Emotional distress is common and normal in the context of uncertainty and potentially life-threatening situations, such as Covid-19 pandemic. Stress can present itself in different ways including physical, emotional, or cognitive ways. One common response for young adults is a feeling of invincibility and or emotional detachment which can lead to behaviors that may significantly increase risks.
Common acute stress reactions
- shock, things feeling surreal
- fear or anxiety about the future or death
- hopelessness or feeling lost about the future; feeling a lack of purpose in study or work
- difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- feeling emotionally detached, numb, or crying for what seems like no reason
- rumination, preoccupation with information about the outbreak
- difficulty getting to sleep, poor sleep quality, bad dreams, or problems staying awake during the day
- headache, stomachache, or pain without medical causes
- significantly decreased or increased appetite
- relying on alcohol or substances to cope with stress
- increased irritability, feeling angry
- shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, experiencing panic attack(s)
- feeling isolated or lonely, particularly due to social distancing practices
Reactions specific to this COVID-19 outbreak
- Worry about contamination, preoccupation with any signs/symptoms of illness, excessively taking your own temperature, and frequent urges to have yourself examined at health centers. The worries may impact your daily living, social relationships, or study.
- Experiencing symptoms such as itchy throat or nasal congestion and being concerned about having contracted coronavirus, even though no fever is present and there is little possibility of having contracted the virus in reality.
- Feeling alone or misunderstood.
- Feeling angry at or lacking trust in systems or others.
- Feeling lonely or isolated due to social distancing practices.
- Excessive attention to or obsession with related news, information, articles, or statements. The focus can result in compulsively reading about information about the outbreak, difficulty sleeping, and/or problems with concentrating on other topics.
- Quickly jumping to conclusions based on new information, resulting in panic in self or others.
- Grieving over loss or feeling sad and/or a sense of unfairness around someone’s death.
- “Survivor guilt” due to having no symptoms and little-to-no likelihood of having contracted the virus. For example, you might feel ashamed, guilty, or that you have abandoned your loved ones because you are not directly involved, because you are currently healthy, because others around you have fallen ill, or because there are limited ways you can help.
- Excessive worry about loved ones who are currently affected by the virus. The worries significantly impact your daily life, social life, or study.
- Feeling angry, disappointed, or a lack of control because your loved ones do not follow suggested precautions or believe in false information.
Try Different Strategies to Cope and Reduce Stress
It’s normal to feel distressed in the face of hard times. The good news is that you can learn the skills of resilience. Many people already possess these skills and will bounce back on their own, given time. There are also several strategies you can use to help restore emotional wellbeing and a sense of control. What works for you may not work for others. It is important to keep at it and try different things such as:
- Be prepared (e.g., develop a personal/ family plan for the outbreak) and educate yourself about preventive measures: from hand-washing technique and cough etiquette, to more complex medical recommendations for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.
- Talk about it. It’s important not to hold in your emotions. Talk to a friend, family member, or a counselor. Ask for support from people who care about you and who will listen to your concerns. Receiving support and care can be comforting and reassuring. Communicate in whatever way feels comfortable to you; even keeping a diary. Connect with friends and family in novel ways if you’re isolated. Connect with those you feel closest to for support.
- Do things that are enjoyable, even if you don’t feel like it. Listening to music, exercising, practicing breathing routines, spending time in nature or with animals, journaling, or reading inspirational texts are some simple ways to help manage emotions.
- Engage in your favorite activities virtually, such as:
- Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress. Eat well balanced meals, get plenty of rest, and build physical activity into your day. Avoid alcohol and drugs; they can suppress your feelings rather than help you manage and lessen your distress. Eat regularly and keep up with an exercise routine. If you are having trouble sleeping, try some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga. Take care of your body. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, and avoid alcohol and drugs
- Explore the following apps to build positive coping skills and increase mindfulness:
- Participate in an online support group
- Helping others, even during your own time of distress, can give you a sense of control and can make you feel better about yourself. Locate resources in your community or ways that you can help other or do something productive. Helping someone else often has the benefit of making you feel better.
- If possible, stick to your usual daily routine and strive for balance. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and have a negative or pessimistic outlook. Balance that viewpoint by reminding yourself of people and events which are meaningful and comforting, even encouraging. Striving for balance empowers you and allows for a healthier perspective on yourself and the world around you.
People who already are managing existing mental health conditions should prioritize self-care during difficult times and should contact their clinicians if they have questions or concerns.