Don’t let the pandemic stress weigh you down

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Photo courtesy of Bianca Arechiga

Bianca Arechiga, Guest Columnist

Realizing the potential of COVID-19 to rapidly spread, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. This was followed up by the United States issuing its own response and declaring a national emergency two days later. The response propelled us into quarantine, perpetuating feelings of anxiety, isolation and depression for many individuals. 

The three biggest stressors of this pandemic are the shelter-in-place order, social distancing requirements and the uncertainty over what might happen in the future. Our lives have been turned upside down and we are expected to adapt instantly to ongoing changes. The Kaiser Family Foundation released a tracking poll revealing that 53% of American adults believe the pandemic is taking a toll on their mental health. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 36% of Americans report that COVID-related worry is interfering with their sleep. Eighteen percent say they’re more easily losing their tempers and 32% say it has made them overeat or undereat. 

We always face uncertainty regarding the future, especially now. The pandemic has prompted concerns over physical and mental health, the economy, employment, education, finances and personal relationships. Psychologically human beings crave security, and uncertainty can leave you stressed about how everything will play out. Individuals can vary in how much stress they can tolerate, but it is important to realize that no matter how anxious, overwhelmed and hopeless you feel, you are not alone. 

It’s important to try and let go of those what-if thoughts running through our minds. They are simply a result of trying to cope with unexpected stress. A lot of our current uncertainty is self-generated, but it can be generated through external sources as well. Reading media stories that focus on worst-case scenarios or spending time on media sites that pedal rumors and false-truths can bring about stress and anxiety. Even communicating with other anxious people can trigger irrational fears and worries. Remember how everyone started buying loads of toilet paper because they saw so many people buying it? Witnessing that kind of stress can contribute to our own. Once we’re able to recognize our triggers we can avoid putting ourselves in stressful situations and shift our attention and focus to solvable problems.

It is easy to dwell on what has been lost and feel as if we cannot do anything anymore. However, it’s important to remind ourselves that being in quarantine doesn’t have to be all bad. In fact, the additional time is a great opportunity to try new hobbies you couldn’t before. Living in the digital age also provides some reprieve, creating a space for online communities and ensuring that social distancing does not mean complete social isolation. Using our cell phones and devices to text message and video call keeps us connected to others while maintaining safe social distance. 

So, play a multiplayer video game online. Download Duolingo and become trilingual. Binge watch the Twilight Saga. Being at home is a perfect time to dust off old cookbooks or even look up new recipes online. There are lots of exercises that can be done and still adhere to social distancing requirements, and exercising regularly is known to boost your immune system as well as improve your mood. 

In this time of quarantine, finding positivity and making the best of each situation will help keep us from being overwhelmed by stress. We have no idea what the future of the pandemic holds but that doesn’t mean we should be living in constant fear, we don’t have to be scared. We can use this time to better ourselves and prepare for the days when life can once again be lived without fear of infection and spread.