Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way people live their lives and is creating some negative stress. Yes, there are positive stressors, but as Bayhealth primary care physician Dr. Cindy W. Siu, MD, explains, negative stressors have become routine in the past month and can wreak havoc if people let them.
Fear of the unknown, social isolation, changes in routine and lifestyle, and financial issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have reared their heads. Siu said it’s important for people to pause, assess their situation and recognize if they are stressed. Siu described some of the physical and mental responses to negative stress and offered some suggestions for stress management.
Signs of stress:
- Physical signs of stress. “Tense or difficult situations trigger adrenaline surges. They may manifest as shakiness, increased heart rate, impaired sleep, and difficulty focusing,” she said. Other physical signs of stress may include chest pain, high blood pressure, muscle ache, and headache. Some people may experience gastrointestinal issues or change in weight — either loss or gain. “When we feel stress, it’s our body telling us we feel physical danger.” Long-term negative stress responses may result in a weakened immune system. “People may become sick more often.”
- Worry. Some of Siu’s patients have expressed worry about themselves or others. “Some patients care for elderly family members and worry about family with compromised immune systems.”
- Fear. Her patients have expressed being fearful of the virus itself, often associated with the stress of being isolated at home. “You can go outside,” she reminded people. “You don’t have to stay inside. We still encourage people to go outside for a walk, a jog, a bike ride or to work in your garden — as long as you make sure that you stay at least 6 feet from others around you.”
How to seek help managing stress:
- Talk to a trusted friend. “Even a non-medical friend can be helpful,” she said. Even if someone hasn’t talked to a friend in a long time, she said, they are probably feeling just as stressed and isolated and would likely enjoy getting a call. Try to help each other find the positives and take time to laugh, Siu suggested.
- Download an effective and free phone app. “People have limited access to counselors in this area, but many apps offer health therapies,” Siu said, noting that learning meditation and mindfulness techniques benefit some people.
- Find healthy ways to cope. Coping looks different for everyone, but some ways to cope may include exercising, practicing yoga, deep-breathing exercises, gardening or partaking in a hobby. “Identify what works for you.”
- Seek professional help. If people are feeling overwhelmed, it might time to seek help. Siu suggests a primary care physician as a source for help. The doctor may guide the patient to a counselor or therapist.
Visit Bayhealth.org/Find-A-Doc or call 1-866-BAY-DOCS (229-3627) to find a primary care physician.