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Your Healthy Family: 5 ways to manage stress during the coronavirus outbreak

Posted at 9:41 AM, Mar 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-06 10:37:42-04

We're hearing a lot of advice on coping with the many stressors and challenges the current pandemic is creating. This morning, the Cleveland Clinic shared 5 ways to cope.

The 5 steps they suggest closely echo advice from a local mental health expert, Dr. John Fleming, MD, DLFAPA with the Southern Colorado TMS Center in Colorado Springs.

Both Dr. Fleming and Clinical psychologist Amy Sullivan, PsyD, ABPP with Cleveland Clinic say information is rapidly changing and can be confusing, overwhelming and even scary. You may experience fear and spikes in anxiety. But even if you’re managing your anxiety levels well, there’s still so much more to deal with.

Whether it’s dealing with at-risk family members or patients, a roller coaster economy, trying to juggle work, keeping kids occupied or homeschooling while schools are closed, or simply adjusting to a new, unfamiliar situation, stress can easily pile up and negatively impact you — both physically and mentally.

Sullivan, stresses the importance of planning coping activities. “America is the engine of ingenuity,” she says. “Let’s be innovative. This is a time when we can really be creative and come up with positive coping skills.”

  1. Get exercise on a regular basis while social distancing.

While gyms are closed and social distancing guidelines are in place, it’s still possible to get in aerobic exercise, like walking, running, hiking or playing with your kids/pets, all can help release endorphins (natural substances that help you feel better and maintain a positive attitude). And there are other exercises you can do in the comfort of your own home. Dr. Sullivan recommends yoga and stretching as one way to both exercise your body and calm your mind and it’s easy to do by yourself.

  1. Get good sleep each night and rest.

The ever-changing news environment can create a lot of stress, stress that gets amplified when you don’t get enough sleep. It’s especially important now to get the recommended amount of sleep to help you stay focused on work and on managing the stress the current outbreak can bring. Dr. Sullivan recommends avoiding stimulants like alcohol, caffeine and nicotine before bed. If you still find yourself too stressed to sleep, consider developing a new pre-bedtime routine, including a long bath or a cup of caffeine-free herbal tea. And planning for tomorrow earlier in your day can help alleviate stress related to what’s to come.

  1. Don't stress eat, and maintain a healthy diet

Stress can adversely affect both your eating habits and your metabolism. The best way to combat stress or emotional eating is to be mindful of what triggers stress eating and to be ready to fight the urge. “If you are someone who is prone to emotional eating, know your triggers, know what stresses you out and be prepared,” Dr. Sullivan says. Keeping healthy snacks on hand will help nourish your body, arming yourself nutritionally to better deal with your stress. “Helping to regulate your blood sugar throughout the day is going to keep your body stable and your emotions on a much better playing field,” Dr. Sullivan says.

Dr. Fleming says, “I think good coping is what it always is. It’s a balance of stress management, and what is stress management? Number one, to the extent we can it’s good sleep and good nutrition. Also, find opportunities for exercise. Here in Colorado we can go out almost in almost any kind of weather and walk. It’s very important right now to be at least six feet apart from other people.”

  1. Be mindful about taking a break

“As humans we want control over our lives and in this situation, so we have to learn to manage lack of control,” says Dr. Sullivan. While it’s important to stay informed of the latest news and developments, the evolving nature of the news can get overwhelming. Find a balance of exposure to news that works for you. This is particularly important for our children. We need to limit their exposure to the media and provide age-appropriate information to them. Whenever reasonably possible, disconnect physically and mentally. Play with puzzles, a board game, do a treasure hunt, tackle a project, reorganize something, or start a new book that is unrelated to coronavirus coverage.

Dr. Fleming adds, "Taking breaks is so important so make sure you don't sit down and watch the television 24/7, or read the internet 24/7. Think about reading a book, or watching a comedy really anything to take yourself out of the immediate worry for a time. Those problems are still going to be there later, but you need to pace yourself because doing anything continuously simply gets exhausting."

  1. Connect with others

“I can’t stress enough how important connection is during times of uncertainty and fear,” Dr. Sullivan says. “Fear and isolation can lead to depression and anxiety. We need to make a point to connect with others regularly.” Reach out to family members, friends and colleagues regularly via phone, text, FaceTime or other virtual platforms. Make sure that you are checking on those that are alone. Check in regularly with your parents, grandparents and your children.
Weather it's a mental health provider... Or family or friends text, e-mail, phone call or Facetime - connecting on any level can go a long way to boost your mental health if you're feeling down.

Southern Colorado TMS Center is a proud sponsor of Your Healthy Family