Coping with COVID-19 Stress


Woman with hands in hair surrounded by work items
The COVID-19 pandemic has put stress on the bodies and minds of many as the population adapts to changing conditions. In addition to staying physically healthy, attention must also be paid to mental and emotional well-being, says an expert at The University of Texas at Dallas.
Dr. Regina Ybarra, a licensed psychologist and associate professor of instruction in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas, outlined why the current situation is so difficult and what individuals can do about it.
“The length of the restrictions in place due to the pandemic means that our resistance to stress is subject to general adaptation syndrome,” Ybarra explained. “After a brief initial period of alarm, we build up a strong resistance to stress – but that expires after such a long time. Then we enter an exhaustion phase where our ability to respond well has simply run out.”
Signs of extreme stress can vary from person to person, but generally include agitation, hopelessness, self-neglect, personality change or withdrawal.
Ybarra offered several tips to cope with COVID-19 stress:
What’s the most basic component of reducing stress under these conditions?
“You have to start with staying physically safe and healthy. Follow the safety protocols that are meant to protect you – wash your hands, stay home and so on. Exercise and sleep as normally as you can. Keep down your alcohol and caffeine intake. Also, try to avoid exposure to pandemic news right before bedtime.”
What are some basic ways to increase your sense of control over your situation?
“It’s important that you set achievable goals for yourself and complete them. Maintain a routine as though you were working as normal – get up, get dressed and so on. Try not to think in terms of having to stay home; think of the things you can take care of because you are in your home.”
How do you stay in a positive frame of mind in a time like this?
“Seek out the things that are going well and focus on those, when you can. Express gratitude, if you can, for the elements of your situation that could be worse: your health, or perhaps your employment situation.”
What about simple relaxation techniques? Do these apply to the pandemic?
“Absolutely. Meditate or do yoga. Play with your pets. Make sure to distract yourself with light-hearted activities. Most of the things we’d normally advise should also make sense now, as long as you’re not group-interacting.”
What are some additional coping techniques?
“Stay connected to the people you’d normally have around you. Stay in touch with your loved ones and whatever communities you normally interact with. Find ways to help out your community if you are able. And try to remain hopeful. There is an end to this. It’s coming.”
–Stephen Fontenot