Feeling tired, stressed out and anxious? Do you battle to sleep and have unexplained body aches and fatigue? You are not alone… A study has shown that 56% of adults are experiencing higher levels of emotional and psychological stress than they were before the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on public mental health worldwide.

October is mental health awareness month. This seems to be the ideal time to acknowledge and address the mental stress the current Covid-19 pandemic is causing for so many of us.

When Covid-19 first emerged as a worldwide threat early in 2020 none of us realized how long this pandemic would last or how much of an impact it would have on us.

We all probably felt slightly uncertain and anxious when it started, but now, more than 7 months in, we are all suffering from Covid stress, burnout and fatigue.

We not only miss the freedom of movement, the comfort and connection of touch, the reassurance of a friendly smile, the joy of a social evening out, but we also fear possible infection and the long term financial impact of the pandemic. Much of what we took for granted in 2019 is now considered a health risk.

Now, with many parts of the world experiencing huge second waves of infection, our hopes for a return to the old normal in the near future is fading. And living with the constant ‘threat’ is taking its toll. How can we cope better?

Fears about COVID-19 can take an emotional toll, especially if you’re already living with an anxiety disorder. But you’re not powerless. These tips can help you get through this stressful time.

Understand and acknowledge your anxiety:

Yes, it is a frightening time. This is a worldwide pandemic. In some areas the coronavirus infecton rates are getting worse.

We are all wondering… “When is this going to end?”

For many people, the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus is the hardest thing to handle. It becomes all too easy to catastrophize and spiral out into overwhelming dread and panic. But you can manage your anxiety and fears.

Stay informed—but don’t obsessively check the news. Know what’s happening so you can follow advised safety precautions and do your part to slow the spread of coronavirus. But there’s a lot of misinformation going around, as well as sensationalistic coverage that only feeds into fear. It’s important to be discerning about what you read and watch.

-Stick to trustworthy sources such as the CDC, the World Health Organization, and your local public health authorities.

If you find yourself obsessively checking the media for Covid updates…

-Step away from media if you start feeling overwhelmed.

-If you are prone to anxiety limit your media consumption to a specific time frame and time of day (e.g. thirty minutes each evening at 6 pm).

-If you’d feel better avoiding media entirely, ask someone you trust to pass along any major updates you need to know about.

-Be careful what you share. Do your best to verify information before passing it on. We all need to do our part to avoid spreading rumors and creating unnecessary panic.

-Focus on the things you can control

We’re in a time of massive upheaval. There are so many things outside of our control, it can leave us feeling drained, anxious, and overwhelmed.

When you feel yourself getting caught up in fear of what might happen, try to shift your focus to things you can control. For example, you can’t control how severe the coronavirus outbreak is, but you can reduce your own personal risk (and the risk you’ll spread it to others), such as:

-washing your hands frequently

-avoiding touching your face (particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth).

-staying home as much as possible

-avoiding crowds and gatherings of 10 or more people.

-avoiding all non-essential shopping and travel.

-keeping a minimum of 6 feet of distance between yourself and others when out.

-getting plenty of sleep, which helps support your immune system.

-following all recommendations from health authorities.

-Plan for what you can

It’s natural to be concerned about what may happen to your job, your children’s schooling, or if someone you love gets sick, or you have to self-quarantine. While these possibilities can be scary to think about, being proactive can help relieve at least some of the anxiety.

-Write down specific worries you have about how coronavirus may disrupt your life. If you start feeling overwhelmed, take a break.

-Make a list of all the possible solutions you can think of. Include whatever comes to mind that could help you get by.

Focus on concrete things you can problem solve or change, rather than circumstances beyond your control.

After you’ve evaluated your options, draw up a plan of action. When you’re done, set it aside and resist the urge to go back to it until you need it or your circumstances significantly change.

Stay connected—even when physically isolated

Social distancing can worsen anxiety and depression, and even impact our physical health. Humans are social animals. We’re hardwired for connection. That’s why it’s important to stay connected as best we can and reach out for support when we need it, even as we cut back on in-person socializing.

-Make it a priority to stay in touch with friends and family. If you tend to withdraw when depressed or anxious, think about scheduling regular phone, chat, or Zoom dates to counteract that tendency.

-While in-person visits are limited, substitute video chatting if you’re able. Face-to-face contact is like a “vitamin” for your mental health, reducing your risk of depression and helping ease stress and anxiety.

-Social media can be a powerful tool, not only for connecting with friends, family, and acquaintances, but for feeling connected in a greater sense to our communities, country, and the world. It reminds us we’re not alone.

-Don’t let coronavirus dominate every conversation… simply enjoy each other’s company… laugh, share stories, and focus on other things going on in our lives.

Take care of your body and spirit

This is an unusually trying time, and all the proven stress management strategies apply… eating healthy meals, getting plenty of sleep, and meditating. Here are some further tips for practicing self-care in the face of the unique disruptions caused by the coronavirus.

-Be kind to yourself. Go easy on yourself if you’re experiencing more depression or anxiety than usual. You’re not alone in your struggles.

-Maintain a routine as best you can. Even if you’re stuck at home, try to stick to your regular sleep, school, meal, or work schedule. This can help you maintain a sense of normalcy.

-Take time out for activities you enjoy. Read a good book, play a fun board or video game, make something… It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it takes you out of your worries.

-Get out in nature, if possible. Sunshine and fresh air will do you good. Just be sure to avoid crowds and keep your distance from people you encounter.

-Find ways to exercise. Staying active will help you release anxiety, relieve stress, and manage your mood. If you’re stuck at home, look online for exercise videos you can follow. There are many things you can do even without equipment, such as yoga and exercises that use your own bodyweight.

-Avoid self-medicating. Be careful that you’re not using alcohol or other substances (or food) to deal with anxiety or depression. If you tend to overdo it in the best of times, it may be a good idea to avoid for now.

-Take up a relaxation practice. When stressors throw your nervous system out of balance, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can bring you back into a state of equilibrium. Regular practice delivers the greatest benefits, so see if you can set aside even a little time every day.

-Help others (it will make you feel better) At times like this, it’s easy to get caught up in your own fears and concerns. Doing kind and helpful acts for others can help you regain a sense of control over your life, as well as adding meaning and purpose.

-Be a calming influence. If friends or loved ones are panicking, try to help them gain some perspective on the situation. Instead of scaremongering or giving credence to false rumors, refer them to reputable news sources. Being a positive, uplifting influence in these anxious times can help you feel better about your own situation too.

Above all, be kind to others and be kind to yourself.