Coping with Anxiety

Tips for Coping with Anxiety Related to COVID-19

Everyone responds differently to stress, however some people may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis, including:

  • Older people and people with chronic diseases who are at higher risk for contracting COVID-19
  • Children and teens - who often have not yet developed effective coping skills
  • People who are helping with the response to COVID-19, like doctors and other health care providers, or first responders
  • People who have mental health conditions, including challenges related to substance use 

Signs and Impact of Stress

  • The first step in dealing with stress is recognizing that you are stressed in the first place. This may not always be as obvious as you might think.
  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, especially parents and older relatives
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns - significant increase or decrease
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health conditions - particularly true of mental health related challenges
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
  • Headaches, muscle pain, and fidgeting or other nervous habits. 
  • Mood swings, irritability, and depression.

How can I take care of myself and deal with the unknown?

We can start by accepting the things we cannot change and focusing on the things that we can. We do not know when the situation will peak or when it will resolve itself but we do know things we can do to decrease the spread and care for ourselves such as:

  • Be vigilant about hand washing. Wash for 20 seconds, or 2 rounds of “Happy Birthday” (or “Truth Hurts” by Lizzo.)
  • Maintaining social distancing.  Try an elbow bump in place of a handshake, fist bump or warm embrace. We can all hug when this is over! 
  • “Flatten the curve” -- stay home as much as possible and encourage your friends and family to do the same.  It’s tough but it will be worth it in the long run, because we are doing our part as community members to limit the virus spreading.
  • Have faith and hope. Nothing lasts forever, including this crisis.
  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting. 
  • Listen to music. Relaxing music can slow your heart rate, lower blood pressure, and decrease the levels of stress hormones. Many musicians are also posting concerts online to cheer up fans.
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs. Apps such as Oak and Stop, Breathe and Think can be helpful with learning to meditate.
  • Pet your animals: Studies suggest that interacting with animals can reduce cortisol levels, a major stress hormone. 
  • Learn something new. Every day, more people post instructional videos on the internet. Take time to learn a dance routine, play piano, or how to cook.
  • Reach out. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.  Phone calls or video chats are great ways to connect while maintaining social distance. Caribu is a wonderful app to connect children with grandparents or older relatives. It allows them to read books or color together. Many  classes are using platforms like Zoom to help students stay engaged in their studies.
  • Faith Resources - Many congregations are offering religious services online. It’s not quite the same as in-person worship but can offer a sense of connection to others and to our faith.
  • Laugh: (even if it is forced) -watch funny videos, look at pictures, etc. Laughter induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can: increase endorphins released by your brain, decrease your heart rate and blood pressure, stimulate circulation and aid in muscle relaxation. 
  • Do NOT stop treatment for existing health conditions. Many providers are now offering telemedicine/ telehealth services to enable patients to receive treatment in the comfort of their homes. For students in Virginia, Student Health & Counseling Services staff are available for telemedicine/ telehealth appointments.
  • Manage your time. Prioritizing your activities can help you use your time well. Making a day-to-day schedule helps ensure that you don’t feel overwhelmed by everyday tasks and deadlines.
  • Practice relaxation. Deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation are good ways to calm yourself. Taking a break to refocus can have benefits beyond the immediate moment.
  • Exercise daily. Schedule time to walk outside, go for a bike ride or do an online exercise or yoga class. Whatever you do, make sure it’s fun. Daily exercise naturally produces stress-relieving hormones in your body and improves your overall physical health.
  • Eat well. Eating unprocessed foods, like whole grains, vegetables, and fresh fruit is the foundation for a healthy body and mind. Eating well can also help stabilize your mood.
  • Get enough sleep. Symptoms of some mental health conditions, like mania in bipolar disorder, can be triggered by getting too little sleep.
  • Look through HAPPY photos: a reminder that you are loved and cared for, which makes you feel safe. 
  • Write a gratitude list and read it daily: Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, remember good experiences, and deal with adversity. 

Home Stress Relief Activities 

Practice mindfulness: Mindful practice of paying attention to the present moment helps to control thoughts that lead to stress. 

Activity: 

  1. Look around you and become aware of your environment. Notice five things that you can see... 
  2. Notice four things that you can feel… 
  3. Notice three things that you can hear… 
  4. Notice two things that you can smell… 
  5. Finally, notice one thing that you can taste... 

Make a homemade stress ball: 

  1. Stretch out a balloon. ... 
  2. Choose your filling: rice or flour. 
  3. Stick a funnel into the neck of the balloon. 
  4. Slowly fill the balloon. ... 
  5. Remove the funnel from the balloon and let out as much air as you can. ... 
  6. Tie the neck of the balloon tightly

Some of this comes from positivepsychology.com. 

For parents

Children and Teens can have a variety of responses to stress, just like their parents. Common reactions include:

  • Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
  • Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, toileting accidents or bedwetting)
  • Excessive worry or sadness
  • Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
  • Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens
  • Difficulty with attention and concentration
  • Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
  • Unexplained headaches or body pain
  • Use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

There are many things you can do to support your child

  • Do not avoid the topic. Having an honest conversation with your child, during which you provide them with information and reassurance, can be a great way to connect with them.
  • Children and teens will follow wherever we lead them. If parents and caregivers can be calm and confident in the face of adversity, they model this behavior for their children. 
  • Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. While information can be helpful, saturation rarely is. Get the facts, then move on.
  • Try to keep up with regular routines. Many teachers are providing guidance regarding topics to focus on while at home. Currently ABC mouse is free for young children and can be helpful in keeping up their studies.
  • Encourage activity. Exercise is a wonderful outlet for nervous energy. Parents can be creative about encouraging movement. One staff member engaged their child in yardwork and another created a bowling game with empty water bottles and a kickball.

National Resources

If you or family member or friend is in need of immediate assistance:

  • Disaster Distress Helpline (SAMHSA)

Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Link)

Call 800-273-8255 or Chat with Lifeline

  • Crisis Textline

Text TALK to 741741

 

Additional Resources for Roanoke Faculty and Staff

  • Reach out to Psychological Health Roanoke to access Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits by calling 540-772-5140. They are now providing services via telemedicine/ telehealth.
  • In response to the stress caused by this unprecedented national crisis, Student Health and Counseling Services is now offering confidential Brief Consultation to faculty and staff. Faculty and staff can request to speak with a licensed mental health provider by calling 540-375-2286 or emailing healthservices@roanoke.edu . This is being offered at NO COST to faculty and staff. There is no limit to the amount of consultations that can be requested. Consultations will be conducted remotely.

 

The American Psychiatric Association (psychiatry.org) offers the following suggestions:

  1. Stay informed. Obtain current information about the outbreak from trusted sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov and the World Health Organization at www.who.int. 
  2. Educate. Follow and share basic information about hygiene to reduce spread of illness, such as handwashing and cough etiquette. 
  3. Correct misinformation. Help correct inaccurate information and misperceptions by sharing credible, established public health resources.
  4. Limit media exposure. Use media enough to make informed decisions, then turn it off. 
  5. Anticipate and address stress reactions. Keep in mind that it’s normal to feel stress in reaction to an infectious disease outbreak and be aware of signs of stress in yourself or family members. Take steps to minimize and address stress, such as keeping normal routines, taking part in enjoyable activities, focusing on positive aspects of your life and things that you can control; seeking support from friends and family; and engaging in stress reduction techniques and physical activity.