By: Lisa Bardack, MD, FACP
Medical Director, CareMount Medical
Chair of Department of Internal Medicine/Endocrine/Rheumatology
Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the demands of life. Everyone reacts differently to difficult situations, especially when it’s a situation that necessitates social distancing, isolation and quarantine. Multiple challenges daily can push you beyond your ability to cope. During the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be experiencing stress, anxiety, fear, sadness and loneliness. You are not alone. Everyone is experiencing stress during these unprecedented times.
The single, most important thing you can do is to avoid feeling isolated and stay connected. Take advantage of the amazing technology we have available and talk to friends and family through virtual platforms — phone calls, texts, FaceTime, Zoom, or similar apps. If you’re working remotely, ask your co-workers how they’re doing and share coping tips. Enjoy virtual socializing, and more importantly, talk to those in your home. Sometimes it takes extra planning to connect with others during this time since our usual strategies for socializing have been disrupted. Do not be shy about scheduling virtual “dates” with those you are close to.
It’s also very important to take good care of your health and to recognize certain triggers that may induce stress or anxiety.
Focus on good habits:
• Get enough sleep. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Stick close to your typical schedule, even if you’re staying at home.
• Participate in regular physical activity. Exercise can help reduce anxiety and improve mood. If you’re unable to exercise outdoors, take an online class on YouTube or download an app.
• Eat healthy, well-balanced meals. Try to avoid processed foods and limit refined sugar. Caffeine can aggravate stress and anxiety so reduce your coffee or caffeinated beverage intake.
• Drink plenty of water. Hydration is very important. Try to drink half of your body weight in water daily
• Avoid tobacco, alcohol and drugs. If you smoke tobacco or if you vape, you’re already at a higher risk for lung disease. Because COVID-19 affects the lungs, your risk increases even more. Using alcohol to try to cope can make matters worse and reduce your coping skills. Avoid taking drugs to cope, unless your doctor prescribed medications for you.
• Limit screen time. Turn off electronic devices for some time each day, including 30 minutes before bedtime. Make a conscious effort to spend less time in front of a screen.
• Make time to unwind. Even a few minutes of quiet time can be refreshing and help to calm your mind and reduce anxiety. Try deep breathing, yoga, or meditation. Engage in activities such as listening to or playing music, reading, or trying a craft such as knitting or drawing.
Reduce stress triggers:
• Create a schedule. Maintaining a regular schedule is important. Keep consistent with meal times, work or study schedules, and exercise. It’s easy to slip into hibernation and stay in your pajamas all day, but getting prepared and dressed to face the day with a positive attitude will make you feel more in control and productive. Separate the work day from the evenings and the work week from
the weekends. Even though your environment is constant it is important to create boundaries between your work/school life and your home life.
• Take breaks. If you’re working from home, it’s important to take breaks between conference calls, webinars, and your laptop. Go for a short walk, call a friend, or spend a few minutes enjoying lunch.
• Limit exposure to news media. Constant news about COVID-19 can heighten fears about the disease. Limit social media that may expose you to false information. Keep up to date through reliable sources.
• Set achievable goals. Don’t become overwhelmed by creating a life-changing list of things to achieve while you’re home. Set reasonable goals each day and outline steps you can take to reach those goals. Give yourself credit for every step in the right direction.
If you find yourself feeling helpless, sad, angry, irritable, hopeless, anxious or afraid, call your provider for help. If you have trouble concentrating on typical tasks, notice changes in appetite, body aches and pains, or difficulty sleeping, or if stress gets in the way of your daily activities, for several days in a row, your physician can provide guidance. Hoping mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, will go away on their own can lead to worsening symptoms. Connect with your CareMount provider either through an in-person or virtual visit.
Even if you are experiencing mild stress and anxiety and you want someone to talk to, make an appointment with your provider. We are here for you.
At CareMount Medical, we are seeing patients in the office and using virtual visits so patients can see their own personal, trusted providers online. After a virtual visit, your provider can decide if you need to come in for an appointment based on your symptoms, medical history and needs. If you are scheduled for a routine exam or any in-office medical testing, it is necessary to continue with your appointment without delay.
If you’re feeling suicidal or thinking about hurting yourself, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) immediately or use its webchat at suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; World Health Organization