5 Tips to Manage Stress and Anxiety for Adults at Risk for COVID-19

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — April 16, 2020 — 4 min read
In our communities, many individuals have a higher risk of getting very sick due to COVID-19. They include people over the age of 65, those who have chronic illnesses that affect their lungs, heart or immune system, and individuals with other serious or uncontrolled diseases or conditions.
The rule for these individuals is clear: Stay at home as much as possible.
For everyone else, social distancing is meant to keep us from getting sick or passing it on to people who might become very ill.
That’s what “flattening the curve” is all about — working together to slow how fast COVID-19 spreads, so our hospitals have enough beds and supplies to take care of the people who face the more serious effects of the disease. 
It’s a scary time, and we all are probably feeling more anxious and stressed. Those are very normal reactions to what we’re going through. In fact, worry and fear are part of our basic human nature. They tell us there is a threat that needs our attention. When the threat goes away, our worry and fear usually returns to a lower level.
Sometimes, though, a person’s stress response system is more active. Their bodies and minds react more strongly to threats. They may not think they have the tools or ability to face the threat in a safe way. For some folks, their mind runs through lists of “what-ifs.” They imagine the worst things that could happen.
That’s what anxiety is, and it can be very stressful in itself let alone if you’re at higher risk for COVID-19. Having to stay home and not meet in person with friends and family can make it even harder to cope with what’s going on right now.
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If you or your loved ones are at higher risk for COVID-19 or are feeling extra stress and anxiety, here are some tips to help you cope:

1. Talk about it. Talk through your specific concerns and see if there are actions you can take to address them. Are you worried about having enough food or medication? Get help stocking up. Are you afraid the cough or tickle in your throat means you have COVID-19? Find educational materials to understand better what to watch for and how to take care of minor symptoms. The CDC website has a lot of good information.

2. Find ways to connect and be social. The term “apart but not alone” comes to mind. There are so many ways to stay in touch online or over the phone or video chat. Make sure to schedule check-ins every day with someone you know and trust, so you feel supported.

3. Get creative about family get-togethers. For example, one family created an online spreadsheet so they could play the dice game Yahtzee together across three houses using video chat. Another couple separated by COVID-19 scheduled a virtual date night so they could watch a silly movie at the same time. One big family staged a drive-by wave session and paraded in front of their grandmother’s house in several cars so she could wave to them from her front porch.

4. Make a list of soothing activities. Write down a list of things that calm your mind and make you feel better. Now is an excellent time to learn a new skill, plant the garden, go for a walk if possible, or take an exercise class online. It can also be rewarding to look for ways to help others who could use a hand. Anything that keeps the mind focused in a positive way is a good thing.

5. Get help when needed. It can be useful to talk to a therapist and find even more ways to manage anxiety and stress. Right now, many appointments can be done online with a telemedicine visit.

For even more tips about maintaining good mental health when you’re at high risk for COVID-19, check out this blog post. It’s the firsthand story of one of our team members with a pre-existing health condition. In this article, find effective steps you can take to lower your chances of becoming sick with a virus.

About the Authors:
Dr. Patricia Babin, Clinical Director and Dawn O’Malley, Psy.D, Peer Reviewer at Cardinal Innovations Healthcare

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