News

Oregonian: How to manage stress and anxiety during coronavirus crisis
Author: Joe Freeman, The Oregonian
Posted: March 20, 2020

Read the full story in The Oregonian. 

You’re cooped up at home, feeling claustrophobic and helpless, as the world outside evolves in unimaginable ways amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Neighbors and loved ones have lost jobs. Schools have closed. The stock market has collapsed. Toilet paper is seemingly unavailable. And you’ve washed your hands so often, blood has oozed from your chapped knuckles.

All the while, government officials have offered misleading and conflicting information, sowing confusion and chaos.

The scope and gravity of COVID-19 intensifies not just every day, but seemingly every hour, and news reports paint a grim and ominous picture of a new reality. Social media feels like a cesspool, but you can’t put down your phone, because you’ve seen pictures and read first-person accounts from Italy and other parts of Europe, where entire countries are confined by government-issued lockdowns. You can’t help but wonder: Will that happen in the United States?

As daily life flips upside down and uncertainty becomes the new norm, it’s only natural to feel overwhelmed and worried. But there are ways to manage and mitigate anxiety — techniques to follow to balance and alleviate stress — which can help stimulate strong mental health, even during a pandemic.

Therapists and educators who specialize in psychology caution that everyone reacts differently to stress, so, naturally, everyone will rely on different tactics to manage it. But whether you’re a worry wart or a go-with-the-flow optimist, leaning on a few basic strategies could go a long way toward maintaining strong mental health as coronavirus changes the world.

“There is definitely no one-size-fits-all approach to situations like this,” Bill Griesar, who teaches psychology and neuroscience at Portland State University, said via email. “We each have different reactions to stressful experiences (and) what neuroscientists call emotional reactivity. Some of us have more difficulty modulating our “fight or flight” response, and can quickly become anxious or even panic, while others have more control over these autonomic responses — more emotional regulation.

“But that reactivity, the increased heart rate, the greater availability of energy sources, can be very useful for addressing challenging circumstances. Taking effective steps to address anxiety around potential consequences, doing genuinely helpful things … can put that extra energy to use and reduce your anxiety, while protecting those around you.”