Dealing with the Stress of COVID-19
Stress has become a part of daily life as confirmed cases of the coronavirus continue, the routine of work, school and everyday activities has been upended, and everyone deals with the unknown of when the virus will peak and what the new normal will be.
For many, concerns about health, family, finances and uncertainty, coupled with necessary but massive amounts of distressing news, are leading to increased levels of anxiety.
“Part of what makes this such a powerful stressor is the fact that there is an invisible threat,” says Terri Weaver, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Saint Louis University whose research focuses on the impact of traumatic life events. “It’s not something that we can see, in conjunction with there being a tremendous amount of uncertainty about two significant aspects of our lives – health and financial status.”
Weaver says the crisis is taking a toll on the mental health and wellbeing of those isolated at home as well as those providing medical care and essential services on the frontlines.
“At its core, the pandemic stresses our personal and professional lives in nearly every way. There is no break from the fear. For those frontline responders, attending to the health of others threatens personal and family health. For those sheltering at home, simple daily life activities such as retrieving mail or grocery shopping, carries public health risk. With no clear end in sight, it’s the inescapable grind of all these stressors that takes a toll.”
Weaver notes the effects can be even more acute for those with preexisting conditions such as depression, post-traumatic-stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and substance abuse. It can also escalate child abuse and domestic violence in families already struggling.
“We are seeing increased risk of mental and physical health effects in our most vulnerable populations; those underserved, under resourced and in homes with domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse and other trauma. Financial stressors, isolation, crowding and general conflict are flash points for increased interpersonal violence. Sound recommendations to “stay at home” for public protection creates personal risk for this populations.”
Weaver offers some practical advice for managing stress and dealing with the isolation that goes with social distancing.
“Physical distancing need not mean social isolation. We have seen creative ways that people are maintaining, bridging and even building new relationships—while adhering to physical distance recommendations.
“Building routines creates predictability – and we could also use more of that right now,” Weaver added,
Weaver sees a silver lining in one aspect of mental health care as the COVID-19 pandemic is propelling remote options for care forward and bringing attention to a sometimes-neglected aspect of our health.
“In many ways, mental health access may be at an all-time high with the scaling up of telemental health platforms and an awareness of the importance of mental health,” Weaver said.
Resources for Assistance
AuntBertha.com: Free food or reduced cost services like medical, food, job training and more. Searchable by zip code.
thehotline.org: National domestic violence hotline. Includes ways to text safety concerns if are unable to speak safely by phone.
International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies: Provides public information related to COVID-19 as well as searchable resource for mental health and trauma.
American Psychological Association: Resources related to mental health and COVID-19.