Dealing with the Stress of COVID-19

Related topics: COVID-19 Resources
March 17, 2020

Dealing with the Stress of COVID-19

About the Author

By Tobias Barker, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, Paladina Health

These are definitely stressful times we’re living in. The recent COVID-19 pandemic caused by the appearance of a novel coronavirus has caught all of us by surprise. Fears of sickness and death, combined with mounting job and financial pressures, as well as the overall disruption of the lifestyle we’ve come to enjoy seem overwhelming in the moment.

The irony of it all is that the more you worry about the health consequences of something like COVID-19, the sicker you could actually become. That’s because of the profound effect stress can have on the human body over time.

While some stress can actually be healthy, sharpening our minds and fueling our metabolisms, there can be serious consequences from long-term stress—the kind that comes from weeks, or even months, of being exposed to all the negative news that the novel Coronavirus has created.

There are multiple recognized health problems that can be created or worsened by long-term stress. Some of the more common include:

  • Mental health problems such as depression and anxiety
  • Cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks and strokes
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Menstrual problems
  • Sleep disruption

Beyond these, stress can bring on negative behaviors, such as overeating and consumption of drugs, alcohol and tobacco, which represent their own health consequences.

Chances are that all of us are experiencing some type of stress as a result of the virus, whether it’s directly related to health concerns for ourselves or our loved ones or worry over its financial repercussions. Some people respond better to stress while others just naturally worry more.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the people likely to respond most strongly to stress include:

  • The elderly and those with underlying disease that make them more vulnerable to the adverse health effects of Covid-19
  • Children and teens
  • First responders and healthcare providers who are on the front lines battling the disease on a regular basis
  • People with existing mental health issues

So, what can you do to avoid becoming a victim of stress overload and keep stress from literally making you sick?

Start by taking care of yourself. Our company was founded on the principles of good health. We preached the value of proactively managing your health long before anyone had heard of COVID-19. But never has it been so important to adopt healthy routines as now. Start with the basics. Make sure you get plenty of sleep. Eat healthy. Stay hydrated. Exercise regularly. And avoid alcohol, drugs and tobacco.

Beyond these suggestions focused on your physical health, be sure to give yourself a mental break, as well. Start by taking breaks from all the negativity. Turn off the news. That means no reading, listening or viewing it on your phone for periods of time.

Unwind by finding things you enjoy doing. Although current shutdowns may restrict just about all public activities, there are still things you can do on your own, such as recreational reading, puzzles, painting, adult coloring books, gardening, carpentry. 

Yoga, meditation, mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery and deep breathing exercises have also been shown to effectively reduce stress. If you are new to active relaxation techniques, phone apps or videos (e.g., YouTube) are useful for introducing yourself to these skills. Many apps are free or are available for a nominal fee. The following is a list of apps that have many options for different relaxation skills: Calm, Mindfulness Coach, iBreathe, 10% happier, Headspace, Happy Not Perfect, Shine, Meditation Studio.

Maintain normalcy as much as possible while adhering to medical and local/federal guidelines of social distancing. For example, instead of the weekly coffee date with your high school buddies, can you establish a FaceTime or Zoom meeting instead? 

Maintain routines and structured schedules (e.g., e-school schedules, family dinners, etc.) as much as possible. There are many tips circulating of how to combat boredom or screen overload for families/children during this time. 

Stay in touch with family and friends (even if you can’t physically be near them). This is a great time to reconnect online or pick up the phone and just talk. Supporting each other is the way that we will survive this global challenge—mentally and physically.

In good health,

Tobias Barker, MD, Chief Medical Officer

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