March 30th, 2020 null Tag Home Health Care, For Caregivers

How to Manage Stress During the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Kathy McDonough

And just like that, our lives have changed.

Every day we are hearing more and more about the virus. We started with basic information that was far removed from us. We thought it would not affect us. We listened to speculation about the coronavirus and the impact it was having on a place far, far away. We carried on, as usual, forgetting what we had heard on the morning news. Getting ready for the day, making sure the kids had their lunches packed, going to work, stopping at the store on the way home, coming home, making supper, monitoring homework, catching up on daily chores, watching TV, going to bed, only to do it all over again the next day. Not really giving a thought about this threat on the other side of the globe.

Until we had to. And this is where we are now.

We are asked to shelter in place, avoid large groups, practice social distancing, wash our hands, use hand sanitizer. The list goes on. Some of us are able to work from home, some are considered “essential” workers and must be on the front lines, selflessly giving of themselves for the good of the whole. In other industries, many have been laid off. Schools have closed. Children are home. Parents are called upon to homeschool their children and grandchildren, while trying to carry on working from home, meeting deadlines, communicating by Microsoft Teams, Zoom or whatever flavor of videoconferencing you use, adjusting to the new normal.   

Life as we once knew it has changed.

Change of any kind, whether it is good or bad, ranks high upon the list of stressors in our lives. Anxiety levels have spiked, much worse so for those who suffer from an anxiety disorder. We are experiencing global stress and you now can’t look at a newspaper or listen to the news without being inundated with information about this virus. Much is still unknown, and things are changing rapidly, hour by hour.

So, how do you manage the stress and anxiety that come with the ongoing influx of this global threat? How do we stay sane in a world that seems to have gone off the deep end? How do we keep ourselves and our families from also going over that proverbial cliff? How do we carry on?

These 8 steps should put you on the right path:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings
  2. Give yourself time to adjust to the new situation
  3. Limit your exposure to the news
  4. Take care of yourself
  5. Practice gratitude
  6. Shift your attitude
  7. Keep your schedule as normal as possible
  8. Find some moments of stillness and peace

1. Acknowledge your feelings.

Try not to stress about your anxiety. Worry is a normal response to the unknown. Anxiety is a natural response to an enemy, real or perceived. It is normal to feel anxious about this virus, and our anxiety actually informs us and heightens our awareness that we need to take good care of ourselves. Acknowledge that your worry is normal right now. The thing with anxiety is that we are often anxious about our anxiety, which then makes it worse! Accept the fact that worry and anxiety over this situation is absolutely normal.

When negative thoughts and/or feelings come, and they will, some of the following steps might help:

  • Acknowledge the negative thoughts and feelings
  • Find evidence that those thoughts that lead to anxious feelings could be wrong.
  • Ground yourself. Be aware of all the sensations in your environment. Use your senses: Feel your feet on the ground. Find something pleasant to look at. Listen to the sounds you hear. Touch something soft or smooth, like a blanket, or your pet, or a favorite stone. Eat your favorite piece of food.
  • Tell yourself that you are safe right now and you are doing the best you can.

2. Give yourself time to adjust to the new situation.

It is our nature to want to be proficient right out of the gate, and we sometimes struggle with learning new ways of being. Be gentle with yourselves as you adjust to a new way of working, connecting and communicating. For every role at Amedisys, things have changed for all of us. You’re either on the frontlines visiting patients, having to have your temperature taken before you enter a facility, having to ask new questions before you start a visit, worrying about spreading or catching the virus, making arrangements for your children who are now forced to stay home, wondering if they are getting their work done and if they are safe with you not being there.

Or you are now working from home when you were used to going to the office every day, having what you need at your fingertips. Now when you reach for a familiar tool, you find you left it at the office. You get frustrated not having your double monitor and now must work from your laptop with one screen only. You worry about your colleagues in the field and feel a little guilty that you are not doing more on the frontlines.

Your family is also home, everyone trying to do their work. The internet is slower because so many are using it. You are trying to homeschool your younger children and it’s been so long since you’ve been in school, you may not even understand the way they do their math, and yet now you must teach them. You worry that their education will suffer. You worry about how they are feeling, if they are scared, or frustrated, or angry. You have to take the time to attend to them, while feeling guilty about not giving 100% attention to your job.

You worry about your job. You wonder if you will be penalized for producing less than you would normally produce due to your doubled or tripled responsibility. You are trying to be a parent, a teacher, a good employee, a good boss. All at the same time. And do them all well. You start to feel inadequate. Your mind must jump constantly from your work, to your kid’s work, to your parenting, to your teams, and sometimes to your patients, all while trying to maintain a sense of sanity! 

You wonder if you have enough toilet paper, or hand sanitizer, or cleaning supplies. You wonder if the stores will have what you need when you get the chance to shop.

Don’t be too hard on yourselves if all is not perfect. Know you are doing the best you can in an unprecedented situation. You are adjusting, we all are. Give yourself a break and be okay with what IS. This, too, shall pass.

3. Limit your exposure to the news!

We all must stay informed, no question. However, a constant diet of news increases stress levels and anxiety. Only take your advice from scientists, medical experts, the CDC, the WHO. Amedisys has a daily communication with updates obtained from the above sources, and are very diligent in providing only accurate, up-to-date, evidence-based information to our people. Read the updates and go on with your day. Turn off the TV and the radio. Check in at the beginning of the day and then again at the end for any updated information.

4. Take care of yourself!

Now is the time to be more nurturing to yourself. Use universal precautions. Take breaks. Get outside. Breathe in the fresh air. Move your body. Go for a walk. Notice the buds on the trees. Nature is going on around us, regardless of the virus. Notice the grass turning green as spring is upon us. Eat your meals. Get enough sleep. Read a new book. FaceTime with family members or friends.

Watch a funny movie. Laugh. Laugh. Laugh!  It really IS the best medicine. You can’t be anxious when you are laughing. It’s good for the body, spirit and soul!

5. Practice Gratitude

Each day when you wake up, think about a few things for which you are grateful. Notice all the things that are right about your life instead of focusing on the negative or on what’s missing. Being grateful actually strengthens the immune system.

6. Shift your attitude

We can’t completely control the many thoughts that go through our minds each day, but we can decide where to focus our attention. You can look at things in a negative light, or you can find the positives, however trivial they may seem. For instance, this could be hitting us in the dead of winter when, especially in the north, we are also dealing with bitter cold and snow. Being spring, we are better able to get outside and stay there! Be grateful for the fact that your kids can sleep in a bit and you don’t have to do the early morning run out of the house bit! Appreciate the fact that you have the opportunity to continue to do your job when there are others who can’t. We can’t control everything, but we can adjust our attitudes.

7. Try to keep your schedule as normal as possible

Especially if you have children! However, don’t make it a point of contention. If you have to shift your schedule, be okay with that. Do what comes natural for you and your family. Take frequent breaks, sit down and have lunch and dinner as a family, if that is what you normally do. Begin and end your day at the normal time. Don’t think that just because you are working from home you are obligated to work beyond your normal time.  The work will be there tomorrow.

8. Find some moments of stillness and peace

Stress tends to build up in our bodies and minds over the course of the day. Our constant doing prevents us from just being.

  • Breathe. Step away from your computer. Go to your room. Shut your door for a few minutes. Close your eyes. Take some deep breaths. Feel the air coming in. Allow it to go all the way down to your belly. Exhale out any stress and tension. Repeat.
  • Release tension. Notice where stress is held in your body. Take a few breaths and shrug your shoulders, notice the tension that creates, on exhale, drop your shoulders to release the tension. Repeat a couple more times. Scan your body for other areas of tension. Tighten the area, then release and relax.
  • Unplug. Even though I stated this before, it bears repeating. Close your computer, turn of the tv and radio, put down your phone.
  • Spend time in nature. Also worth repeating. Stress levels tend to drop when we immerse ourselves in nature, and luckily, we are coming into a season where it is not too hot and not too cold for most. Sit in the sun. Hug a tree. Take a hike. Even a short walk around the block will do you a world of good. Work in your garden. Watch the wildlife. Listen for different types of bird calls. Appreciate even little things like the walk to the mailbox, or the walk to your car. Breathe in the fresh air. Listen to the sound of the silence. Let it bathe your ears and soothe your mind.
  • Meditate. Or pray. Do Qi Gong or Tai Chi or yoga. Find your center in whichever way works for you.

There are so many ways to cope, you just need to find what works for you. In the meantime, wash your hands, be safe, have compassion for yourselves and others, and breathe.

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Written by Kathleen McDonough, LCSW, MDiv, ACHP-SW

HSPC Director of Psychosocial, Spiritual & Volunteer Services

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