Coping with the stress of the COVID-19 outbreak
I was at the supermarket this weekend and noticed that the store was filled with more shoppers and that many of the shelves were empty. I could feel the tension in the air, as people were preparing for the worst. Anxiety and fear can spread even more quickly than an infectious disease.
It’s completely normal to experience increased stress during an infectious disease outbreak. Listening to the news, reading the newspaper, and noticing how the world around you is reacting will likely intensify normal apprehension. Our brains have a strong bias towards perceiving potential threat. We want to protect ourselves from possible danger.
It’s helpful to pay attention to how you and your family are reacting to this stress. Some adults and children may notice more worries than usual, sleeping problems, irritability, or difficulty relaxing. Some individuals may have increased physical discomfort—headaches, muscle pain, or possibly fatigue. Children may have nightmares, difficulty separating from their parents, or may exhibit behavioral problems. Some people who are already struggling with depression or anxiety may notice an increase in symptoms. It can be hard to identify why someone is feeling worse.
So what can we do to cope more effectively and handle increased stress during an infectious disease outbreak?
Get the facts.
When anxiety is high, some individuals are prone to overreact to a potential threat. Take some time to learn more about the outbreak from our health authorities. Visit the Snohomish Health District Novel Coronavirus Page or the King County Public Health COVID-19 page for the most up-to-date information and fact sheets that provide you with guidance. Factual information helps you keep excessive anxiety at bay.
Limit exposure to the media.
Some adults find themselves glued to television when there is a potential crisis. It’s reasonable to stay abreast of local and national developments without becoming a news addict.
Take care of yourself.
Recognizing the increased stress from these current events, it’s important to make sure to get enough rest, exercise, eat a healthy diet, limit alcohol consumption, and engage in hobbies and interests. This is the time to use all of your healthy coping resources.
Help your kids.
Children can be particularly impacted by the stress of an infectious disease outbreak. Keep young children away from television news, which can be scary for little kids. Pay attention to your children’s stress and anxiety level. Listen to their concerns and answer their questions if they want to talk about the what they are thinking and feeling. Spend more time with them and let them know that you are there for them. Keep adult conversations about the outbreak away from younger children who may not understand what you are saying, but will feel the tension. Children are emotional sponges and will absorb whatever emotions their parents are expressing. Reassure young children that you will take care of them. This is a time for more hugs!
It’s important to acknowledge your own fears and concerns. This is a time for all of us to work together as a community to be safe, secure, and helpful to each other.
- Taking care of your behavorial health during an infectious disease outbreak
- Tips for talking with children during infectious disease outbreak
- Tips for dealing with social distancing and quarantines
Optum Emotional Support Line
Optum, a leading health and behavorial health services company, is offering a free emotional support line for anyone feeling stressed or anxious about COVID-19. The toll-free number, 866-342-6892, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The service is free and open to anyone. Specially trained Optum health specialists help people manage their stress and anxiety so they can continue to address everyday needs.