Coping with Stress

The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) may be stressful for people and communities. Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children.

Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations.

The emotional impact of an emergency on a person can depend on the person’s characteristics and experiences, the social and economic circumstances of the person and their community, and the availability of local resources. People can become more distressed if they see repeated images or hear repeated reports about the outbreak in the media.

Coping with these feelings and getting help when you need it will help you, your family, and your community recover from a disaster. Connect with family, friends, and others in your community. Take care of yourself and each other, and know when and how to seek help. Call your healthcare provider if stress reactions interfere with your daily activities for several days in a row.

People who may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis include:

  • People who have preexisting mental health conditions including problems with substance use

  • Children

  • People who are helping with the response to COVID-19, like doctors and other health care providers, or first responders

Reactions during an infectious disease outbreak can include:

  • Fear and worry about your own health status and that of your loved ones who may have been exposed to COVID-19

  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns

  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating

  • Worsening of chronic health problems

  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

 

People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment plans during an emergency and monitor for any new symptoms. Additional information can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website.

Things you can do to support 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. Try to do some other activities you enjoy to return to your normal life.

  • 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.

  • Share the facts about COVID-19 and the actual risk to others. People who have returned from areas of ongoing spread more than 14 days ago and do not have symptoms of COVID-19 do not put others at risk.

  • Stay informed, but avoid excessive media coverage.

 

Caring for Children

Children react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with the COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children. Parents can be more reassuring to others around them, especially children, if they are better prepared.

Not all children respond to stress in the same way. Some common changes to watch for in children:

  • Excessive crying and irritation

  • Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (e.g., toileting accidents or bedwetting)

  • Excessive worry or sadness

  • Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits

  • Irritability and “acting out” behaviors

  • Poor school performance or avoiding school

  • Difficulty with attention and concentration

  • Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past

  • Unexplained headaches or body pain

  • Use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

 

There are many things you can do to support your child:

  • 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 if 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 exposure to media coverage of the event. 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. Once it is safe to return to school or child care, help them return to their regular activity.

  • Be a role model; take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members and rely on your social support system.

For responders:

Responding to COVID-19 can take an emotional toll on you. There are things you can do to reduce secondary traumatic stress (STS) reactions:

  • Acknowledge that STS can impact anyone helping families after a traumatic event.

  • Learn the 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 menu 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 family and patients as you did before the outbreak.

Coping Tips for Yourself:

Take care of your body

Connect with others

Take breaks

Stay informed

Avoid too much exposure to news

Seek help when needed

Helping Children Cope:

Take time to talk

Let them know they are safe

Limit media exposure

Help maintain structure & routines

Be a role model: rest, eat well & exercise

Additional Resources:

  • Contact the Contra Costa Crisis Center by calling 211 or texting HOPE to 20121 to speak with or text someone if you have questions about community resources or need emotional support.
     

  • The California Peer-Run Warm Line offers peer support and resource referral by phone or online chat. The Warm Line is remaining open 24/7 at this time. Call 1-855-845-7415 to speak with someone or go to www.mentalhealthsf.org to access the online chat feature.
     

  • Helping Children Cope / Español (Spanish)

Content source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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