By: Anthony Quintana, Skyline Editor and Layout Designer
As of March 27, there were 86,000 cases of COVID-19 in the United States, and over 500,000 cases worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. The entire country of Italy is on lockdown. Many areas of Texas, including Dallas County have been ordered to shelter in place, which means residents may only leave their homes for essential activities, like going to the grocery store, medical appointments, and the pharmacy.
Many people across the globe are social distancing or self-isolating to help stop the spread of the virus. Some businesses and schools have temporarily closed, and colleges and universities have moved their classes to online platforms for the rest of the spring semester. This pandemic is threatening job security, the health of loved ones, and disrupting daily life for billions of people worldwide. Who wouldn’t be stressed at a time like this?
While many of us are understandably concerned about our physical health, it’s also important to pay attention to our mental and emotional health too. But how do we tend to our minds and hearts while grappling with so much fear and uncertainty?
Here are some ideas for managing stress and maintaining health during these rapidly shifting times.
- Limit news consumption to reliable sources
It’s important to read accurate and current public health information regarding COVID-19. Organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration are reliable sources.
- Take breaks from news consumption
While it’s important to stay informed on new developments regarding COVID-19, the CDC recommends taking breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Constant exposure to information about the pandemic can be upsetting and lead to more stress.
You may think you’re procrastinating because you’re avoiding cleaning that bookshelf or desk you’ve been meaning to clean for years. But maybe you just need some time to relax and decompress? Give yourself the space to play video games, watch that series you’ve been wanting to check out on Netflix, read that book that’s been staring at you since you first bought it a few months back, go for a walk around your neighborhood. It’s okay to put work aside for short periods of time. Down time is just as important as being productive.
- Work smarter, not harder
For many students, adjusting to an entirely online format can be a challenge. Not only are you adjusting to a new style of learning, but you may also be trying to balance your academic and work schedules with time spent with family. There are ways to work smarter, not harder, in order to make time for yourself and your loved ones. Having a dedicated workspace, other than a bedroom, will help create a healthy separation between work and rest. Find a quiet workspace, whether it’s the dining room table or home office, where you can concentrate on your work without interruptions. Divide up your daily tasks into “deep work sprints.” Deep work sprints are short (45-90 minute) uninterrupted periods of deep cognitive work. Deep work sprints can help you focus on specific goals that have defined start and end periods. Make sure you also schedule down time for yourself everyday (see #3).
- Maintain a healthy body and mind
To improve your mood and maintain physical health, the CDC recommends “eating healthy, well-balanced meals, getting exercise regularly, and getting plenty of sleep.” Setting (and keeping) regular mealtimes and eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats, will help ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs. Avoid alcohol and drugs as a way of coping with stress. Exercise from home. You don’t need fancy equipment or machines to get a good workout; your own body weight is enough. For full bodyweight workouts with no equipment needed, Jeremy Ethier and Jeff Nippard provide science-based training and nutrition videos you can watch at home on YouTube. There are also virtual yoga, dance, and strength training classes available for free or at low cost online. According to the CDC, adults aged 18-60 need a minimum of 7 hours of sleep every night. Sleep is an important period of cell regeneration for your body, including your brain. According to the National Sleep Foundation, you can practice good sleep hygiene by shutting off your electronic devices one hour before bedtime, avoiding stimulants like nicotine and coffee close to bedtime, limiting daytime naps to 30 minutes, establishing a regular and relaxing bedtime routine, getting exposure to sunlight during the day, exercising for a minimum of 10 minutes per day, and making sure your sleep environment is comfortable and pleasant.
- Connect with others
To cope with feelings of loneliness, the American Psychological Association recommends using phone calls, text messages, video chat, and social media to access and stay in touch with social support networks. If you’re feeling sad or anxious, reach out to friends and supportive loved ones who will listen and take your concerns and feelings seriously. Schedule a Google Hangout or Zoom video conference with a group of friends. FaceTime with your mom or favorite cousin. If you’re part of a campus club, consider continuing your club meetings on Zoom, or another video conferencing platform. Facebook has several groups that may help you connect with others with whom you share similar experiences. For example, Parents Survival Covid-19 Group is for parents around the nation who want to connect with each other about how to care for children now that many schools have closed. Staying in contact with others is an important component of mental and emotional health. Perhaps it should be called physical distancing rather than social distancing. We don’t need to stop socializing; we just need to temporarily adjust how we socialize.
- Try psychological strategies
Rather than worrying about the worst-case scenario, focus on the things you can do. Try writing in a daily gratitude journal or try meditation exercises. You can download mediation and relaxation apps, like Headspace and Calm. PTSD Coach is a free app developed by the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs National Center for PTSD and the Department of Defense’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology. It offers resources for coping with stress, like deep breathing, positive imagery, and muscle relaxation exercises.
If you’re experiencing an overwhelming sense of anxiety or depression, contact the SAMHSA hotline at 1-800-985-5990 to speak with a licensed counselor. There is no shame in seeking help from a professional. These are stressful times for billions of people around the world. You are not alone. Take care, #Lobos.