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COVID-19: Managing Anxiety and Stress

COVID-19: Managing Anxiety and Stress

It's difficult if not impossible to live in the middle of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and not experience some level of stress and anxiety. An estimated 7 million Americans are affected by a generalized anxiety disorder, as well as 6 million with a panic disorder, and these numbers are expected to increase as the pandemic wears on. Learning to recognize the signs of these disorders and how to manage them is a crucial way to support yourself and your loved ones during these difficult times.

Coronavirus Stress and Anxiety

What are Stress and Anxiety?

The most relevant anxiety and stress disorders right now are these:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): a common anxiety disorder characterized by uncontrollable worrying. For instance, sometimes people may worry about bad things happening to them or their loved ones. But, other times, they may not be able to identify any source of the worry. 

Panic Disorder: a condition that causes panic attacks, which are moments of extreme fear that is accompanied by a pounding heart, shortness of breath, shakiness, nausea, stomach upset, sweating, cold sweats, and fear of impending doom.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): a condition that causes repetitive thoughts and the compulsion to complete certain actions. This can manifest sometimes as cleaning or hand washing, and certainly the call to perform these actions frequently now

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)a condition that causes flashbacks or anxiety as a result of a traumatic experience. If you've had experience with a serious respiratory illness or a painful hospital stay, you might be experiencing a lot of trauma triggers right now.

 Coronavirus Stress Anxiety Symptoms

What Do Stress and Anxiety Feel Like?

Stress and anxiety have different symptoms for everyone, but they can produce both physical and psychological symptoms. People experience both stress and anxiety differently, but there are some common physical symptoms:

  • Stomach ache.
  • Muscle tension.
  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Rapid breathing.
  • Fast heartbeat.
  • Sweating.
  • Shaking.
  • Dizziness.
  • Frequent urination or bowel irritability.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Fatigue.

In addition to physical symptoms, stress and anxiety can cause mental or emotional symptoms, such as:

  • Feelings of impending doom.
  • Panic or nervousness.
  • Difficulty concentrating, fuzziness.
  • Irrational anger.
  • Restlessness.

People who suffer from stress and anxiety over long periods of time may experience negative related health outcomes. In fact, they are more likely to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and may even develop depression and panic disorder. 

Stress from Too Much News

Stress and the News

Following the news is vital in a time of crisis, but can breed an unhealthy obsession with updates. Many people turn to information to feel more in control of a frightening event, but that can spiral into a pattern of constantly checking your phone and focusing deeply on every new development. Here are some tips on how to stay informed but also stay centered:

Stick to trustworthy sources: Please, for everyone's benefit, stop sharing and reading news on Facebook. Most of it's junk and most of us only read the headline anyway. Rely on the CDC, the World Health Organization, and your local public health authority. They have no incentive to lie to you.

Verify the news you share: We see a lot of false information in our field, and always encourage people to confirm that what they're sharing is accurate. Snopes' Coronavirus collection is a great place to start, as they've been a trusted source of fact-checking for over two decades. We are all susceptible to anxiety right now, and posting only reliable sources is a great way to help each other.

Limit your checking and keep track: Make a note on a notepad of the times when you check for news updates. Having a visual reminder of just how many times you've sought out information will tell you a lot about how much it's taken over your day.

Step away: You always have this option. If anxiety is starting to seriously affect you, limit your media consumption to a very specific time with a defined endpoint, for example from 6:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Make it manageable. And if talking about it is getting to be overwhelming, tell your friends and family you'd like to discuss other topics.

Find a reliable source: If you need to step away from the news media, find a friend or family member who you trust to deliver the right information to you.


When to Seek Help

If you're having thoughts about harming yourself or others, you should seek immediate medical help. Stress and anxiety are treatable conditions and there are many resources, strategies and treatments that can help. If you're unable to control your stress and anxiety, and they are beginning to impact your daily life, talk to a medical professional about ways to manage stress and anxiety.

 Stay At Home Coronavirus

Techniques to Manage Stress and Anxiety

Certain lifestyle changes can help alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety, even during a situation like this. These techniques can be used along with medical treatments for anxiety. Techniques to reduce stress and anxiety include:

  • Eating a balanced, healthy diet.
  • Limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption.
  • Getting enough sleep.
  • Getting regular exercise.
  • Meditation and yoga.
  • Hobbies.
  • Journaling.
  • Deep breathing.
  • Recognizing the factors that trigger your stress.
  • Talking to friends or family members.
  • Telephone hotlines: our own state, New York, has opened a professionally-staffed volunteer hotline for coronavirus anxiety. See if your own state has one too!

Professional help is also available to you to seek treatment for stress and anxiety. Typically, this is done by seeking a mental health provider. They may use psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, to help you work through your stress and anxiety, and help find the root of them. Your therapist may also teach you applied relaxation techniques to help you manage stress. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A popular and effective method used to manage anxiety. This type of therapy teaches you to recognize anxious thoughts and behaviors, and change them into more positive ones. You can practice the tenets of this style of therapy on your own right now! Focus on things you can control and small ways you can help by following guidelines like these:

  • Staying Home: Avoiding unnecessary travel reduces your potential of infection.
  • Writing: Write down your specific fears about how the virus will affect your life. Then, make a list of solutions and a plan to enact them.
  • Volunteer or donate: We don't encourage people to gather right now, but some people with specialized skills have volunteered their time towards helping others. If you want to stay safely indoors and have the resources, donating to reputable health organizations may help you feel
  • Cleaning: We don't encourage obsessive cleaning, but a once-daily cleaning of commonly used objects and surfaces in your house will help you feel secure in your home environment.
  • Hand washing: As above, we don't want to see our readers do this obsessively, but we want to encourage washing your hands when necessary.
  • Avoiding touching your face: we're all now aware of how much we do this unconsciously. Try putting tiny stickers on your fingers for a visual cue!
  • Following recommendations from health authorities: experts from organizations like the CDC and WHO are the best sources of factual information and guidelines on how to keep healthy right now. And knowing who to trust can be a great source of comfort.

Stress and anxiety can be unpleasant to deal with. They can also have negative effects on your physical health if left untreated. If you feel like your stress and anxiety are becoming unmanageable, seek professional help. This is a difficult period for all of us, and taking care of your mental health is crucial for both you and your loved ones.



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