How 14 Wellness Experts Cope With Coronavirus-Related Stress and Anxiety
Check the news only twice a day, call your family, and... make your bed? Here are all the ways experts are coping with the coronavirus pandemic
Coronavirus stress and anxiety even affects the experts
You may not contract coronavirus and get sick with the disease it causes, Covid-19, but that doesn’t mean you won’t feel some negative effects from it—particularly when it comes to your mental health. All you have to do is scroll through your news feed to feel an immediate spike in stress and anxiety as you watch the pandemic sweep the globe.
It’s not just you that’s freaking out: 80 percent of Americans reported being somewhat or very concerned about the outbreak, 29 percent said their emotional wellbeing is suffering, and 22 percent reported that their mental health worsened in the last week due to concerns about the coronavirus, in a new public poll from the news website Axios. Expect those numbers to rise quickly as the effects of school closures, business restrictions, social distancing and the overloading of the medical system are only beginning to set in, says Cliff Young, president of the global marketing research firm Ipsos, U.S. Public Affairs. “America is just now coming to grips with the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak,” he says.
This is an overwhelming event, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean you are helpless in facing the uncertain days ahead. To help you deal with all the stress and anxiety, we asked health and wellness experts to share what they are doing, right now, to deal with their own stress and anxiety.
“I’m only checking the news twice a day”
Coronavirus-related news seems to change by the hour, keeping you glued to your news feed, but while this may feel productive in some ways, it will only increase your stress and anxiety. It’s all about finding a balance between staying informed and staying sane, says W. Nate Upshaw, MD, a clinical psychiatrist with NeuroSpa TMS in Tampa, Florida. “I stay up-to-date on the latest information about Covid-19 by checking the CDC and local news twice a day, rather than all day long,” he says.
“I go out in the sunshine every morning”
Being outside in morning sunlight is one of the fastest and most effective ways to boost your mood — and the effect lasts all day, Dr. Upshaw says. “I take a walk outside in the sunshine, first thing every morning,” he says. “It releases stress, I get exercise, fresh air, and it’s a great start to my healthy daily routine.” Sunlight has other science-backed health benefits, including improving your immune system, another important perk when it comes to fighting off a virus.
“I check in virtually every day with my loved ones”
Isolation, an unfortunately essential part of “social distancing,” can quickly lead to feelings of loneliness and depression. Fortunately, we have the tools to combat this: Texting, Skype, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Zoom, and social media apps were all made for the purpose of connecting people. “I stay connected to my world and my family and friends through technology,” says Lisa Yee, a certified personal trainer, life coach, and yoga teacher in San Diego, California. “Talking to them helps me stay calm through the chaos and be optimistic during this crisis.”
“I’m learning to play the guitar”
Simply listening to soothing music is a great way to calm yourself, but playing an instrument may have added stress-busting powers, according to a 2017 study published in Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain. Robert Williams, MD, a family medicine doctor and geriatrician in Lakewood, Colorado says now is the perfect time to take advantage of this effect. “Personally, I find that learning new things or reviving old hobbies helps with stress and anxiety by keeping me mentally engaged and distracted from my worries,” he says. “During this time I have decided to learn how to play the guitar. I find it puts my mind at ease and also nurtures creativity.” There are plenty of online tutorials for whatever instrument you may have laying around, like this beginner guitar tutorial from Andy Guitar.
“I’m making my own ‘fast food'”
What you eat can make a big difference in your mood so Claire Siegel, a registered dietitian and founder of Nutritional Freedom, is making it a priority to eat nutrient-dense whole-foods meals. “When you’re stressed it may feel easier to reach for convenience foods but you can make healthy food just as convenient,” she says. She sets aside a few hours one day to meal prep, preparing a variety of components including non-starchy veggies, a healthy carb, protein, and fat. She then puts them in separate containers so she can just mix-and-match at each meal. “My go-to right now is shredded chicken, sauteed bell peppers and onions that I can make into a burrito bowl or a stir fry, depending on what I’m in the mood for,” she says. Start with these 18 foods proven to boost your mood.
“I’m moving every few hours”
Getting in some morning exercise will help banish the bad feelings but stress and anxiety can creep back in during your day. Thankfully it doesn’t take an hour-long sweat-drenched “workout” to bring back those feel-good brain chemicals, Siegel says. This is why she’s making sure not to sit for hours and to take regular breaks throughout her day to stand up and move around. “I’ll stretch, do a short YouTube video or take a walk around my neighborhood,” she says. “Being sedentary and spending too much time in my head can cause me to feel disconnected but even a little exercise is an amazing stress reliever.”
“I’m cleaning my bedroom”
“My motto is clean house, clean mind,” says Venus Nicolino, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, California. It makes sense: If you’re going to be stuck indefinitely quarantined in your home, you might as well make it a happy place to be. You don’t have to do a full spring clean, simply picking up your bedroom or doing the dishes are little things you can do right now to feel instantly happier and less stressed. “I’m looking around myself and asking, ‘What needs changing?’ ‘What mess lies underneath my bed?’ When we’re able to control our immediate environment, it helps us let go of what we cannot control,” she says.
“I’m meditating twice a day”
Meditation acts as a chill pill for your whole body, just one of its many science-backed benefits. “The longer I try to ignore, deny, or avoid the fear and anxiety of the moment, the longer I’ll hold onto these difficult emotions and will find it difficult to stay focused on positive things,” says Jill Sherer Murray, a journalist known for her TEDx talk “The Unstoppable Power of Letting Go” and founder of the lifestyle brand Let Go For It. Her way to “feel all the feelings” without letting them overwhelm her is through transcendental meditation. “I meditate twice a day to stay present, and grounded in what’s real,” she says. Never meditated before? Start with these easy mindfulness exercises you can do right now.
“I post my goals on a sticky note on my computer”
We’re all glued to our computers these days but it’s important not to get sucked into the endless news cycle. One way Murray is reminding herself there are bigger and better things is by writing her goals on a sticky note that she puts on her computer (or save them as your phone’s wallpaper). “When I feel myself going down a dark rabbit hole, I look at it and it immediately lifts my mood,” she says. “We all had goals before this global pandemic hit and we can still keep working towards them. The key is re-focusing on what they are and how we’ll achieve them. Things are different now but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It forces us to become more effective problem solvers, to innovate, and use a shift in perspective to find powerful new ways of getting things done.”
“I take some really deep breaths”
Breathing is one of the most basic things we do and yet it’s amazing how many of us forget to breathe properly when we are stressed out, says Namita Kulkarni, a yoga teacher in India who writes a yoga travel blog called Radically Ever After. “I start my day with a few minutes of a type of yogic breathing called Ujjayi breath (also called Ocean breath) to counter stress and fear in these highly uncertain times,” she explains. “Ujjayi breath works by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. It sets a peaceful, centered tone for the rest of my day and I’m less likely to be thrown into fear or panic with every news update.” Here’s why you should take a mental health day soon.
“I do some simple yoga moves”
Yoga has some powerful stress-reduction benefits and you don’t need a formal yoga studio or even a mat to get them, Kulkarni says. You can follow along with a virtual yoga class—Yoga With Adriene is a great, free place to start—but even doing just a few simple movements can calm you in the moment. “Something as simple as raising my arms up with an inhale and lowering my arms with an exhale, done about 20 times, slows the mental traffic and has me feeling grounded in my body,” she says.
“I watch a funny show with my family every night”
“During this time, we are having family TV night every evening and watching a funny series on Netflix,” says Renee Wellsenstein, an OB/GYN and functional medicine doctor in upstate New York. Surprised to see a doctor recommending watching more TV? These challenging times call for different solutions, she says, adding that it’s all about making your TV time quality time. “This way we spend time together as a family and all get our daily dose of laughing, which is not only good for stress but also strengthens the immune system,” she says.
“I’m taking long, slow walks every day”
You get benefits beyond exercise when you walk outdoors, and this shutdown is the perfect time to do more of it, Dr. Wellsenstein says. “Each day I’m getting out and taking my puppy on long walks,” she says. “Since we are not rushing to get anywhere special, we can take our time, breathe deeply, look around, listen to the birds and take in the beauty of nature, which in and of itself is a natural stress reliever.”
“I’m taking cold showers”
Cold showers may not sound like the best idea at first but they have some powerful science-backed health benefits, including boosting your immune system—something we can all definitely use during the pandemic. “I finish my shower by turning it to cold and letting it run down my back for 20 or more seconds,” says David Dolan, a licensed massage therapist at The Springs Resort & Spa in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. “This mimics the concept of contrast bathing, a centuries-old practice that uses hot or warm soaks or steams, followed by immersion in cold water or cold air. Some believe it helps combat inflammation.”
“I’m working out in my living room every day”
Just because the gym is closed doesn’t mean you can’t still work out. Daily exercise is one of the best things you can do during this shutdown, as it provides not just physical health benefits but significant mental health benefits as well. “Each day I either make up my own workout with what I have at home or do YouTube videos with home workouts,” says Carrie Boyer, a physical therapist and health coach in Scottsdale, Arizona. “I’ve found this instantly increases my energy and mood while decreasing stress and anxiety.” Looking for ideas? Fitness Blender offers a wide variety of professional workouts, all for free.
“I follow a strict daily routine”
One of the scariest parts of living through a pandemic is the feeling of being out of control. Not knowing what to expect is a huge source of worry for many people but making a daily routine—write it out—can help combat this, Boyer says. “Staying on a routine helps with my feelings of stress and anxiety because a lack of routine feels chaotic and out of control to me,” Boyer says. “Staying on a routine allows me to feel like I still have control over my day, even if the day is within my home bounds.” Make sure you aren’t starting your day with the morning habits that might not be so harmless.
“I’m taking a picture of something happy each day”
Chronic worrying can make you forget all the many good things that are still happening in the world which is why it’s so important for your mental wellbeing to take a few minutes each day to look for things that make you happy and that you’re grateful for, says Ashley Hopkins, a registered dietitian in Boston, Massachusetts, and Director of Wellness Program Success at Wellable. One way she does this is by snapping a photo each day of something that makes her happy, like yesterday’s sunrise or fresh flowers, and posting it to social media. “Reflecting on small, happy things helps relieve my stress, strengthen my social relationships, and will provide me with something enjoyable to look back on once we’re on the other side of this unique situation,” she says.
“I’m sticking to my normal sleep routine”
Getting seven to eight hours of quality sleep each night is one of the best ways to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. That may be easier said than done during a crisis where your thoughts may keep you lying awake and worrying, says Jonathan Huppert, PhD, professor at the anxiety lab and Chair of Clinical Psychology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Maintaining a good, consistent sleep routine is essential to my mental health so I am still going to sleep and getting up at the same times I typically would, even though I don’t have to go anywhere,” he says.
“I’m doing something nice for someone else every day”
Helping someone else is one of the fastest and most effective ways to pull yourself out of a funk. “Each day I ask myself ‘How can I be of service?’,” says Taryn Marie Stejskal, PhD, a counselor who specializes in resilience in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “Considering the needs of family, friends, coworkers, and the community helps me cope with my stress by getting me out of my own head and worries and thinking about the bigger picture.” Next, check out the tips from mental health experts on coping with depression during coronavirus quarantine.
- Axios: "Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index, March 13-16, 2020: Americans hit by stress, job losses"
- Cliff Young, president of Ipsos U.S. Public Affairs
- W. Nate Upshaw, MD, a clinical psychiatrist with NeuroSpa TMS in Tampa, Florida
- Lisa Yee, a certified personal trainer, life coach, and yoga teacher in San Diego, California
- Robert Williams, MD, a family medicine doctor and geriatrician in Lakewood, Colorado
- Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain: "Music Therapy for Posttraumatic Stress in Adults: A Theoretical review"
- Claire Siegel, a registered dietitian and founder of Nutritional Freedom
- Venus Nicolino, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, California
- Jill Sherer Murray, a journalist known for her TEDx talk "The Unstoppable Power of Letting Go" and founder of Let Go For It
- Namita Kulkarni, a yoga teacher in India and founder of Radically Ever After
- Renee Wellsenstein, an OB/GYN and functional medicine doctor in upstate New York
- David Dolan, a licensed massage therapist at The Springs Resort & Spa in Pagosa Springs, CO
- Carrie Boyer, a physical therapist and health coach in Scottsdale, Arizona
- Ashley Hopkins, a registered dietitian in Boston, Massachusetts, and Director of Wellness Program Success at Wellable
- Jonathan Huppert, PhD, professor at the anxiety lab and Chair of Clinical Psychology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
- Taryn Marie Stejskal, PhD, a counselor who specializes in resilience in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania