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How to manage stress, anxiety during the pandemic

Stress can have a lot of negative effects on your body and, while some cases require professional help, there are some things you can do on your own.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The coronavirus pandemic has had a major effect on everyone - and we are all facing challenges that increase our stress levels. Public health actions like social distancing are necessary to help reduce the spread of the virus, but they can also make us feel isolated and lonely, which can make us feel more stressed.

If you or someone you know needs immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

It's important to know that it's natural to feel stressed, anxious or worried during the pandemic. While some people may need to seek professional help for their anxiety, there are some things you can do at home to relieve stress.

Stress can do a lot of things to your body, including:

  • Make it hard to sleep and cause nightmares,
  • Cause physical reactions like headaches or stomach problems,
  • Make chronic health problems, like heart disease, worse.

Dr. Christina Breit with Norton Healthcare said she sees depression and anxiety in a wide range of patients, but the pandemic has hit people 35 to 50 years old pretty hard. Part of the reason for that is the loss of routine and health habits that were built before the pandemic hit.

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"They're completely overwhelmed and are throwing the towel in," Dr. Breit said. "They're not exercising like they used to, not eating healthy and probably drinking a little too much. They haven't found out how to make it all work." 

The CDC recommends that you take breaks from social media and mindless scrolling. It's important to stay informed, but hearing about the pandemic all the time can be upsetting.

"I've advised several patients to take three to five days break in the news cycle if you do think that's making your depression worse," Dr. Breit said.

The CDC also stresses the importance of taking care of your body. If it's safe to do so, go to the gym or try an at-home workout to get your body moving.

More sleep, healthy eating habits and less alcohol may also help. An increase in alcohol intake has been shown to increase stress and make chronic health problems worse.

"That's a depressant so that's the last thing you want to do," Dr. Breit said.

Make sure that you're taking time to unwind. If the weather is nice, go for a walk around your neighborhood or a park. If you want to stay inside, playing a board game or video game with the people in your household or cooking with your family are great, safe ways to pass the time.

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Dr. Breit said it's important to give yourself a reason to get up every day. Make goals for yourself, especially if you aren't working at the moment.

"I hear a lot of 'What's the point? I don't have a reason to wake up.' You need reasons to wake up, so set some goals," she said. The goals can be short- or long-term and they don't have to be massive - these goals can be as small as you want them to be.

It's also important to try and connect with other people, as isolation only increases stress and anxiety. The CDC recommends you stay in contact with friends and family over the phone, or with video calls like FaceTime and Zoom.

If you decide to get together in person, make sure you practice social distancing, wear your mask and make sure you wash your hands.

"Just make sure to check in on one another, because we are all in this together and it's affecting everyone. Some are having harder times than others," Dr. Breit said.

If you or someone you know needs help, these resources are always available:

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