Take Care of Yourself And Decrease Unnecessary Stress During this time…
We are all living in the time of uncertainty. Our world is going through an ever evolving learning curve on ways to handle this pandemic known as the COVID-19. Many people are rushing to the stores buying vast amounts of toilet paper, cleaning products, papertowels, medicine for colds and flu, thermometers, water and various other products. Our country is watching other cities and countries battle this pandemic. Depending where you live, majority of people are on self-quarantine, optional quarantine, state lockdown, country lockdown. People are reacting in their ‘flight or fight’ (response is a physiological reaction that occurs to a response during a perceived harmful event (Gross, 1998) mode. Some people are fighting and others are fleeing, (i.e hoarding products and food (fight response) or staying in their home with very little contact with the outside (flight)). Regardless, stress levels are on the rise and their mental health is decreasing.
Stress is known to decrease the immune system (McLeod, S.A. 2010). The main stress hormone is cortisol (built in alarm system, ability to control your mood, motivation and fear). When cortisol is released during a stressful response, the immune system is unable to regulate our body and neurological system. When we are stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off viruses and other medical conditions. Hence, we become more susceptible to infections. Stress is linked to headaches, infectious illnesses (flu, colds, other viruses), cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma and gastric ulcers. Does heightened stress also increase the chances of being infected with or worsening the symptoms when positive for COVID-19? Research indicates, yes.
Since we know stress may increase the chances of getting sick, what can we do during this unsettling time?
- Be mindful – stay in the present moment, enjoy the moment and little things in life.
- Limit media exposure and computer screen time (pop ups occur) to 30 minutes a day. Pinterest and online shopping is always a fun way to spend time.
- Get outside, even if it is in your front or backyard.
- Keep in touch with friends and family either via Skype, FaceTime, phone calls, texting, etc. Isolation is unhealthy.
- Keep going to counseling via tele therapy – no reason to stop.
- Exercise inside or outside. Exercise is vital for stress regulation.
- Give yourself plenty of forgiveness tokens – yes you will get stressed, you may cry, shout, sleep, etc. Allow this, however not for too long. Make sure to check in if this continues for more than a day.
- Family time is important, play games, go for walks outside if permitted, watch funny movies, cook together, etc.
- Declutter the house and organize.
- Stick to a routine, normalize your life as it is now. This too will pass.
DO NOT PANIC, PREPARE! “It is important to not let fear control your life” (McGuire, J.F., 2020). Do wash your hands for at least 20 second, practice social distancing with the public, do not touch your face with your hands if they are dirty and other safety measures. In the mental health world, some individuals are already diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This pandemic is providing majority of our world to have this temporary diagnosis. If you are a sufferer of pre-COVID-19, please ensure to be in touch with your therapist regularly. OCD can be debilitating and during times like this even more so. If you did not have this diagnosis prior to this pandemic, and find yourself cleaning over an hour a day, washing your hands to the point of them sloughing, stressing too much, etc, please reach out to a therapist.
Not only is OCD a concern, so is depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns. Please do not ignore symptoms of these issues; for example sleeping for hours on end, eating to comfort, loss of energy or motivation (if not sick), panic attacks, suicidal thoughts/actions, cleaning for hours, exhausted for no reason, etc. If you are feeling this way, DO NOT WAIT! Contact a therapist immediately and a friend/family member. You are not alone!
On a positive note, this is an opportunity to spend time as a family (if you have one living with you), find new activities you enjoy, enroll in online learning, declutter your home, catch up on reading and find a new way of enjoying your time. Change can be difficult for some, especially forced change out of your control. Control what you can and roll with the ever rolling changes. This too shall pass.
Written By Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC