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The COVID-19 pandemic is a new virus that is still being learned about every day. Constant changes are continuing to unfold as new information becomes available and there are still a lot of unknowns. Given the uncertainty of the situation and the masses of information being delivered through social media and other media networks, it is normal to feel stressed or anxious.

Everyone will respond to the COVID-19 pandemic differently; however, there are common sources of stress and anxiety during this time. Stressful conditions during the pandemic include:

  • Fears of becoming ill or infecting others with COVID-19
  • Anxiety about having to monitor yourself or others for signs and symptoms of the disease
  • Feelings of social isolation, loneliness, boredom, or depression while physical distancing
  • Concerns about job security, income, or finances during workplace closures or reduced hours
  • Concerns about securing childcare or continuing your child’s education during transitions to and from new learning models
  • Concerns about your ability to effectively care for other loved ones during the pandemic, such as older adults or individuals with a mental illness or substance use disorder
  • Concerns about securing groceries and personal care items

Signs and Symptoms of Stress

During this time, signs and symptoms of stress may appear in different ways for different people. In order to prevent overwhelming feelings of stress, it is important to recognize these signs and symptoms as they occur and try to avoid ignoring or suppressing them. Recognizing and acknowledging signs and symptoms of stress is the first step to establishing a plan for managing them. The following list provides several examples of how stress may affect people during the COVID-19 crisis:

  • Physical Symptoms: Muscle tension, elevated heart rates, fatigue, digestive issues, low energy, headaches, nausea, or dizziness.
  • Emotional or Psychological Symptoms: Anxiety or constant worrying, easily agitated or frustrated, sadness or depression, anger or irritability, difficulty relaxing, racing thoughts, or hypersensitivity.
  • Behavioural Symptoms: Inadequate sleep or restlessness, distraction or the inability to focus, poor judgement, neglect of responsibilities, procrastination, or increased use of alcohol or other substances.

Challenging Worries and Anxious Thoughts

During times of uncertainty, stress and anxiety can cause people to focus on “what if” situations or worst case scenarios. This may leave people feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, or vulnerable. There are many strategies that can be used to challenge worries and anxious thoughts during the pandemic:

Engage in positive self-talk.
Positive self-talk strategies can help shift negative ways of thinking into more helpful mindsets. These strategies may include the following:

  1. Think of stressful experiences in the past and remind yourself about the skills used to cope with them. Remember that people are resilient and use coping skills every single day. Continue to remind yourself that you can handle stress and that family, friends, colleagues, or professionals are available for additional support if needed.
  2. Catch negative or anxious thoughts as they occur and stop to write them down. Challenge these thoughts by questioning their validity/accuracy and asking yourself whether they are grounded in beliefs or facts. Try to re-frame worries and anxious thoughts by focusing on self-talk strategies that facilitate problem-solving and conflict resolution. After engaging in these practices, try to replace catastrophic thinking with more balanced approaches. This may include statements such as, “This is a difficult time, but I will get through this with the support of family and friends”.
  3. Try to focus on things that you can control during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as maintaining proper hand hygiene and practicing physical distancing. For situations that are beyond an individual’s control, try to shift emotional responses to these situations by focusing your attention on other activities or tasks, such as playing a board game, reading a book, or practicing meditation.

Use reflective journaling.
Consider writing in a daily or weekly journal. Writing in a journal can be an emotional release for many people. In fact, journaling can help people process their feelings and emotions, get rid of negative thoughts, and explore positive self-talk strategies.

Engage in deep breathing techniques. 
Deep breathing exercises can be calming to the nervous system, alleviate feelings of anxiety or worry, and help individuals think more clearly. Try square breathing. Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down and take a slow deep breath in while counting to four, hold for four seconds, and then breathe out for four seconds. 

A diagram that explains the square breathing technique can be found through the Mental Health Commission of Canada and Centre of Substance Use and Addiction’s resource on Coping with Stress, Anxiety, and Substance Use during COVID-19.  

For more great tips, please see CAMH’s resources for challenging worries and anxious thoughts and dealing with problems in a structured way during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Last modified: 
Wednesday, September 2, 2020 - 10:13am