Conquering COVID Stress

There are a couple of constants amid the changing instructions, differing opinions, and updated news stories swirling around the global coronavirus pandemic: fear and anxiety.

Those difficult emotions are nearly impossible to escape because our everyday lives have been upended. Workplaces and schools are closed. Events have been canceled or postponed. And we’re worried about our health, bank accounts, and 401K plans. But how should we handle all the unexpected stress? And when should we get professional help?

Supporting the mental health of our community is important at Hancock Health, so we asked one of our experts for a few tips to guide us through these uncertain times.

“I guess it all comes back to the idea that we’re all in this together. I think that’s why it’s so important for us to have these conversations—so we’re aware of where our thermostat lies in regard to our moods and anxiety,” said Dr. Ben McAllister, of Hancock Counseling and Psychiatric Services.

With that in mind, here are a few of McAllister’s tips for handling difficult emotions:

  • Acknowledge anxiety. Realize it’s valid and find healthy ways to cope—meditation, exercise, and talking to others. (Meditation apps can be helpful.)
  • Acknowledge disappointment. Many of the events we look forward to—graduations, weddings, backyard cookouts, and even the Indianapolis 500—have been postponed and it’s normal to miss them. But remind yourself that they’ll return.
  • When you hear opinions you disagree with, remain calm. There are various points of view about the best way to handle the pandemic, and it can be draining to react to them all. It’s okay to let people know you don’t have the energy for a particular discussion.
  • Don’t get trapped in an emotional downward spiral. Know you’re going to have negative thoughts but challenge them. For example, if you miss a certain type of food and can’t get it yourself because you’re more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others, ask a friend to get it for you. That’s more positive than telling yourself you’ll never have it again.
  • Know when it’s time for help. If you or a loved one can’t break a negative thought cycle, talk to a professional. Some indicators are unusual outbursts, skipping showers, not keeping a schedule, changes in eating habits, and alcohol or drug abuse. (You can contact Dr. McAllister’s office with questions at 317-468-6200.)
  • Know when your household is getting too much news and screen time. It’s okay to turn off the news, text messages—even from well-intentioned family and friends with the latest updates on COVID-19. While the screens are off, talk about your emotions because, when we share our experiences, we often discover we’re not as isolated as we thought.
  • No matter what, maintain a routine. Regardless of whether you’re preparing to return to some of your usual activities outside the house or mostly continuing to quarantine at home, get up, get dressed, and keep a schedule.
  • Replace your ability to socialize at restaurants and events with Zoom calls. It’s important to hear friendly voices and see the expressions that go with them.
  • Find non-verbal methods to communicate with others if you’re out and wearing a mask. Since your ability to smile is obscured by the mask, make sure to wave or find other ways to express friendliness. The practice will make everyone feel good!

As we navigate the coronavirus pandemic, we’re likely to experience an array of different emotions—everything from gratitude to fear and anger. The guidelines above will help with many of them. But if you have additional questions or want to talk to a professional, contact us. And, remember, we’re all in this together!

Dr. Ben McCallister’s office is at Hancock Counseling and Psychiatric Services, 120 W. McKenzie Road, Suite F, Greenfield. He can be reached at 317-468-6200.