Stress “symptoms” can be normal reactions to an abnormal situation.

Under ordinary circumstances, our defense mechanisms work unconsciously and, therefore, go unnoticed. They can, however, become more noticeable after exposure
to stressful situations, such as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. When people experience “symptoms,” they may begin to worry about their mental health. Yet, in extraordinary situations, having “symptoms” actually can be an indication that healthy psychological defenses are working overtime. Although stress “symptoms” may be irritating or troubling at times, it is helpful to recognize that they often are normal reactions to an abnormal situation.

What’s the bottom line? Have faith in what we know! Human beings have an amazing capacity for resilience and adaptation. Research and experience tell us that most people feel and function better over time. Eventually, for most people,”symptoms” of stress lessen or disappear entirely.

Common symptoms:

• Physical: fatigue, appetite change, sleep loss, need for more sleep than usual, tension, being more accident prone.
• Cognitive: “spacing out,”decreased ability to focus or concentrate, forgetfulness.
• Emotional: frustration, anxiety, anger, irritability, depression, mood swings, nightmares.
• Social: isolation from others, intolerance, lashing out, distrust, change in sex drive.
• Spiritual: emptiness, loss of direction, doubt, apathy

Create a plan of action for times when there’s more to process than your processor can handle.

Just like computers, people sometimes need to re-boot. Creating and implementing a plan of action requires an investment of time devoted to renewing energy and restoring equilibrium. At a minimum, remember to take time to breathe. Because of the mind-body connection, taking slow, deep breaths for just a few minutes actually can reduce anxiety. In situations that are extraordinarily demanding, people sometimes need to add to their capacity by taking themselves “off-line” so they can engage in specific self-care
and maintenance activities.

Often, this is best accomplished by doing ordinary kinds of things. Get a good night’s sleep by maintaining a regular schedule for going to bed and rising. Eat nutritious meals. While engaging in safe physical distancing practices, seek quality time with people who anchor you emotionally. Take a warm, soothing bath. Work out at home. Remember to keep a safe physical distance from other people in public and to wash your hands and/or use hand-sanitizer on any shared equipment, door handles, your car steering wheel, etc. Engage in a favorite hobby or sport, if possible. Enjoy nature and being outdoors. Connect with the arts at home and online. Share a meal with family or friends your social distancing with or via videoconferencing. Attend church and community events via livestream. Use your plan of action to replenish yourself physically, psychologically and spiritually in the ways that you know work for you.

Get media wise – choose your news

Because there’s so much content to choose from, calling on your media literacy skills greatly enhances your plan of action. Engage pro-actively, rather than passively, as a media consumer. Research shows that exercising a degree of personal control over exposure to what’s covered in the media can contribute significantly to stress
management. What is it that you really need and want to see, hear, or read? Get specific. Be decisive. Limit the amount of time you spend watching news on TV, listening to the radio or podcasts and/or reading news in the newspaper and online. Be selective about your social media use. Social media’s a great way to stay connected with family and friends now but also can over-expose you to too much content. Take breaks. We know too much time spent online, especially with social media, is usually not good for our emotional well-being.

On a practical level, being media wise also can add to your capacity for day-to-day time management. After all, in addition to staying informed, you can best be on top of your game by getting enough sleep and having enough time to attend to other important aspects of your life, like engaging in quality time with your family, especially your kids and pets, and keeping up with chores at home.

Give yourself permission to not know all the answers.

Take comfort in understanding that the new sense of uncertainty that you’re experiencing is probably shared by others – including those for whom you have the
greatest respect and admiration.

Change and uncertainty provide for many “teachable moments.” Instead of feeling out of control, you can take on the challenges that change and uncertainty bring to your life with a renewed sense of appreciation for how important it is to function as a lifelong learner. The overall result can be that, rather than feeling helpless, you can gain a sense of empowerment and mastery and, ultimately, appreciate your accomplishments.

Be gentle with yourself and others.

As Americans, a strong work ethic motivates us to keep going. People usually can find comfort in their routines, including work, through what they achieve and accomplish as well as the structure it brings to our lives. Remember, though, that some people also may need to slow down and drive more gently when there are “bumps” in the road.

Insist also on being patient with yourself. It makes good practical sense to take good care of yourself so that you can do a good job providing for others. Extend that gift of patience and tolerance to your family, friends, neighbors and coworkers who also may be having a difficult time. They may need your support and encouragement.

How to know when help is needed?

Health and mental health professionals and faith/spiritual leaders can help people get through difficult times. It’s important to seek help when:
• “Symptoms” are more severe or persist longer than what most people experience – beyond a reasonable, expected adjustment period;
• A person’s capacity to function and participate in day-to-day life has been significantly impacted; or
• Alcohol and/or other substances are being used to self-medicate.