How to manage stress during a pandemic

With so much focus on physical health as the new coronavirus sweeps across the globe, another vital component of a person’s well-being could easily fall by the wayside: mental health. 

“Right now, what we’re experiencing in the world is … a lack of structure, a lack of consistency and reliability and access to know what’s next,” says Carly Mesnick, program manager of Mount Carmel’s Crime and Trauma Assistance Program. “This is a trauma, and we have to recognize it as such.” With safety measures to reduce cases of COVID-19 upending virtually every aspect of life as we’ve known it, Mesnick is seeing in her clients an uptick in anxiety and its counterpart, depression, as well as issues surrounding grief and loss—whether that’s loss of a job, of physical health or even face-to-face social interactions.

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“I’m sure all of our anxiety, at the baseline, is raised,” says Harry Warner, a counselor and associate director of outreach with Ohio State University’s Counseling and Consultation Service. All this anxiety is normal, adds Maryanna Klatt, a professor with OSU’s Wexner Medical Center who researches stress, its effects and ways to mitigate it. “It would almost be abnormal if you didn’t have some amount of increased anxiety over a pandemic that’s happening in the world,” she says.

There are many ways to help mitigate this increased anxiety, but ultimately, Warner says, “It’s about maintaining wellness and routines in a different world.” 

While it’s difficult to maintain routines, including a normal sleep pattern, with standard school and work schedules on hiatus, structuring each day similarly is about more than productivity. “Structure really helps people,” Klatt says. “Having a schedule so you don’t have to make daily decisions of how you’re going to structure your day—I think that’s a stress-reliever.”

From structuring your day to incorporating effective anxiety-busting techniques, protecting your mental health takes work. “The stress reduction is not going to happen on its own,” Klatt says. “But I’m viewing this as a huge opportunity for people who, up to this point, knew they should be doing it but haven’t done it.”

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