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Healthy ways to reduce stress and anxiety

A woman writing in journal and relaxing with tea.
Blog

/ by Catherine Martin W., MD

This blog was written by psychiatrist Catherine Martin W., MD, director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 

The current COVID-19 outbreak is a stressful situation. The fear and anxiety you may be feeling might seem overwhelming for you or your children and your family. We’ve been told to practice social distancing – and for good reason – but know that you aren’t alone, and there are many things you can do to cope with the added stress or anxiety.

Anyone may be prone to added stress or anxiety, but certain people may be more prone to stress:

  • Children and teens.
  • Older adults or people at higher risk for COVID-19 due to chronic diseases.
  • Healthcare providers and first responders.
  • People with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance use.

With stress you may have noticed:

  • Difficulty sleeping, or a change in sleeping patterns.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Changes in eating patterns.
  • Worsening of chronic health problems.
  • Being hyper vigilant of aches and pains or other physical symptoms.
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco (including vaping), drugs and even caffeine.

How to deal with stress:

  • Stay in touch with friends and loved ones. Connect and talk with people you trust.
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals regularly.
  • Exercise: go for a walk, jog or bike ride. Getting outside is OK – and encouraged – if you practice social distancing. Getting in touch with nature is healing.
  • Reading, listening to books on tape, watching a film or listening to music can transport you for a little while.
  • Share what is helping you with others.
  • Set aside your worrying for a specific time of day (not near bedtime), write down your thoughts. Challenge them if they are making you more upset.

Stay up-to-date with information, but:

  • Take breaks from watching or reading about the pandemic.
  • Make sure what you’re reading about COVID-19 comes from a trusted, reputable source.
  • Remember that good anxiety helps you learn, plan, think and act safely. Too much anxiety can make it harder for you to do these good things.

My friend and colleague Shannon Wyatt, LPCC, recommends the following for dealing with stress:

  • Practice yoga. YouTube has free videos for children and adults.
    • Cosmic Kids Yoga for elementary age kids.
    • Yoga with Adriene for adults and older teens.
  • Find fun activities online to connect and help reduce stress.
    • Explore.org has many live nature webcams.
    • Kennedy-center.org features Lunch Doodle with Mo Willems (for kids).
    • Metmuseum.org has a kids art education and activities section in addition to sections for adults.
    • Nasa.gov has hundreds of space photos open for viewing. 
  • Start or plan a new hobby. If you already have a hobby, spend time with it often.
  • Download a mindfulness app such as:  
    • Headspace.
    • Breathe+.
    • Calm.

Finally, remember that we’re all in this together. We are social animals and can help each other by reaching out responsibly: by email, video conferencing or even an old fashioned letter or phone call.

We may have heard about, known or loved folks from the Greatest Generation and heard about the sacrifices they made to help each other. Maybe we are the “CommonHealth” of Kentucky Generation – and people will talk about what we did to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic in the years to come.

You might also like:

Simple tips for getting active How to shop smart, stock your pantry You washed your hands. Now what?