The COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily changed the way we work and live, go to school, and spend time together. Limiting close contact with each other protects everyone’s health, including those who are most vulnerable. It also helps ensure vital health care resources remain available for those who need them. But knowing that change is important doesn’t make it easy. As we all adapt to recent events, it’s natural to feel stress, worry, and even anger.
That’s why learning how to deal with difficulties in healthy ways and bounce back from hardship is key. Scroll down to find practical tools and sources of support that can help you strengthen your resilience during times of stress, so you can take care of yourself and those around you during COVID-19 and beyond.
Recognizing the signs of stress and anxiety
Strong emotions, and even physical reactions, are a natural response to traumatic events like a natural disaster or pandemic. There’s no right or wrong way to feel or act, and your reactions may change over time. That’s why it’s important to understand your responses during stressful events—so that you can better manage what you’re feeling and recognize when you may need the support of a mental health or medical professional.
Stress takes many forms
Look for these common reactions to traumatic events, now and as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves.
- Mood swings and intense feelings, including fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, sadness, anger, guilt, and disorientation
- Denial, detachment or avoidance
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Irritability, strained relationships and conflicts with family, friends and co-workers
- Changes in your normal sleep or eating patterns
- Soreness, nausea, head or stomach aches
- Elevated breathing, heartbeats, and blood pressure
- Sensitivity to unusual sounds, smells and changes in your environment
- A worsening of preexisting chronic or mental health conditions
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
Research shows that people are resilient. With time and support, we’re able to recover from adversity. It’s OK to ask for help. Remember the challenges you’ve overcome in the past; it’s good to remind yourself of your own ability to bounce back. Just remember that recovery is a process. Give yourself time to adjust, now and after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
Learning to manage stress and adapt to change
Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. But taking care of yourself, your friends, and your family can help you cope with the changes you’re experiencing. People who have the skills to adapt and bounce back from hardships strengthen the people around them, and help make their community more resilient, too.
Caring for yourself
You’re not being selfish, you’re showing self-interest. Taking the time to protect your own physical and mental health ensures you have the resources to take care of others.
Get the 3 “goods”
That’s good-for-you foods, a good night’s sleep, and a good amount of exercise.
Relax your body
Do what that works for you, like taking deep breaths, stretching and exercising, meditation, and spiritual activities.
Do something you enjoy
Eat a good meal, read, create a playlist of your favorite music, play video games, or talk to family and friends.
Don’t let the pandemic take over what you read, watch, or talk about. And don’t be afraid to ask friends and family to talk about something else.
Avoid negative outlets
Find healthy ways to process your emotions. Avoid self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, or risky behaviors.
- COVID-19 well-being toolkit and resources
- A guide to sources of support during COVID-19 for people living with mental health & substance use concerns, P-02670 (PDF)
- Staying resilient during COVID-19
- Supporting your mental health during coronavirus
- Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak
- Basic protective measures for everyone
Trusted, supportive relationships keep us grounded during uncertainty. Whether you send a postcard or a text, you don’t have to be physically close to stay connected.
Tap into technology
Reach out to family and friends, colleagues, and support groups in whatever way you can: calls, email, texting, video chats, etc.
Use social media wisely
Connect with the world outside via social media—but don’t overload on COVID-19 posts, and make sure the sources you follow are credible.
Do remote doctor visits
Many health care providers offer remote care. Ask your primary physician if you can schedule appointments over Skype, FaceTime, or email.
Have lunch long-distance
Keep the standing social appointments in your life. If you have lunch with a family member or friend every week, use technology to keep it up.
Join an online community
Now is the time to make new friends and connect with people who share your hobbies and interests.
Stress and anxiety can make us spiral. Take the time to discover which coping skills work for you, and practice them every day.
Reduce your risk
Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. Stay at least 6 feet apart while running essential errands at the store, pharmacy or gas station. Knowing you’re doing everything you can to stay healthy can help you worry less.
Establish a routine
Staying balanced is easier when you build periods of activity and rest into your daily schedule.
Talk it out
Try talking about your experiences and feelings with loved ones, a trusted advisor, or a support group or mental health professional. It can help.
Avoid big decisions when possible
Important decisions are usually stressful in their own right, and can be even harder when you're dealing with a trauma.
Monitor your reactions
Check in with your body and emotions. Know the signs of toxic stress and reach out for help if you feel like you can’t cope.
You can be part of history
The Wisconsin Historical Society is documenting the impact of COVID-19 on Wisconsin and the world. Learn more about the 2020 COVID-19 Journal Project. Keeping a journal is a powerful mental health tool. Journaling can help you better understand your feelings and emotions and help you manage stress. Writing about things that have frustrated or upset you can help you to let go of some of the stress and gain perspective.
Tips for people in especially challenging situations
Throughout our communities, people from all walks of life are facing new challenges at work and at home. Maintaining our physical, mental, and emotional well-being in times like these can be tough, but for those living with uniquely stressful settings and situations, it may be even more difficult. Explore our tips for just a few of these vulnerable communities and find a starting point for support with select resources that can help you build resilience during times of increased risk or stress.
- First responders and their families
- Health care workers and their families
- Communities of color
- Older adults
- People living with illness and abuse
- Essential workers
- Temporarily unemployed
Apps for mindfulness and well-being
- Calm: Variety of meditation exercises and relaxing soundtracks organized by topic (stress, anxiety, sleep, focus, etc.).
- Happify: Science-based activities and games to overcome worries and stress.
- Headspace: Sets of guided meditations aimed at tackling problems related to stress, anxiety, sleeplessness, and relationships.
- Healthy Minds: Translates neuroscience into tools for everyday life using mindfulness practices and podcast style lessons.
- Insight Timer: Guided meditation app with a variety of mindfulness and meditation practices targeting stress, anxiety, and insomnia.
- Recovery Path: Personalized evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies for people struggling with or recovering from substance use.
- Ten Percent Happier: Large selection of guided meditations and mindfulness practices.
- Stop, Breathe & Think: Guided meditation and mindfulness.