Depending on the severity, spread, and duration of an infectious disease outbreak, you may experience varying degrees of stress. Stress is a natural response when we perceive that we, our loved ones, and our way of life are threatened, regardless of the actual immediate danger.
The current necessity for:
- social distancing (avoiding public places and social gatherings)
- isolation (avoiding those who are sick if you are not)
- quarantine (separating and monitoring those exposed)
adds layers of discomfort and disorientation to an already troubling situation. Many people feel lost, confused, and powerless to care for their families.
To help Americans cope with the fear and uncertainty of COVID-19, the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a fact sheet of practical steps you can implement immediately.*
Effects of Stress
Stress can manifest in a variety of ways, which may include:
- anxiety, depression, lethargy
- increased alcohol, drug, or tobacco use
- increased irritability and temper flare-ups
- difficulty sleeping or relaxing, nightmares, racing heart
- frequent crying or sobbing
- inability to focus or sustain attention
- feeling numb to things you usually find fun or pleasurable
When to Act Immediately
Some people, when they learn of an outbreak, may experience extreme distress. They may think apocalyptic thoughts, experience terror and helplessness, and even lose hope. They may feel suicidal, talk about suicide or death, and/or threaten to harm themselves or others.
If this sounds like you or someone you know, immediately contact one of the following:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline / 1 (800) 273-8255
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline / 1 (877) 726-4727
Steps to Reduce Stress
When an overload of negative external information becomes overwhelming, we can manage the resulting stress with mindful awareness of our own internal experience. This can help us to respond in ways that are healing for ourselves and our loved ones, such as:
- Practicing self-care. Eating healthy foods, drinking water, scheduling quiet time, and enjoying play time with your family and pets.
- Staying up-to-date. Getting updates from reliable news sources regarding available resources, community closures, and health protocols, but not dwelling on statistics and negative reports.
- Being your own advocate. Being proactive in seeking ways to ensure your needs are met.
- Keeping your mind stimulated. Reading books, doing puzzles, playing music, taking an online class, watching movies, learning a language, making art.
- Staying active. Doing stretches, exercising with an online trainer, cleaning the house.
- Staying socially connected. Calling; texting; video chat; or attending virtual book groups, peer support meetings, religious or spiritual services, etc.
- Being vulnerable. Not trying to suppress your feelings, but sharing them with the people you trust. Chances are that many people feel the same way.
For more information, read the entire fact sheet at SAMHSA.gov.
*Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, US Department of Health and Human Services. (2014, October). Coping with Stress During Infectious Disease Outbreaks [Fact Sheet].