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Start with Breathing: Tips for Dealing with Coronavirus-Related Anxiety

| Date Posted: 3/18/2020

The continuing spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is changing the way we all live and work. Every day brings about new recommendations and additional precautions, leaving many feeling out of control and stressed out.


So, what do we do? How can we manage our “new normal” and turn anxiety into action in our homes and in our lives?


Psychiatrist Meredith Stanton, M.D., part of FirstHealth’s Behavioral Health Services team, says it’s natural to feel stress or anxiety as a result of the coronavirus. But there are ways to overcome it.


“With all the rapid changes that are occurring daily, I recommend establishing a new routine with both structure and flexibility,” she said. “Maintain your usual sleep and wake schedule with time dedicated for meals, and free time. Most of our stress is outside of our control, so be sure to focus on tasks or goals that are achievable and inside your control.”


Have you been wanting to tackle some spring cleaning? With more time at home, you can finally take care of the piles of clothes in a closet or the boxes taking up portions of a garage. Stanton says creating lists – and checking things off them – can be a great way to keep you focused.


“Allow yourself a limited amount of time per day for news and social media. I’d recommend 1 to 2 hours at most, and definitely educate yourself about the coronavirus via reliable and valid sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or NC Department of Health.”


If you are thinking about the best ways to talk to children about the coronavirus, start by being calm and confident when discussing the facts. As parents, the way we internalize and deal with situations serves a model for children, and that is especially true during times of heightened stress.


“Limiting children's exposure to news coverage or social media that could be fear-provoking can reduce misinformation or misinterpretation about the events,” Stanton said. “Just like with adults, children need routine and helpful coping skills to reduce stress during this time.”


Stanton also says it’s important to recognize different stressors, what may be causing them and the strategies for dealing with them. Like many things, stress is highly personal because each person views it differently. Whether it is physical (kids screaming), psychological (anticipation of a financial constraint), short term or long term, Stanton says all stress has the same ingredients: NUTS.


  • Novelty: Something you have not experienced before
  • Unpredictability: Something you didn’t know would occur
  • Threat to the ego: Your competence as a person is called into question
  • Sense of control: You feel you have little or no control


“Right now, we are all feeling a little nuts, including me,” Stanton said. “The ways that we all have been handling stress have had to evolve with our current environment and restrictions, but most can be modified to fit our situation, including digital solutions.”


Stanton recommends the following:

  • Breathe: Slow, deep breaths help to relax your muscles and bring extra oxygen to your brain with the message to calm and relax the body. Yoga and Pilates are wonderful exercises that focus on breathing and muscle awareness. 
  • Get Moving: With the increased adrenaline in your body during stress, exercise allows us to burn off extra jitteriness and increase natural endorphins. Any form of exercise is beneficial, especially activities that increase heart rate. 
  • Eat Right: Caffeine or high-sugar snacks can give you a boost of energy that wears off quickly. Be sure you are consuming a balanced diet with whole grains, healthy fats and lean meats. Also, Vitamin B can help relieve stress by regulating nerves and brain cells.
  • Write Out Your Thoughts: Keeping a journal or writing down the things you are thankful for can help reduce stress and focus the mind of positive aspects of our lives.
  • Laugh and Smile: Humor and having fun are wonderful ways to cope with negative feelings and stress. The simple act of laughing can increase endorphins, so watch a funny show or play board games with your children.
  • Get Enough Sleep: Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep at night to feel rested and ready to face the day.
  • Find a Meaningful Hobby: Whether it’s arts and craft or cooking, spending our time creating with our hands and helping other brings joy and purpose to our lives.
  • Take Time for Yourself: Reading, listening to music, or doing your nails, we all need to have 15-30 minutes daily of uninterrupted time for ourselves.
  • Mediate: Head Space, Simple Being and Insight Timer are apps that provid guidance with learning how to be still and focus the mind on positive or neutral thoughts.
  • Avoid Unhealthy Coping: Cigarettes, drinking too much alcohol, and overeating can feel good in the moment, but cause long term health problems and more stress in the future.
  • Be in Nature: Take time to separate yourself from your technology and not have the distraction of constant news from the world. Get some sunshine and spend some time with simple sensation of the natural world. 
  • Talk to Family or Friends: Sometimes the people available to us can be supportive and help us see our problems in a new way and suggest solutions or just provide comfort. Check in with your family and friends via phone, text or video chatting.


FirstHealth of the Carolina continues to closely monitor the spread of the coronavirus in North Carolina. In concert with local and state health officials, FirstHealth is committed to helping our communities stay safe. Visit our coronavirus resources website to get the latest information.

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