Psychologist Reveals How To Stay Calm During The COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic, unbelievable though it may seem, has been part of our lives for the past 9 months. We're about to have our first Very Corona Christmas (doesn't that sound like a Hallmark Channel movie you'd never want to watch?), and before you know it, we'll be celebrating our first coronaversary. While corona culture has delivered a few light-hearted moments — all those Zoom happy hours, banana bread bake-a-thons, quarantinis, Fauci Pouchies, and furry friend adoptions — the fact remains that it has been an extremely stressful time for all of us. Businesses have failed, jobs have been lost, and millions of people have become seriously ill and even died. What's more, the secondary affects of the pandemic have also been pretty dire, with many unable to get needed medical treatment, children not receiving needed health screening, and rates of violent crime soaring (via Safewise).

Even with a vaccine finally in sight, the grim reality is that many of us may have to wait a while to have access to it, and even when (if) we're all vaccinated, it's not as if life as we know it will instantly snap back to 2019. Meghan Marcum, Psy.D., chief psychologist at A Mission for Michael, says "the pandemic has created chronic stress for many this year," and explains that such stress "can leave lasting effects, including decreased immunity." She says it's important to try to manage your stress and offers the following tips to help keep it under control.

Go offline for a bit

According to Marcum, "Maybe the easiest and most important thing you can do is limit the amount of news and social media you absorb." She explains that even if you feel the need to stay up-to-date on what's going on in the world, 20 minutes a day is sufficient time to get you caught up. If you spend much longer online, Marcum warns that the constant drumbeat of negative news regarding the pandemic, the political situation, or anything else that's going wrong in the world " can leave us feeling hopeless and anxious." She explains that "the human brain has a natural tendency to be interested in danger and tragedy," so says "it's important to make a conscious effort to limit the amount of time spent consuming these types of stories or posts."

Plan ahead so you'll have something to look forward to

What are the activities you really enjoy doing? Surely you can think of a few. If not, maybe give gardening a go, or jigsaw puzzles, or baking — all proven stress-busters. Whatever it is you like to do, Marcum advises you to "plan for [these activities] throughout the week" and focus on them when you start to feel tense. Sure, you may have to make it through another day of work, but at least you can play that cool new game, read a great book, start some seedlings, or try a new recipe when you're done with work, and you might even be able to sneak in a short walk (or nap!) on your lunch break. As Marcum puts it, "Whatever brings you a bit of happiness, take time out to make those things a part of your routine."

Don't drown your sorrows

Although one supposedly cute aspect of corona culture that many of us felt inclined to giggle or wink at involved just how often, and how early, people started drinking once we transitioned to working from home, the thing is, "wine mom" memes don't tell the whole story. Marcum says that "unhealthy ways of coping with stress... can be harmful and with continued use can actually increase the chances of becoming sick." Not to mention, increased alcohol consumption is bound to ramp up the levels of tension in a household where all that close-quarters togetherness may have long ago lost its charm.

It's not only drinking that can be problematic, though — Marcum also speaks of the ill effects of stress eating (particularly with all of the junk food we've been scarfing down) and of isolation. Even if you've fallen into unhealthy habits, though, it's never too late to turn things around again. Take some hope from Miley Cyrus, a former wild child who's no stranger to both struggle and redemption. She admits she fell off the wagon during the pandemic, but is once again working hard to re-establish her sobriety.

Get some sleep

While stress from the pandemic and just about everything else going on in the world is causing many of us to experience insomnia, Marcum insists it's vital to "make sleep a priority." She says that adults should get a full 8 hours of sleep every night, since it's "during sleep cycles [that] our body regenerates healthy cells which help fight off infections and keep our immunity strong." This is particularly crucial right now, since whether or not we've been infected with COVID-19, the stress of living through the pandemic is causing our bodies to age at an accelerated rate and not sleeping is just piling on the damage.

But what if the sandman refuses to pay a visit? (Sometimes it seems like he's keeping quarantine, too.) If you can afford a weighted blanket, those are supposed to be pretty effective for treating both anxiety and insomnia. If such a thing is not in the budget, you could instead try melatonin supplements or else just eat some peanut butter, popcorn, yogurt, or other soporific foods.

Give back to your community

One time-tested way to forget your own troubles is to help relieve the troubles of others. As Marcum tells it, "we have a natural inclination to feel good about helping others," pointing out that "there are so many people who are in need this year." She suggests you either make a monetary donation or, if that isn't possible, donate your time, since doing so reminds us that "we can make a small difference in our community," something that "helps ward off feelings of hopelessness." Taking action, even in a small way, will also let us regain some sense of control over a world that seems to be spiraling into chaos. Marcum explains that "making a contribution can help us feel like we are doing our part and leaving a positive impact that counteracts stress and anxiety."