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6 Strategies for Managing Stress Around COVID-19

Staying informed about current events can help us act in a more informed way. But in the case of frightening subject matter (like COVID-19), keeping up to date is a double edged sword. Stories of outbreaks, infections, hospitalizations, and deaths can take a toll on your piece of mind. Unfortunately, being stressed can weaken your immune system. This means it’s essential to find the right balance between keeping up to date and protecting your mental health.

Did you know that chronic stress and anxiety can actually make you more likely to catch a cold or become ill?[1] It’s no surprise that stress has negative impacts on a person’s health; after all, no one likes to be stressed! But reducing stress isn’t just good for your mental health, it also improves your body’s immune response.

 

Why Stress Matters for Immune Function

 

Stress can feel constant and omnipresent, especially in modern life. The human body perceives and responds to stress both psychologically and physiologically. Stress often comes with very real physical reactions, like rapid heartbeat, sweating, muscle pain, and digestive issues.[2] Stress can also increase inflammation in the body.[3] This is because your body—which includes your brain—is triggered to produce stress hormones that signal to the nervous system. The body responds to stress by reallocating energy to fight an imminent danger. While this can have short-term immune benefits, chronic stress reduces immune function.[4] Thus lowering your body’s natural ability to fight off infections.

Stress, immunity, and disease progression have reciprocal relationships, which is why researchers suggest that stress management techniques can have powerful effects on your immune system.[5]

 

Six Strategies for Reducing Stress

 

Lowering stress levels can improve your overall health, especially during these uncertain times. Try some of these stress management techniques to help support your immune system.

 

Avoid Information Overload:

It’s tempting to seek out all available information, emerging research may contain errors or inaccuracies that will be addressed over time. Even experts recognize that there’s many things they don’t know about emerging infectious diseases.[6] Taking a deep breath and remembering that no one has all the answers can reduce stress and anxiety.

  • Tip—set boundaries for your coronavirus research by limiting yourself to just a couple minutes per day.

 

Practice Gratitude:

During uncertain times, negative thoughts can dominate. Practice gratitude to help your mind remember the positive elements of your life and.

  • Tip—write an email, text, or letter to someone who has had a positive impact on your life
  • Tip—keep a running list of things you are grateful for on a daily basis

 

Try Meditating:

For some people, daily mindfulness meditation has an enormous positive impact not only on mental health but also on physical health—not to mention the remarkable insights that can be gained from regular mindfulness practice.

  • Tip—there are many free videos and apps for mindfulness meditation; experiment to find what works for you

 

Create a Homecoming Routine:

Make it a habit to wash your hands as soon as you return home and then be sure to create a comfortable environment in your home that helps to wash away the stress of your day.

  • Tip—light a candle (or use an essential oil diffuser) the fill your home with relaxing smells
  • Tip—play music and decorate your home in a way that invokes peace

 

Celebrate Good Habits:

Infectious diseases like the flu and COVID-19 won’t likely just up and disappear, so when you are able to make positive change to your daily habits, take a moment to congratulate yourself. Whether that’s eating a new vegetable every day, adding a D vitamin to your routine, or adopting elbow-to-elbow greetings, take a moment to be positive.

 

Exercise:

Exercise, while providing a productive and healthy distraction, also changes your brain function to decrease stress[7]  and increase the expression of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin.[8]

  • Tip—whether you love to dance, hit a punching bag, walk, swim, juggle, or do yoga, find something you personally enjoy
  • Tip—make it bite-sized. Doing small increments of movement throughout the day tied to your routines, such as dancing while boiling water or doing lunges while brushing your teeth
  • Tip—if possible, work out near nature, whether that’s a few trees in a city park or at a beach

 

Thinking about COVID-19 can be overwhelming. If you or someone you know begins to exhibit depressive symptoms or has thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifelife at 1-800-273-8255. Crisis counselors are available 24/7 to provide free and confidential support to those experiencing emotional distress or crisis.

 

[1] Cohen S, Janicki-Deverts D, Doyle WJ, et al. Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012;109(16):5995-5999. doi:10.1073/pnas.1118355109.

[2] Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, Johnston TP, Sahebkar A. The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI J. 2017;16:1057-1072. doi:10.17179/excli2017-480.

[3]Liu YZ, Wang YX, Jiang CL. Inflammation: the common pathway of stress-related diseases. Front Hum Neurosci. 2017;11:316. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2017.00316.

[4] Dhabhar FS. The short-term stress response—mother nature’s mechanism for enhancing protection and performance under conditions of threat, challenge, and opportunity. Front Neuroendocrinol. 2018;49:175-192. doi:10.1016/j.yfrne.2018.03.004.

[5] Schakel L, Veldhuijzen DS, Crompvoets PI, et al. Effectiveness of stress-reducing interventions on the response to challenges to the immune system: a meta-analytic review. Psychother Psychosom. 2019;88(5):274-286. doi:10.1159/000501645.

[6] Hubner AY, Hovick SR. Understanding risk information seeking and processing during an infectious disease outbreak: the case of Zika virus. Risk Analysis. 2020. doi:10.1111/risa.13456.

[7] Stubbs B, Vancampfort D, Rosenbaum S. An examination of the anxiolytic effects of exercise for people with anxiety and stress-related disorders: a meta-analysis. Psychiatry Res. 2017;249:102-108. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2016.12.020.

[8] Greenwood BN, Fleshner M. Exercise, stress resistance, and central serotonergic systems. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2011;39(3):140-149. doi:10.1097/JES.0b013e31821f7e45.

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