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Keep Calm and Cope with COVID

  • Published
  • 52nd Medical Group Mental Health clinic

Stress and anxiety serve a purpose.  These emotions are your body’s way of alerting you to a threat, calling you to action!  Here’s the basics: wash your hands often and well, avoid touching your face, practice physical distancing, cough and sneeze into the inside of your elbow, and wear a protective facial covering when physical distancing cannot be maintained.  If you’re doing these things, there’s nothing else for you to do to prevent the spread.  But what do you do when your stress and anxiety are no longer serving you and, instead, causing more problems?  Here are 10 simple ways to keep calm and cope with COVID during this time of uncertainty:

  1. Stay informed the smart way.  Avoid falling into the trap of mindlessly watching, reading, or listening to the news or spending too much time on social media.  While it is important to stay informed and follow official guidelines, constantly refreshing and reading the same information will only lead to undue stress and worry.  There has never been a time where information has been as easily accessible as it is today.  With so much available information it can be difficult to keep calm and grounded.  It is critical to take breaks.  There’s a link between news media exposure and pessimism as well anxiety symptoms.  Being constantly exposed to news can lead to an increase in irritability, restlessness, muscle tension, trouble sleeping, and simply feeling out of control.  Maybe it is time to have a “self-intervention.” Actively look for balanced information, consider that while coronavirus is highly infectious, for most people COVID-19 will only cause mild illness.  Many people that have contracted the Corona Virus have been discharged from hospital with even more headed home soon.  Look to trusted sources of information like the CDC, WHO, and 52D FW official information.

  2. Focus on the things you CAN control.  Let’s face it: there are so many things outside of our control right now.  While this is scary for all of us, trying to control more than is possible (externally through our actions or internally through obsessive thinking) will only lead to more stress/anxiety and a greater sense of helplessness.  Work hard to focus on what you have direct control over- YOUR actions, thoughts, and feelings.  When you are worrying, ask yourself the question “Do I realistically have control over this?” or “What elements of this can I control?”  Challenging yourself in this way will enable you to manage the multitude of difficult emotions you may feel in a much healthier way.  It will also result in saving yourself from expending unnecessary emotional energy so you can instead invest it into the things most important to you.  The best thing to do for yourself is investing time in whatever helps you feel grounded, strong and better able to handle challenges. Exercise. Eat well. Get the right amount of sleep.  Meditate.  Journal.  Get outside.  Set a schedule.  Do more of what matters to you and helps you recharge and resets your headspace. 

  3. Rally around one another.  Coping with a crisis can often result in an over-abundance of self-focus, which can lead to increased stress and isolation. Many people may be feeling similarly. Try some fun ways to keep connected remotely, start a push-up challenge with friends, schedule workouts together via YouTube, and catch up with friends and family via video call. Help one another and ask others what they need.  By focusing on serving others and investing in our community, we can get through this crisis together, as we have so many times before.

  4. Create a new routine.  There’s no denying it: no one likes to feel out of control.  Disrupted schedules, cancelled PCS’s/deployments/leave, and adhering to recommendations for physical distancing can leave us feeling powerless and helpless. Consider creating a new, structured routine during this unpredictable time, whether teleworking, self-isolating, waiting to PCS, or becoming your children’s new teacher.  This will result in feeling more grounded and will improve self-esteem and confidence while decreasing anxiety.

  5. Stay active and spend time outside!  Don’t let the gym being closed be the reason you don’t continue your exercise routine.  Exercise decreases stress, anxiety, and depression while improving sleep, self-esteem/self-confidence, and overall immune response - all crucial in getting through this crisis! Consider Googling at-home workouts.  Check to see if your favorite fitness classes are being offered virtually.  Give a fitness app a test-run (no pun intended). Many of them are offering 30-90 day free trials right now!  On a similar note, we have been very fortunate with the turn in the weather.  As long as you aren’t quarantined, consider going on a walk, run, hike, or bike ride.  Play outside with your children, bring back fun yard games as a family, or just sit outside to work or read a book.

  6. Start a new project.  You know the projects/tasks that just move from one to-do list to the next because there is never enough time in the day?  Use this opportunity to finally tackle that item - build something, clean out the garage, reorganize, write that travel blog, learn an instrument, try new recipes, start online school, re-work your resume.

  7. Take inventory on your perspective.  In a global crisis like this, it is very easy for our minds to run away from us and to jump right to the worst-case scenario.  Challenge these thoughts- remember that this is only temporary.  There will be a time where we no longer are self-isolating or quarantined.  We can CHOOSE to seek joy in the midst of anxiety.  Instead of focusing on catastrophic outcomes and stories of people tackling each other in the toilet paper aisle, focus on communities serving one another and helping vulnerable populations stay safe.  Seek to choose joy.

  8. Practice meditation or relaxation techniques.  Meditation or relaxation exercises allow us to ground ourselves in the present and have more control over our bodies and minds by controlling something called our sympathetic nervous system (AKA the “fight, flight, or freeze” response).  Becoming an expert at relaxing your body takes practice and is not something you learn overnight- be patient with and kind to yourself!  For instruction on a variety of these techniques, check out the following apps on your App store: Headspace, Breathe2Relax, Virtual Hope Box, Mindfulness Coach, Tactical Breather, and Calm.

  9. Protect your relationships.  You will likely be spending a lot of time with loved ones at home.  Take time to remain connected with those you do not see using your phone, tablet or computer.  Get creative with the activities you do together virtually - exercise, chat, have dinner (you can even cook the same recipe together). Also remember to give loved ones at home some space.  Have specific times built into the routine at home for alone time for everyone who wants it. Also, remember to ask what your loved ones need when they come to you for support.  If they need to vent or discuss their worries about COVID-19 and its aftermath, provide validation and support.  Additionally, help them problem-solve or offer advice if they indicate that this is something they want.

  10. Practice good sleep hygiene.  Sleep is the backbone of our physical and mental health.  Getting good quality sleep allows us to better manage stress, combats anxiety and depression, and improves chronic pain.  Regardless of your current schedule, keep your sleep schedule as consistent as possible.  If you are able, work to protect your sleep by consistently going to bed and waking up at the same time.  For more detailed sleep education and tips, consider using the CBT-I Coach app available on most devices for free.

Living through the threat of COVID-19 can be extremely challenging.  This pandemic is completely outside the range of normal everyday experiences.  You may be overwhelmed by the constant, rapidly changing, and sometimes conflicting information provided.  It is vital during this time to take care of your physical and emotional health by applying these 10 tips.  If you need additional help, be on the lookout for upcoming educational videos on the 52 MDG Facebook page where our mental health professionals will be teaching concrete skills to cope with COVID-19!   

Sources: Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Public Radio (NPR), The Gottman Institute, American Psychological Association (APA), World Health Organization (WHO)