Coping with Stress and Anxiety During the Pandemic
7 Tips from the Chicago Shriners Hospital Psychology Team
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is substantial, enduring, and affects us all. Education, work, health care, the economy and relationships have all been disrupted, with some groups being more negatively impacted than others. According to a national survey, 78% of adults say the pandemic is a significant source of life stress. Nearly half noted negative changes in their behaviors (e.g., snapping at others, mood swings).
The pandemic is also affecting children. The risk, prevalence and severity of mental health problems in youth is increasing during this pandemic. COVID-19 precautions and quarantines disrupt daily routines, rituals and the sense of safety in our youth. Physical distancing can increase feelings of isolation and depressive symptoms. Children may also experience increases in anxiety due to fear that they or their family members may become sick with COVID-19. Unfortunately, access to mental health services has become significantly limited due to loss of health insurance and reduced availability of mental health providers.
During these challenging times, it is important to take the time to assess the impact of the pandemic on our children and ourselves. Kathy Zebracki, Ph.D., and Sheel Vasavada of the psychology team at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago offer:
7 Tips to Help Decrease Stress and Anxiety
- Maintain a balanced schedule of school/work, rest and play
Keep to regular schedules and routines as much as possible. Aim for eight hours of sleep a night. Take time to unwind at home. Reading a book, listening to a podcast or cooking a tasty meal are a few options to take your mind off stressful thoughts. Check out websites, such as headspace.com or nytimes.com/spotlight/at-home for ideas. Find ways that work for you, and take some time to do that when you are feeling overwhelmed.
Whether passive or active physical activity, exercise is a great way to reduce stress. Studies show that regular physical activity not only reduces risk of cardiovascular diseases like high blood pressure and heart attack, but it also helps reduce stress and depressive symptoms.
There are still ways in which we can remain in contact with our family and friends while adhering to physical distancing guidelines. Technology allows us to stay connected. Popular apps being used right now include Zoom, House Party and Google Hangouts. There are also websites that can be used to have virtual game nights (i.e., Online CodeNames, Scattergories, etc.).
- Foster a positive and hopeful outlook
It is helpful to focus on the parts of life we enjoy and have control over. Avoid catastrophic or black-and-white thinking about the pandemic. When faced with a negative thought, reframe it to make it a more positive thought. Also laugh – it is one of the most powerful mood enhancers.
- Model positive coping strategies to your children
Talk with your children about their experiences and feelings, and acknowledge their grief and disappointment. Encourage adaptive responses. Modeling how one handles stressful situations or things out of your control can be an extremely valuable, lifelong lesson in emotional regulation.
- Focus on the facts
Understanding fact versus fiction when it comes to COVID-19 is one way to reduce stress and anxiety. Share factual knowledge with children and address misconceptions. Validate feelings of uncertainty. Some helpful resources include cdc.gov, pbs.org - how to talk to kids about coronavirus, and kidshealth.org.
- Turn off the news
While understanding the facts of the pandemic is one way to reduce anxiety, an overflow of COVID-related information may actually increase stress. Limit the amount of COVID-related news you consume on a daily basis. Be mindful that children may be hearing the news even though they may not be in the room watching it.
Note: If you or your child are having new or worsening mental health concerns, please speak with a health care provider. For immediate help in a crisis:
- Call 911
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-888-628-9454 in Spanish, or Lifeline Crisis Chat. This service is free, confidential and available 24/7.
This story originally appeared in SCI Informer, the quarterly publication of the spinal cord injury rehabilitation services team at the Chicago Shriners Hospital.
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