The fast-moving spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, has left little room to pause and take stock of your emotions. This is leading many to turn to whatever means necessary to handle the stress and anxiety they may be experiencing, even if those methods might not be the most beneficial. Despite the intensity of the current situation, it is possible to manage those overwhelming emotions in healthy ways.
Mounting Coronavirus Fears
The circumstances surrounding COVID-19 are changing daily, with many areas across the United States trying to slow the spread of illness by mandating that people stay home and most businesses close. Without the option to maintain daily routines and visit the people closest to you, it doesn’t take long to start feeling a sense of isolation and emotional heaviness.
If you already struggle with a mental health disorder, such as anxiety or depression, a global crisis can intensify the symptoms you are experiencing. And those who have never had any mental health concerns may find themselves suddenly battling feelings of worry, anxiety, and stress that just won’t seem to go away.
Not everyone reacts to stressful situations the same way, so there’s no “normal” response to a global pandemic. However, some general signs of stress during a crisis like the spread of COVID-19 might include:
- Having difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Eating more or less than usual
- Worsening chronic health concerns
- Increased alcohol, tobacco, or drug use
For those who are in recovery from a substance use disorder, these heightened emotions and physical discomforts can bring about the urge to self-soothe with drugs, alcohol, or other substances. Although the coronavirus situation can feel incredibly overwhelming, there are healthier ways to get through these difficult times.
Managing Stress from the Coronavirus
Because information about COVID-19 is changing so quickly, you may feel like you’ve lost control of your life, and that can be scary. With social distancing restrictions currently in place, standard coping tools are mostly off limits. But with some ingenuity, there are many ways to manage stress and anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic while in recovery from a substance use disorder:
- Get accurate information: There’s so much information to wade through, especially on social media, and that makes it hard to know what to believe. It’s best to follow official health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) for updates on the coronavirus.
- Step away from the updates: While it’s important to stay updated on how COVID-19 might affect our lives and local areas, following minute-by-minute updates can be overwhelming and may even contribute to worsening stress and anxiety. Taking a break from the news cycle can help you find a more balanced approach to the current chaos.
- Stay active: Continuing to stay active is still possible even though gyms are closed and social distancing guidelines are in effect. When the weather allows, get outside for a walk, run, hike, or bike ride. There are also many physical activities you can do indoors, such as stretching, yoga, walking up and down stairs, or following free exercise videos posted online.
- Eat healthy foods: The foods you eat can help you maintain a healthy immune system, so keeping your body nourished is more important than ever. Be mindful of what you are eating and plan your meals ahead of time so that you can make choices that are right for your body. If you are prone to emotional eating, try to keep healthier snacks in the house so that you are prepared if you experience a stress trigger.
- Find ways to rest: Stress can make it difficult to get the rest you need right now, but lack of sleep actually makes stress worse. If you’re stuck in this vicious loop, avoid stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before bed. You can also try creating a relaxing routine before you go to sleep, like taking a bath, listening to soft music, meditating, or drinking a hot beverage.
- Stay connected: Social distancing doesn’t mean completely isolating ourselves from those we care about. When facing frightening or unknown situations, it’s important to stay connected with your support system. Regular phone calls or video chats can help you feel less alone while following safe social distancing.
Recovery Help During the Coronavirus Pandemic
No matter how long you have been in recovery, the stress and uncertainty of a global pandemic is an immense weight that may trigger the urge to use again. If stress reduction tools aren’t minimizing that compulsion, there are many online recovery resources you can utilize, including a variety of virtual support groups that allow you to maintain safe social distancing while getting the help you need to stay sober.
Many addiction treatment centers are also offering telehealth services during the coronavirus pandemic so that individuals can continue to get substance use treatment. However, if you need treatment right now, don’t let social distancing guidelines stop you from reaching out for help. Addiction treatment facilities across the country are updating their precautions daily so that the people who turn to them for care stay safe and protected while in treatment.
Feeling stressed and anxious from the spread of the coronavirus is a completely natural reaction. But by using healthy stress management techniques and reaching out for help when you need it, you can stay on the path to lasting sobriety.