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Mental Health Awareness Month: Managing stress and anxiety during a pandemic 

Public health emergencies like COVID-19 can be challenging for families and communities coping with social distancing, financial hardships and the fear of the unknown. 

For children, adolescents and adults living with mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and other behavioral health diagnoses, the uncertainty surrounding this pandemic may cause additional stress and worry. 

Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Senior Vice President and Chief Clinical/Medical Officer Yolanda Graham, M.D., said recognizing how you are feeling can help you manage your emotions. “There has never been a more important time to check in on yourself, and take note of your thoughts, emotions and behaviors,” she said. “Remember, it is OK to feel upset, sad or anxious. Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. Given the current circumstances, it is not usual to feel happy one moment and sad and overwhelmed the next, but you do not have to suffer in silence – help is available.” 

Recognize the warning signs

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), common warning signs of stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include: 

  • Excessive fear and worry about your health or the health of your loved ones
  • Extreme changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health conditions
  • Worsening of mental health conditions
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs 

If stress is preventing you from performing daily tasks, the CDC recommends you contact your healthcare provider.  

How to cope with stress

Graham notes that if stress becomes too intense, it can negatively impact your overall health and well-being. She suggests the following coping strategies: 

  • Limit news and social media exposure: Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, and limit time spent on social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can increase fear and worry.
  • Take care of your body: Practice mindfulness activities such as deep breathing. Keep your immune system strong and healthy by eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables; exercising regularly; and getting plenty of sleep.
  • Make time to unwind: Find time to relax and do something you enjoy. Take a walk (while keeping social distancing in mind); read a book; or take up a new hobby.
  • Connect with others: Practicing social distancing does not mean we should compromise our social connections. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. Keeping in regular contact with friends and family can help you feel more connected and less isolated. 

“Finding healthy and positive ways to cope with this new normal can help strengthen your resilience,” Graham explained. “While we may be experiencing difficult days right now, remember, we will all get through this – together.” 

Available tools and resources

Look below for just a few tools and resources that can help youth and adults manage stress and anxiety related to COVID-19: 

Access a full list of tools and resources to help you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy. 

How to protect yourself and others

In addition to the resources noted above, listen to a podcast featuring Graham as she offers tips for taking care of yourself, and your family, during COVID-19. “We need to practice social distancing. We need to practice infection control. We need to take the necessary steps to keep ourselves safe,” Graham explained on the Beasley Media Group’s Focus on the Delaware Valley podcast. “However, focusing on what could happen is not going to help our minds and bodies stay healthy.”


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