Managing Stress During the COVID-19 Outbreak
BY AMANDA BIALEK
For many people, daily life looks a lot different than usual. Some of us are adjusting to working remotely and caring for children home from school. Others are on the frontline working long hours. Whatever unexpected changes you may be facing, we are here to help you and your family navigate this difficult time.
In a time like this, it’s natural to feel stressed, anxious or concerned. “Fear and uncertainty are normal responses to a time like this,” says psychiatrist Susan Wiley, MD, with LVPG Adult and Pediatric Psychiatry.
How to handle stress
Managing your stress starts by taking care of yourself so you can be at your best for your loved ones, friends and colleagues. Here are some tips to help reduce stress:
Adopt a voice of reassurance
Learn to speak to yourself with a voice of kindness. When you offer yourself words of encouragement, it is more likely that you will be able to extend compassion to others. In this challenging time, it’s easy to become worn out and frustrated with all the added pressures. “We are never at our best when we are feeling frightened. We tend to be reactive, short-tempered, blameful, and selfish,” Wiley says. Practice self-compassion. Offer yourself reassurance in the same gentle voice you use with a beloved child, elder or pet.
Remind yourself that we are all in the same situation
You are not alone. This health crisis is something we are all going through. We share this burden with everyone. No one is excluded. “We are in this boat together. We are stronger when we work as partners,” Wiley says.
Support and help one another
Stay connected with your family and friends. Whether it’s a homecooked meal, a phone call, a walk outside, shared experiences benefit all involved. “We can be at our best by linking arms proverbially, reaching out to friends and neighbors, and offering support and assistance to one another,” Wiley says. Small gestures go a long way. A study published in 2015 in Clinical Psychological Science, found that helping others reduces stress.
Find your inner peace with breathing activity
Try practicing mindfulness. Allow yourself to live in the moment by focusing solely on the present. “There is a natural place of calm inside us all, even in the worst storm. It’s always there. The problem is finding our way to it,” Wiley says. One way to achieve mindfulness is through a three-minute breathing space activity, created by Mark Williams, emeritus professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford – you can do this anytime, anywhere to help relax and become more aware. Listen to the breathing space activity guided by Wiley.
Reach out to your health care partner
Stress may become severe and sustained over time. Psychiatrist Courtney Chellew, DO, with LVPG Adult and Pediatric Psychiatry–Muhlenberg and Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital, recommends contacting a mental health professional if there is persistent disturbance in your ability to function and to enjoy life.
If you have a preexisting mental health condition, our providers advise you to:
Continue seeking care
Be aware of any worsening symptoms
"Our staff and network have all been incredibly flexible and efficient in delivering care to our patients. We are here and available and want to support the community and LVHN as much as possible," Chellew says.
For more information about behavioral health services offered by Lehigh Valley Health Network, please visit LVHN.org/behavioralhealth.