Stress Management During a Pandemic

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may cause stress for many people as they deal with uncertainty and disruptions to their daily life.

Stephanie Knight, MD, FAPA, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at University of Maryland School of Medicine and Chief of Psychiatry at University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus, has a few tips to help cope with stress during this difficult time.

Take a Break

Take a break from conversation about coronavirus. It can be distressing to hear stories about the disease or read news coverage constantly. Set time limits and stick to them. Dr. Knight suggests making sure you have at least two conversations each day that aren’t about coronavirus. This is especially important if you work in health care.

Focus on Your Health

Don’t neglect your physical health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends trying to eat healthy, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs. Even if you are working from home, it is important to find time to stretch your legs. “Put your phone on speaker and walk around the room while you’re on a call,” says Dr. Knight.

Stay Connected

Practicing social distancing doesn't mean that you need to isolate yourself. Reach out to others. Call up a friend or family member and use them as a sounding board as you process your thoughts and feelings. There are many ways that you can stay connected.

Practice Mindfulness

Certain mindfulness exercises can help you reduce anxiety or any emotionally overwhelmed state of being.

Dr. Knight recommends the frozen orange technique. This quick, straightforward exercise can bring you back to center and ground you in the moment.

Mindfulness Exercise

Follow these steps to do what Dr. Knight calls “Minute Maid Mindfulness":

  • Put a ripe orange in the freezer. Keep it in there until you need it for this exercise. When you’re feeling especially anxious or overwhelmed, give yourself five minutes to focus on your experience of the fruit by using all five senses.

  • Slow down your breathing and relax your shoulders. Cup the orange in both hands and focus on its coldness. The temperature of the orange will naturally slow down your heart rate and reduce your anxiety level. For an added calming effect, hold the orange to your face at an area above your cheekbone and temple.

  • Look at the orange, noting its color and shape. If you’re having trouble focusing, then count the dots in the orange skin to improve your concentration.

  • Scrape the peel with your fingernail, taking note of any juice that sprays out.

  • Smell the scratched area of the peel. If the aroma is associated with calm or happy memories, then allow those to come into your mind. If you don’t already have positive associations with an orange scent, then create it now. Experience your new sense of calm and associate it with the fruit's smell.

  • Begin to peel the orange. Pay attention to the sound of the rindas it pulls away from the fruit.

  • As you remove the outer rind, imagine depositing your stress and anxiety into the peel. When you’re finished peeling, throw those “feeling peelings” into the trash as a cleansing conclusion to your Minute Maid Mindfulness. If you need a boost of energy, prepare the rest of the orange so you can enjoy it as a snack.

Remember that taking care of your mental health is part of staying healthy, and staying healthy is one of the most important things you can do during the coronavirus pandemic.

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