It comes as no surprise that as novel coronavirus cases continue to increase in the United States there is an increase in anxiety and depression in the general population. There are high levels of psychological stress, and it is important to acknowledge this reality and explore options to develop healthy reactions to these challenges.
Common symptoms of increased stress and anxiety include fear, worry, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, worsening of chronic health problems, and increased use of alcohol, tobacco and mind altering drugs.
The World Health Organization recommends general strategies to help people cope. These include limiting news exposure on television and the computer, and focusing on healthy food choices, adequate rest and exercise. It recommends limiting news exposure to once or twice per day, as well as sharing positive stories of healing, and prioritizing one’s self care.
Caring for children in a sensitive and delicate manner is also extremely important during this time period. As much as possible, maintain consistent routines with children, answer their questions in a straightforward and age-appropriate way, and reassure them they are safe and will be cared for.
There is a notion of psychological resilience. This refers to the ability to mentally or emotionally cope with challenging life situations, and the capacity to recover quickly from these difficulties. There are circuits in the brain that govern one’s ability to deal with negative occurrences in one’s life. Positive life experiences can enhance one’s ability to achieve balance in one’s life despite difficult circumstances. These positive experiences can include having supportive relationships, physical safety and having meaningful activities in one’s life.
Research published on the effects of stress reveal some interesting insights. Men and women react differently to stress, and we can learn some positive lessons from female reactions to stress. In women, stress often leads to increased caring, cooperation and compassion. There is an instinct to protect your family and your loved ones. Women become more trusting, generous and willing to risk their own well-being to protect others. This is an important lesson and we would all do well to adopt this approach.
When you are feeling overwhelmed by your stress or the suffering of others, the best way to move forward is to connect with others, and not to try to escape. There are brain hormones such as oxytocin and dopamine that are activated by this “connect with others” and “support each other approach.” These hormones enhance one’s personal sense of well-being.
May we all strive to achieve resilience, for our own benefit and that of our community.
Dr. Mark Roth writes about internal medicine for the CJN. He is an internal medicine physician with University Hospitals.