Help for the Emotional Overload of Living Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

George J. Ziogas

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The COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing disaster that impacts the entire world. Understandably, it's overwhelming. We can't avoid daily reminders of the pandemic--news, virus statistics, face masks, signs reminding us to social distance, figuring out vaccine plans, and of course conversation after conversation about coronavirus.

The losses are many. We've lost our way of life. Many of us have lost jobs. Many of us have lost loved ones. And through all this loss and trauma, we try to carry on and move forward with our day-to-day as best we can.

But this is hard, a historical challenge rarely faced. Given the circumstances, here are some ideas to cope with the emotional overload of living through a pandemic: take care of your body, stay connected, and be mindful of expectations.

Take Care of Your Body

You've already heard to wash your hands, wear a mask, and keep your distance. Yes, keep doing those things to protect yourself. In addition, take extra care of your body during this stressful time.

Right now, we're all at risk of chronic stress, which takes a toll on the body. When the body perceives stress, the adrenal glands release cortisol into the bloodstream. This leads to increased heart rate and blood pressure. Think of this as your body's natural 'fight or flight' response. That's a useful response to a limited-time event, but it's not healthy to be ready to fight for months on end. Unfortnately, that's what stress from the pandemic is doing to our bodies.

Given what our bodies are going through, it's even more important than usual to get a good night's sleep. Some people are finding they need even more sleep these days. That makes sense--sleep offers your body time to repair and circulates chemicals that strengthen the immune system.

In addition to sleep, eat well, drink lots of water, and exercise. If these things were important before the pandemic, they're even more important now. Plus, those things help you get better sleep--it's all connected.

Stay Connected

Many of us are spending a lot more time at home. But that doesn't mean we should be going through this traumatic time alone.

Make a phone call, gather your friends on video chat for a book club, or meet a coworker for a socially-distanced walk. It may take a lot of effort to maintain connections, but this effort is worth it. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, social connection can lower our anxiety and improve our immune systems. We'd want those results anytime, but they're especially important during a pandemic.

Be Mindful of Expectations

There were images floating around on social media that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while quarantined during the plague. That's a lot of pressure! First of all, Shakespeare didn't have Facebook and all the other social media options to distract him. We do.

But regardless of your social media intake, your brain might not be working at its optimum capacity. The unrelenting stress from the pandemic may not be the most fruitful environment for creativity. If you don't feel like writing a great American novel or learning how to cook your own bread, that's okay.

In addition to creativity blocks, many people are having trouble concentrating and experiencing low motivation. These are expected responses to trauma and stress, which we're all going through during this pandemic.

The key is to be aware of these challenges and adjust your expectations and goals. Realize your productivity levels may be different than your pre-pandemic self, and that that's absolutely okay.

This pandemic won't last forever. As we get through the rest of it, offer yourself self-compassion and care. Take care of your body, stay connected, and be mindful of your expectations. Not only will your body and mind thank you, but you'll be more prepared to take on the world when it's safe to do so.

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