Stress of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented changes of many kinds that have been stressful for almost everyone.  These include:

  • Fear of the virus, and of oneself or one’s loved ones getting sick or dying;
  • Changes in social contact/interaction as a result of “sheltering in place” and “social distancing.”  These can include:
    • Loneliness (especially for those living alone);
    • Missing in-person contact with family and friends;
    • Intensification and challenges of spending much more time with those one lives with;
  • Challenges of shopping, cleaning, and other ways of minimizing risks associated with the virus;
  • Financial impact, including:
    • Lost or decreased wages due to unemployment or underemployment;
    • Impacts on future financial or retirement planning, and whiplashes in the stock market;
  • Limited opportunities for recreation (e.g., attending and participating in cultural and sports events; eating and going out).

Huge uncertainties and unknowns regarding the pandemic (what’s safe? how long will things go on like this? how will they change?) are fertile ground for stress and anxiety.  Some gentle suggestions for managing include the following:

  1.  Focus on what you can do to protect yourself and loved ones, consistent with health expert recommendations;
  2. If you are worried about your health or that you may have symptoms of COVID-19, UW Health has an informational hotline: (608) 720-5300, open 8am-11pm, Mon-Fri 7am-11pm, Sat-Sun. That website is: ;
  3. If you are worrying to a problematic degree, (a) try to recognize that the worry, even though it’s natural, is unproductive, (b) label it as "unhelpful worry", and (c) gently shift attention to other/more positive/productive things. (You may have to do this repeatedly: That's fine! - and probably much better than uninterrupted worrying);
  4. Stay connected – if “virtually” – to family and friends;
  5. Get exercise and good sleep as you can; and
  6. “Breathe” – take deep breaths and try to calm yourself and your body despite the external challenges. A specific breathing exercise I recently saw for practicing control and concentration is “Breathe 4 Calm” (original source unknown to me) – do each step for a count of 4:
    1.  Breathe In 2 3 4
    2. Pause 2 3 4
    3. Breathe Out 2 3 4
    4. Pause 2 3 4
    5. Breathe In 2 3 4
    6. Be Still 2 3 4
    7. Breathe Out 2 3 4
    8. Be Still 2 3 4
    9. Repeat…

 You can click this link for more information about my general approach to Stress Management, which applies to coping with the pandemic as well.  If you need more than the above, talking through the impacts might help with managing the associated stress and anxiety.  Click here for My Approach to Individual Therapy.  Some techniques I can share and teach include:

  • Identifying thoughts that, though natural and understandable, may worsen your stress;
  • Managing your attention (e.g., how much news you watch; detaching from worry; focusing on things you can control); and
  • Relaxation techniques.

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