Stressed out and Anxious? How to Cope During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The health-threatening nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the social distancing, is creating a toxic environment for many. Add in stay-at-home mandates and self-isolation and it should come as no surprise that a major increase in anxiety is affecting many throughout Orange County.
“We’ve never experienced anything like this before because although there have been more severe pandemics throughout history, the world is a much more connected place today,” said Philip Toal, ED.D., LMHC, senior vice president for Orlando-based Aspire Health Partners. “We can get on an airplane and infect people all over the world, plus with social media we’re getting a constant barrage of information that many of us find difficult to absorb, thus heightening our sense of stress and anxiety.”
Toal, who stresses we are all in the same boat and in this together, recommends the following strategies for coping with COVID-19-related stress and anxiety:
- Know Your Response to Stress. To accurately determine how the pandemic is affecting you, you must understand how you respond to stress and stressful situations. Everyone is different, so learn how to identify when your stress level is going up, and get comfortable with recognizing this. If you find yourself disengaging, for example, you know you’re stressed, and you can take steps to reduce it.
- Allow Breaks from the News. Take time away from news cycles and the constant barrage of information coming your way. Give yourself some quiet time. Distract yourself — listen to music, watch a movie, read, bake a cake, write in a journal, do some yard work. Engage in these activities and don’t forget what works for you.
- Engage in Regular Exercise. Take a walk around the block or go for a bike ride. If you have a dog, it’s a great excuse to go for walks. Come up with exercise routines you can do in your house.
- Get Regular Rest. Stress negatively impacts sleep, and getting proper sleep is critical to maintain good mental health. Try to keep as much of a routine schedule as you can so your sleep patterns are steady.
- Reach out for Support. Especially for the elderly and singles, isolation can be very stressful. We can’t go to work, church or a restaurant to socialize right now, so be sure to reach out to friends and family via phone call, video conferencing, etc. This is when technology can be a positive.
- Things Will Get Better. Remember, even though things are uncertain, the pandemic is time-limited. This is a virus, and viruses run their course. Additionally, doctors are working on treatments and finding a cure.
- Give Your Family Needed Space. If you’re with family members during Stay at Home orders, recognize your differences and what they need — alone time, down time, exercise — and respect that amongst each other. As much as we love our families, we can still get on each other’s nerves.
- Embrace Family Togetherness. Take this opportunity to engage with your family in different ways. Besides eating meals together, you can binge watch movies/TV shows, play cards/board games, or do a home improvement project together. Remember, this is your chance to become closer.
- Talk about Your Feelings. Remember to communicate how you’re feeling to your family and close friends. Share your fears, concerns and anxieties about the pandemic. Talking it through helps.
- Explore New Hobbies and Activities. Creative activities, such as arts and crafts, move you to the right side of your brain and are healing in nature. So try painting or drawing, or maybe start writing that book you’ve always wanted to write. Explore … and see where it takes you.
Behavioral Health Resources:
- Heart of Florida United Way’s 2-1-1 crisis call line or Aspire Health Partners at 407-875-3700, extension 2. Both are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- The Mental Health Association of Central Florida has a referral line — 407-898-0110 — and an online tool to help residents in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties find counselors. The center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
- Peer Support Space, a local grass-roots nonprofit led by people in recovery for mental health and substance abuse challenges, has support groups meeting virtually during the stay-at-home mandate and other resources. Go to peersupportspace.org/covid-response.
- NAMI Greater Orlando has an information helpline open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 407-253-1900. The organization also has begun offering online support groups.
- To make an appointment for behavioral health services at Community Health Centers in Orange or Lake counties, call 407-905-8827 or 352-314-7400 weekdays during normal business hours.
- For the national Disaster Distress Helpline, available 24-7, call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. People with deafness or hearing loss can use their preferred relay service to call 1-800-985-5990.
- For the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24-7, call 1-800-273-8255.