your physical and mental health at any time play a particularly critical role in times of high stress, such as a second wave of the pandemic. These healthy habits include:
Creating some sense of schedule or routine
Eating nutritious, well-balanced meals
Getting regular physical activity — especially outdoor activities when it’s safe to do so
Sleeping as well as possible
You’ll also want to manage your other health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes or joint pain. Work with your health care team on the best ways to continue seeking care for your whole health during this wave of the pandemic. We’re here for you, both for in-person appointments and virtual visits.
Whether it’s among family members or coworkers, most situations benefit from respectful, open discussions rather than buried feelings that can lead to resentment.
For family members, don’t be afraid to set boundaries. Reflect on some of the ways you managed your energy and emotions when you stayed at home before — perhaps you had regular family meetings and designated times and places for different tasks. Talk with the people in your household about whether the same strategies might prove useful again.
When it comes to the workplace, discuss on-the-job stressors with your team. Make sure you know what is expected of you, and how that might change due to shifting circumstances. Ask about the health and safety measures your company has put in place — and what access you might have to mental health resources, should you need them.
Watch for Warning Signs
Stress and anxiety have both physical and emotional consequences. Monitor yourself and your loved ones for signs you’re coping with more than you can handle. These include:
Anger, denial or irritability
A lack of motivation
Fatigue or being overwhelmed
Feeling burned out
Physical reactions, including headaches, pain, stomach problems and rashes
Sadness, hopelessness and depression
Trouble concentrating or sleeping
Worsening of chronic or mental health conditions
When you start to notice these red flags, get proactive about managing your stress. Reach out to friends and family, take time to unwind and do activities you enjoy, and monitor your exposure to news so you stay informed but not overwhelmed.
Get Help When You Need It
If you experience the above symptoms for more than a few days, or if they begin to interfere with your daily life, it may be time for professional mental health treatment.
Our behavioral health specialists at AdventHealth provide individual, group or family therapy, as well as spiritual support when you need it. There’s no shame in seeking these treatments at any time, especially these days of uncertainty and stress. Learn more about our Mental Health Management services here.
If you feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to do next — or if you’re thinking about harming yourself or someone else — seek immediate help. You can call the Disaster Distress Helpline at Call800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
Your Trusted Partner in Whole Health
As we face these challenges together, know we’re always here to support you in body, mind and spirit. Whether you need safe, whole-person care or the latest news and information, we’re with you every step of the way to help navigate the healthiest path forward.