Jeannie Peters, AMFT

Uncertainty can be scary and can often increase symptoms of anxiety and stress. The end of this COVID-19 pandemic is not yet in sight, and I have been hearing from a lot of friends, family, and clients that their levels of stress and anxiety have been significantly higher since Chicago went on lockdown. It appears as though people are hoping to find answers to when life will go back to their day to day normal and tend to look to China, Italy, New York and Washington State for those answers. Uncertainty and the unknown can be scary, which makes sense why people are attempting to use the media to guess what might come next in their city. Unfortunately, this attempt to ease anxiety and gather the facts as a way to cope with their uncertainty can be more distressing. Below are a few indicators to what stress might look like and a few tips to help you cope with uncertainty and stressors associated with these COVID-19 changes.

Indicators of Stress 

  •   Changes in sleep and eating patterns 
  •   Excessive worry about your health and the health of your loved ones 
  •   Excessive worry and sadness 
  •   Increased use of alcohol, drugs, and/or tobacco 
  •   Worsening of chronic health problems 
  •   Avoidance of activities that you used to enjoy 
  •   Difficulties concentrating 

Tips to Cope with COVID-19 Stressors 

Let Go of What You Cannot Control: During a pandemic and times when you feel like you are not in control, it is hard not to focus on what is going wrong and how scary daily life can be. During these moments, it is common to feel disempowered and lose sight of the control you do have. Amidst the chaos, it is important to re-center yourself and regain a sense of control. It may be something small (i.e. the time you wake up in the morning to WFH), or it might be taking control of your attitude. Try and focus on what you can personally control, as a way to make a change, rather than hyper focusing on everything you cannot control. 

Be Conscious of Your Media Intake: Getting continuous updates from multiple news and social media sources can be more distressing. Being bombarded with negative news about the outbreak can be overwhelming so attempt to limit your exposure. Delete, or limit your time on, apps that are causing you anxious thoughts. For example, if you have spiraling or ruminating thoughts after looking through Twitter, consider looking at Twitter only once a day for 10 minutes rather than scrolling through Twitter for over an hour and/or checking the feed at every work break. Consider omitting COVID-19 media altogether- ask someone you trust to give you an update once a day so you can stay aware without getting overwhelmed.  

Maintain Structure: Being at home 24/7 with your partner, kids, or alone is a huge adjustment. Being forced to stay home can impact your motivation to work, be social, and impact your mood. Try and stick to regular routines. For example, wake up at your usual time, change from your sweat pants into your work clothes, and block out a time to exercise. Within this structure, I recommend scheduling times within your day for breaks as a way to maintain self-care during this stressful time (read, nap, meditate, etc.). 

Connect With Family and Friends: Social isolation can increase symptoms of depression; being vulnerable and sharing your fears, anxieties, and stressors with a friend, partner, or family member has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression. Just because there is a psychical distance between you and your loved one does not mean you cannot stay socially connected. Technology today offers easy tools to help stay connected with others during this pandemic. Think about the hobbies and activities you like to do when you are not in the middle of a pandemic and bring it home with you. Plan a virtual Zoom knitting club, gaming club, happy hour or tea party; whatever sounds appealing to you! Reach out to a friend that you typically only talk to once a month for a check-in- maybe this ample time at home provides you the opportunity to reach out once a week rather than once a month. Reaching out and checking in with others will boost both you and your friend’s mental health.