Coping with Stress During COVID-19

Change is difficult for most people, especially when you didn’t ask for or even expect these changes. Take steps to care for yourself and others during this challenging time.

Coping During Holidays and Celebrations

  • Identify how you’re feeling. Figuring out your emotions can make things feel less overwhelming help find ways to cope. The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for many reasons, which means that some of your distress is likely related to things other than holidays or celebrations. Take some time to sort through your emotions in whatever way is most productive for you – journal, talk to a loved one or just spend some quiet time alone thinking.

  • Acknowledge what you’ve lost. While many holidays and gatherings are mainly about thankfulness and celebration, they can still be difficult, even during normal circumstances. If you’re missing a loved one, think of ways to honor them during your festivities. If you’ve lost a job or had to drop out of school, take the time to recognize the challenges that came with that. Even if you haven’t lost anything concrete, we’ve all lost our sense of normalcy this year – it’s okay to grieve that too.

  • Make the most of your situation. While celebrations look different, that doesn’t mean they need to be cancelled or even minimized. Some higher-risk activities such as gathering in person with people you don’t live with should be avoided, but there are many other ways you can celebrate safely. Arrange virtual celebrations to stay connected and put twists on typical holiday traditions.

  • Try not to romanticize your typical plans. Remember that while your celebrations may normally be full of excitement and joy, they can also be high stress. Even though you may be giving up some of your favorite things, you’re probably leaving some stressors behind too. Be careful not to distort the situation and make it seem worse than it really is. 

  • Practice gratitude. While it may seem harder to find things to appreciate, make a conscious effort to regularly identify some things that you’re grateful for. It can be something as broad as your family, or something as specific as your favorite song playing on the radio the last time you got in the car. 

  • Continue healthy habits like eating well-balanced meals, exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep and avoiding alcohol and drugs.

  • Be aware of your self-care. Be mindful that alcohol and substance use can impair decisions. Plan to communicate clearly and then work on your own self-care plan to address feelings of loneliness and isolation. If your loved ones are experiencing something similar, make a plan to reach out to each other.

  • Reach out if you need help. Rely on your support system or contact the Contra Costa Crisis Center by calling 211 or texting HOPE to 20121 for 24/7 emotional support and resource referrals.


If you or someone you know needs help:


Talking to Loved Ones About Celebrating in Different Ways During COVID-19

Saying no to people we love, or suggesting different ways, is never easy.

  • Prepare ahead of time. Write down your reasons for switching to safer plans. If you’re anxious about the conversation, gain confidence by practicing what you’ll say.

  • Be firm and direct. State your decision clearly at the beginning of the conversation. If you stall or waver, you may give the impression that you are open to negotiation.

  • Acknowledge your own sadness. Make it clear that you are avoiding gatherings because of the virus, not because of your feelings about the person you are speaking with. If you are sad and disappointed to not be celebrating together, say so. Tell them you miss them and that you are tired of the pandemic too.

  • Stay focused on your own comfort level. Be clear that you are making a personal decision based on your own risk tolerance. Use “I” statements. Don’t get into a debate about the seriousness of COVID-19. It may help to frame your decision around concern for others, such as “I don’t want to be responsible for putting you at risk.”

  • Listen. Loved ones who were looking forward to seeing you may be hurt, disappointed or angry at a change in plans. Take the time to listen to them and acknowledge their emotions without arguing. Be understanding if they need time to process their feelings.

  • Suggest alternatives - and follow through. Remind them that you still care about them and that there are other ways to stay connected. Offer to host a video call while cooking or eating dinner, or to drop off their favorite dish. Even if they are not interested in a virtual gathering, you can try to stay in touch more often by phone call, text or video call.





Supporting Yourself

  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs. Make time to unwind and remind yourself that strong feelings will fade. Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories. It can be upsetting to hear about the crisis and see images repeatedly. Do activities that make you happy.

  • Make time for yourself every day doing something nourishing, replenishing, and soothing for you.

  • Find a way to self-soothe using each of your five senses:

    • Vision: Look at the stars at night, look at pictures you like in a book, watch a sunrise or a sunset, take a walk

    • Hearing: Listen to soothing or invigorating music, sing to your favorite songs, pay attention to the sounds of nature, make a playlist with your favorite music

    • Smell: Use your favorite soap/lotion/shampoo, burn a scented candle or incense, walk in a wooded area and mindfully breathe in the fresh smells of nature, make cookies, bread or popcorn, open the window and smell the fresh air

    • Taste: Eat some of your favorite food, drink your favorite soothing drink like hot cocoa or herbal tea

    • Touch: Pet your dog or cat, sink into a comfortable chair in your home, take a hot bath/shower, run your hand along smooth wood or leather, wrap up in a blanket


  • Connect with others. Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. Maintain healthy relationships.

  • Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking.​

  • Stay informed but avoid excessive media coverage.


​Supporting Children

Children react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them. When caregivers handle challenges calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children. 

  • Take time to talk with your child about the COVID-19 outbreak. Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child can understand.

  • Reassure your child that they are safe. Let them know it is ok if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.

  • Limit your child’s media exposure. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.

  • Help your child to have a sense of structure to their day and week.

  • Be a role model by taking breaks, getting plenty of sleep, exercising and eating well. Connect with your friends and family members and rely on your social support system.


For Frontline Workers:

  • Acknowledge that secondary traumatic stress (STS) can impact anyone during a crisis.

  • Monitor yourself for STS symptoms including physical (fatigue, illness) and mental (fear, withdrawal, guilt).

  • Allow time for you and your family to recover from responding to the outbreak.

  • Create a list of personal self-care activities that you enjoy, such as spending time with friends and family, exercising or reading a book.

  • Take a break from media coverage of COVID-19.

  • Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed or concerned that COVID-19 is affecting your ability to care for your loved ones or patients as you did before the outbreak.



Content source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Mental Health America