For nearly half of 2020, individuals have felt the immense stress placed on them by COVID-19. Just when we feel a slight wave of relief that some semblance of normal is appearing over the horizon, another wave of outbreaks, conspiracy theories, health mandates, new viruses, and business closures hit the airwaves spinning us back into a spiral of fear and anxiety. With a “what’s next” feeling looming over every day, conflicts over schools re-opening and the constant one-two punch of viral surge, the “corona-coaster” of emotions has become just another stressor impacting families across the globe.
“Prolonged and unaddressed stress can impact daily life for families,” said Caleb Cauthen, LPC, lead outpatient therapist at Canopy Children’s Solutions Behavioral Health Clinic in Jackson. “Think of your body like a car engine; when it is going constantly, it puts stress on the parts, which require maintenance from time to time to keep going. If you don’t address the stress with regular tune-ups, oil changes, etc., then the engine either blows up or it breaks down. Your body reacts in the same way and as a parent the last thing you need is to blow up in anger or to break down mentally or physically where you can’t care for yourself and your family.”
Signs that your body may be experiencing stress overload include feeling fatigued, easily irritable, extreme mood swings and intense emotions, negative outlook, problems concentrating or completing tasks, high blood pressure, tense muscles and body aches, heart and lung issues and neurological symptoms. The constant surge of cortisol (stress hormone) can also weaken your immune system making you more susceptible to illness. You may also notice that as your anxiety rises, so does the stress and anxiety those around you, including children, begin to experience.
Cauthen recommends prioritizing self-care practices that help to minimize anxiety such as:
- Get outside and away from screens
- Have daily quiet time to relax
- Practice focusing on what’s happening now (your present moment)
- Create schedules to keep you on task and limit the number of decisions that have to be made
- Keep children on a routine
- Avoid clutter
- Maintain a healthy sleep schedule
- Eat nutritious foods
- Limit your exposure to negativity
- Give yourself a break
- Practice self-care as a family
COVID-19 has been unlike anything anyone has experienced, bringing with it serious economic and political implications. That, complicated by constantly changing information about health and safety guidelines, COVID-19 has created a breeding ground for false information, conspiracy theories and general distrust, which further fuels anxiety about COVID-19 and other items highlighted in the news and online. Cauthen encourages those who find themselves uneasy about social media posts, rumors or items they hear on the news to do their own research and verify information.
“Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there, satire, conspiracies and old media that individuals are portraying as recent events. It really can make you second-guess yourself in a lot of ways,” said Cauthen. “It’s highly encouraged to follow recommended health and safety guidelines such as extra hand-washing, sanitizing and avoiding large crowds. Check the dates on articles and do your own research about things you see online. Follow the advice of your personal physician and avoid exposure to constant reporting about COVID-19 if that is something that makes you anxious or upset. It is possible to stay informed without overdoing it. Also, remember that not everyone as the same struggles, so avoid judging yourself and others—we all need a little grace and positivity right now.”
If you notice that the stress and anxiety you are feeling is becoming too much, reach out for support—talk to a friend or loved one or seek professional care. Licensed therapists and counselors can help you “self-maintenance” to avoid the blowup or breakdown from excessive stress. There are many people experiencing depression, isolation, anxiety and when it begins to impact your ability to live normally or negatively impacts the way you are able to care for yourself and your family, you can’t afford to wait. The earlier mental health concerns are addressed, the better the long-term outcome.
Keeping your emotions in check, making necessary preparations and surrounding yourself with things that make you feel upbeat and restored will help you better manage whatever lies ahead.