Coping with Stress During COVID-19
Stress is your body’s natural physical and emotional response to changes in your environment. Stress is our body’s way of preparing us to deal with changes. Heart rate increases, respiration rate increases, muscles tense, digestion and all other non-essential bodily functions cease to prepare us to fight or flee. When the threat is over, our body’s systems usually go back to normal and we feel better. But when the threat doesn’t just go away, our bodies can get stuck in the state of chronic stress. Many people across the world are stuck in this state of chronic stress right now.
When COVID-19 arrived in the U.S., we all made changes to stay safe. Some of the most drastic changes happened in long-term care facilities. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, facilities had to restrict entry for all visitors, volunteers, and non-essential healthcare personnel. All non-essential outings, group activities, and communal meals had to be cancelled. Residents were asked to stay in their rooms to socially distance from one another. Many residents are having difficulty coping with the stress brought by drastic changes to their daily routine and isolation from their loved ones.
Signs of chronic stress include:
- Increased irritability or anger
- Fatigue and sleep disturbance
- Lack of interest, motivation, or energy
- Brain fog or difficulty concentrating
- Feeling nervous or anxious
- Feeling depressed or sad
- Muscle tension and pain
- Upset stomach
- Appetite changes
- Tightness in the chest
- Feeling faint or dizzy
There are several ways to help long-term care residents cope with stress. First, increase social support. Face to face contact isn’t an option now, but there are alternative ways to offer social support such as phone calls, video calls, letters, cards, artwork from grandchildren, and recorded messages. Second, increase participation in pleasurable activities. Encourage activities like word puzzles, reading or listening to audio books, adult coloring books, solitaire card games, or listening to music. Third, increase physical activity. Residents can reduce muscle tension and anxiety by getting up hourly to walk or stretch. Encourage restorative exercise programs or skilled physical therapy for those who need assistance. Fourth, spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, or phone calls from clergy can give residents a sense of peace. Last, but not least, residents who are really struggling can benefit from speaking to a counselor via telehealth to share their feelings and concerns and to identify specific coping strategies to manage chronic stress.