Stress Management During COVID-19

By author photo Megan Alsford

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It’s understandable during a global pandemic you may be feeling some or a lot of stress. After all, life has suddenly changed dramatically, there is a lot of uncertainty and you may have fears about your health or the health of loved ones. Add to that endless news reports on new cases, death tolls and the economic impact of the virus.

While it is okay to feel stressed, it’s important to have some strategies for stress management as long-term stress can put your health and well-being at risk.


What is stress?

Stress is a normal part of life. It is our bodies response to situations that put pressure on us in different ways. It’s often called the flight or fight response and it can be helpful to get us out of sticky situations such as a difficult phone conversation, moving quickly out of the way of something headed towards you or if you’re faced with something dangerous. It’s our bodies natural response to danger and can be very helpful in the right situation. For some, low levels of stress can be a good motivator, for example a little stress felt over a looming deadline.

But if stress is an ongoing issue and firing all day every day then it can start to cause some health problems. Stress symptoms can range from the mild like a headache, tense muscles, stomach cramps and nausea. To the more serious when left untreated such as increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and depression. It’s important therefor that we develop stress management strategies for times like these.


Stress and weight gain

Stress can also lead to weight gain in some people and there are number of reasons this might be the case. One of the hormones released when we are stressed is called cortisol and this is one of the hormones responsible for appetite. Also, under stress our bodies burn kilojoules or energy more slowly which slows down our metabolism. Add to this some people find comfort from eating which may be used as a coping mechanism. All together these stress responses can increase weight gain.

So given the negative long-term impact, it’s easy to see why it’s so important to develop stress management strategies for use during times of uncertainty. While it may seem overwhelming to look at the impacts of stress, the good news is that by implementing strategies to manage it, the negative impacts can be avoided.


Strategies to best manage stress

While stress during times of uncertainty is normal, it’s important to remember that being stressed about situations out of our control is not helpful particularly in the long term. Looking after your mental well-being during times like this becomes ever more crucial and can help to manage stress. We’ve got a few strategies to get you started:

  • Acknowledge your feelings and allow yourself to feel that way. You might find it helpful to keep a journal or to discuss your feelings with friends and family.

  • If you’re concerned about your health and the health of others, then the best thing you can do is to follow the advice of your local health authorities and practice good hygiene. Be sure to follow only credible sources of information and not the advice from well meaning friends on social media. Good examples include:
  • Set limits on how much news and online searching you do around COVID-19. It’s important to stay up to date but limit the amount of time you dedicate to finding out what is happening. Endless searching or reading about the problem may only increase your concerns and compound your stress levels. Set a time that suits you to check in on the news and stick to it. If you find yourself wanting to search the news outside of this time, acknowledge the urge, let it rest with you for a bit and then let it pass without judgement.

  • Practice mindfulness – we have a whole article to help you be mindful in this current climate.

  • Shift your focus from what you’re missing out on to looking for the benefits of being at home without external pressures. Did you ever have a weekend where you were so busy running around doing chores and keeping appointments that you didn’t get to unwind or do the things you wanted to do? Now is your chance, relish in the time you can spend with family uninterrupted (even if that is just an uninterrupted phone call), sort out that cupboard that has been bothering you, tend to your garden, read a book or find a new podcast. See our article on healthy distractions you could be doing at home to help yourself occupied.

  • Keep things as ‘normal’ as possible. What was your routine before social distancing rules came into play? What things can you still do? It might be getting up from bed at the same time, having a healthy breakfast, making your bed, getting dressed, getting some exercise and so on. These are all things that can help to bring back feelings of control.

  • Stay connected in any way possible, make phone calls, use online tools and apps to make video calls, write letters or say hello to your neighbors over the fence from a safe distance. Friends and family are powerful weapons against stress so be sure to lean on them and share your thoughts and feelings. If you’re struggling with what to talk about why not try:

    • A virtual book club
    • Share recipes or challenge each other to cook a new dish and share the results (good and bad)
    • Have a distance dinner using video call
    • Play a virtual game of scrabble.

Stress can affect people differently and if you’re finding it hard to get on top of your stress then it’s a good idea to reach out to the experts for additional support. Thankfully in New Zealand there are many wonderful free resources available to you. Below is just a small list of organizations ready to help:

start your journey now

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