Coping with stress in a pandemic
Updated 24th February 2022 - for the most up to date coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance and information, please visit the NHS or government’s dedicated pages. This advice may differ in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Each year, April marks Stress Awareness Month. Organised by the Stress Management Society, the awareness campaign aims to open up the conversation around stress. Stress is very common, and as many as 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
It’s important to remember that stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Stress can be motivating. Help us meet work deadlines and balance busy lives. Too much stress, however, can affect the body, mood and social interactions/relationships. Stress can cause anxiety, make us irritable and in some cases, affect self-esteem.
During the coronavirus pandemic it feels like there is no time like the present to talk about stress. With this in mind, we’ve pulled together some information about managing stress, including resources and organisation that can help you cope with any stress you might be feeling. No matter if that stress is induced by what’s going on across the globe, or is something that you experience often.
What is stress?
Stress, put simply, is the way the body reacts to feeling threatened or under pressure. This physical response makes the body think it is under attack, and it switches to fight or flight mode.
Fight or flight mode releases chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. This gives a rush of energy, which is useful to us in dangerous situations e.g. swerving an obstacle when driving.
If your body enters a state of stress in inappropriate situations, this is when you may encounter problems. This is because blood flow is going to muscles involved in fight or flight and not to the brain, leading to an inability to ‘think straight’. When you aren’t able to think clearly you might start to see an impact on your ability to do your job properly or maintain relationships. Staying in a state of stress for a long period can cause problems to your health, e.g. high levels of cortisol can cause high blood pressure or a decrease in libido.
Causes of stress
Stress can be caused by a wide variety of things, depending on the person, but it may not always be the same trigger for the same person. Generally we switch into a state of stress when we don’t have the methods or resources to be able to manage what is going on around us.
Some common causes of stress are:
- Genetic makeup – some people may be predisposed to stress thanks to their genes
- Upbringing and experiences in childhood
- Big life changes (planned or unexpected) e.g. moving schools, having a baby, relationship breakdown losing your job, family/friend death
- Financial difficulties, e.g. debt, unemployment, gambling
- Health problem, either to yourself or someone close to you
- Living environment, e.g. building works on your house, housing conditions not suitable
- Feeling lonely
Symptoms of stress
People may react differently to stress, but there are some symptoms that lots of people experience. These include:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Difficulty concentrating, brain can’t stop
- Feeling anxious or scared
- Lack of self-esteem
- Problems sleeping, getting to sleep and feeling tired
- Eating more or less than what is usual for you
- Drinking or smoking more than usual
Top tips for dealing with stress
As discussed, the triggers and symptoms of stress can vary from person to person, and therefore coping mechanisms will do the same.
The NHS Every Mind Matters is a great resource for any mental health concerns you might have, and they have some great tips for dealing with stress.
- Breaking down tasks – small manageable chunks of work make large tasks seem less daunting.
- Take time to think positively – think each day about things you are thankful for/make you happy.
- Challenge unhelpful thought – not letting unhelpful thoughts run riot, challenging them and reframing them will help your outlook.
- Stay active – keeping your body moving allows you to get rid of any excess, nervous energy. Whether its a short walk in the fresh air, going for a jog, doing a yoga class or kicking a ball about in the park, it will all help.
- Talk – talking to friends, family, colleagues or a helpline can really help when you are feeling stressed. Airing and sharing your problems can help rationalise them and get the support you need.
- Plan – structuring your days, planning big events and making lists, are all key to coping with what is going on in your life.
Top tips for dealing with stress during the coronavirus pandemic
Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, life has changed dramatically for almost all of us. Not knowing what may change next may make most of us feel uneasy. Most will feel anxious not only about their own health but also their friends and family's health and wellbeing.
Again the NHS Every Mind Matters have collated some top tips for coping during lock down, keeping stress at bay, but importantly reminding us that this situation is temporary and, for most people, this difficult time will pass.
- Stay connected to friends, family and work colleagues
- Talk about your worries
- Support others
- Plan ahead – how will the situation affect this week
- Eat healthily, stay active and get fresh air
- Take breaks from the news
- Carry on doing things you enjoy, e.g. cooking, yoga, watched a recorded theatre performance
- Try to focus on things you can control, not those out of your reach
- Take time to relax
- Create a new daily routine
- Try to maintain your sleep pattern
- Keep your mind active and engaged.
Getting help for stress
If you think you need support with stress and coping mechanisms you’re trying aren’t working, please contact your GP. They may be able to refer you to for cognitive behavioural therapy.
Useful resources to help with stress
General stress advice and support
NHS Every Mind Matters
NHS understanding stress
Stress Management Society
Coronavirus stress advice and support
NHS help while staying at home
NHS tips if you're worried about COVID-19
Mind - COVID and your wellbeing