Thoughts on Coping with the Stress of Covid-19
By Terry M Pace
This is an unprecedented time of stress. Most of us have not lived through times such as these. But I am so impressed with how many people are pulling together and using their common sense to stay safe and support one another. A simple browsing of many Facebook pages shows so much kindness. Folks checking on each other, offers of help, offers of prayers, expressions of love. These are all the things that will get us through this and in a funny way the more we are staying physically distant (we must), the closer we all seem in some ways (in our hearts). But not only is this virus a real threat, there is also great uncertainty about how it all plays out, about who will get sick, about jobs and the economy and so much more. In stress research one of the most toxic conditions we humans experience is uncertainty. My wife, Elaine just said to me, this is like being under a tornado watch for weeks at a time with no breaks (we live in central Oklahoma so this is prime tornado season also). Such stress can impact our bodies and organs causing less efficient breathing, poorer blood flow, greater strain on our hearts, reducing our natural immunity and adding to inflammation and pain in the body. So, the risks are real from the Covid-19 virus and from the stress itself. Also, new stress can reactivate old stress. As we deal with the feelings of uncertainty, sadness, anger and so on, and as our routines and social contacts are disrupted, we are more likely to remember prior distress or trauma, so feelings we thought might be resolved become raw once again and this can be very upsetting in itself.
Psychologists often think about coping with stress in four main ways. This is really ancient wisdom that we have verified by science. The first two are called problem focused and emotion focused coping. We can cope by addressing the problems we face in direct actionable ways or we can cope by managing our emotions; so we call these two ways, problem focused and emotional focused coping.
Problem focused coping is doing all the practical stuff we can that may help. So physical distancing and staying home, washing our hands like we are all surgeons all day every day, monitoring our health and getting seen or tested by health professionals as needed, using pick- up and delivery for groceries, food, necessities and so on.
Emotional focused coping is doing all those little things that comfort, entertain, distract or uplift us and others while we get through this time. So basic emotional self- care such as phone, video or online communication with folks that uplift us or we can be of help to. Doing those things that comfort or distract us from excessive worries (we all have these and we will, its normal, but if we are aware and use coping we can feel better and stay healthier). Reading, music, sunshine, walks, home work outs, watching movies or shows you’ve wished time for. One thing very helpful to many is to write about this time and your experiences. This is history and it is helpful to write out challenges and feelings in such times.
There are two other blended types of coping that are also very important. One is social coping. This can thus be both problem and emotion focused. When we help someone or ask for help (we all need to be willing to offer and ask for help now of all times). The best predictor of lower stress for most people is the quality (not quantity) of social connection and support. So maintain physical distancing but keep social connections. The other is spiritual coping which again has both problem and emotional focused aspects. When we pray we seek divine guidance and help in tangible ways and we also place our lives more fully in God’s hands and love and most of us in whatever our specific beliefs find emotional nourishment thorough faith.
In summary, this is unprecedented stress for us all. It is very serious and we should all be following the best medical and governmental guidance we can. We can cope by taking preventive and protective actions. We can cope by attending to our emotional well-being. We can support others and seek help from others. We can pray and nourish a closer walk with God.
Be kind. Bless everyone.