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  • by: Anne-Marie Spencer
  • May 28, 2020

Managing stress during COVID 19

To say the world has been living under difficult circumstances is an understatement. We’re in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, with cities and countries shut down, people shuttered away from their friends, family, colleagues, and places of enjoyment, and everyone wondering “what’s next?”

For a lot of people, the uncertainty is the hardest thing to handle. For others, it’s the isolation that comes from not being able to go to work, restaurants, the gym, or other places outside the home. For parents, dealing with their own anxiety while trying to reassure their children is the most difficult part. Conversely, there are adult children with parents in care facilities wondering how they are coping with restrictions on visits. It’s a difficult time for us all. 

Of late, stories of negative effects on mental health due to the pandemic are becoming as prevalent as headlines about the pandemic itself.   There are so many things outside of our control, including how long this will last, how other people behave, and what’s going to happen in our communities. However, as long as we’re focusing on questions with unknowable answers and circumstances outside of our personal control, we will only increase feeling drained, anxious, and overwhelmed.

Your overall health (mental and physical) needs to be a priority. It will not only build your immune system but will help you get through what is a difficult and stressful period. Here are some tips to help you cope, be resilient, and manage stress.:

  • Manage news consumption:
    • Avoid or limit watching, reading, or listening to news that causes anxiety or distress. Follow stressful news with lighter material!
    • Mitigate misinformation by gathering information at regular intervals from trusted and credible sources. Check facts.
  • Combat loneliness:
    • Use tools to connect virtually with your family, friends and colleagues such as email, video conferencing, or phone/Facetime. Reach out to someone you haven’t spoken with in a while. Reconnect. Talk to people.
    • Find new and innovative ways to pursue your passions, like virtual coffees with friends, watching concerts online, or taking part in a virtual class.
  • Stick to a sleep schedule to maintain your energy.
  • Perhaps most importantly, get outside! Natural environments present scenes that calm frazzled nerves.[i]Outdoor active behavior helps to reduce anxiety[ii] in ways that being indoors cannot.[iii] Research shows that 90 minutes in nature lowers activity in the part of the brain linked to negative rumination.[iv] Changing scenery gets the creative juices flowing and can improve problem-solving skills by 50%.[v] As we continue to feel more and more disconnected, time in nature can even provide the sense of belonging to the wider world that is vital for mental health.[vi] The CDC says promoting places to be active improves overall community health.[vii] The American Heart Association says spending time in nature can help relieve stress and anxiety, improve mood, and boost feelings of happiness and wellbeing.[viii] Go to the park, the trail, or wherever you can go to maintain distancing requirements and still enjoy the myriad of benefits the outdoors can provide. It’s never been more important.

[i] Pearson DG, Craig T. The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments. Frontiers in Psychology. 2014;5:1178. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01178.

[ii] Mackay J, James G&N. The effect of “green exercise” on state anxiety and the role of exercise duration, intensity, and greenness: A quasi-experimental study. Psychology of Sport and Exercise. 2010;11:238-245. doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2010.01.002.

[iii] Thompson Coon J,Boddy K, Stein K, et al. Does Participating in Physical Activity in Outdoor Natural Environments Have a Greater Effect on Physical and Mental Wellbeing than Physical Activity Indoors? A Systematic Review. Environmental Science & Technology. 2011(45);5:1761-1772. DOI: 10.1021/es102947t 

[iv] Bratman GN, Hamilton JP, Hahn KS, et al. Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2015(112);28:8567-8572. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1510459112.

[v] Atchley RA, Strayer DL, Atchley P. Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings. de Fockert J, ed. PLoS ONE. 2012;7(12):e51474. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051474.

[vi]  Joye Y, Bolderdijk JW. An exploratory study into the effects of extraordinary nature on emotions, mood, and prosociality. Frontiers in Psychology. 2014;5:1577. 

[vii] . https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/community-strategies/index.htm

[viii] https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/spend-time-in-nature-to-reduce-stress-and-anxiety

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