Social Distancing Doesn't Mean Social Isolation- Managing Stress and Anxiety

With traditional schedules and everyday tasks flipped upside down, this can lead to increased stress and anxiety. Dr. Steven Scoggin chats with BestHealth about managing stress and anxiety as well as tips to remain connected during this time of social distancing.

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Episode Highlights

Our daily routine and structure has been turned upside-down. What is happening to us when it comes to stress and anxiety? 

Stress affects you every day. You may notice symptoms of stress at work, with kids, finances, relationships. While a little stress is often beneficial, too much stress can wear you down both mentally and physically. You can manage stress, but you can’t control it. Stress is the body’s reaction to harmful situations, real or perceived. We are doing a lot of anticipating and imagining what COVID-19 may mean to us, physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually. When you feel threatened a chemical reaction occurs in your body that allows you to act in ways to prevent injury, specifically adrenaline and cortisone. We call this Fight or Flight. During a stress response, your heart rate can increase, your breathing can quicken, your muscles tighten up, your blood pressure can rise. If you stay in that state, your health can suffer. These are normal reactions to stress. If you start feeling like your breath is short and you have a slight cough, you may think “I have COVID-19” but it could just be stress. 

How do we respond to stress? 
Emotionally we might feel a bit more agitated, moody, frustrated, overwhelmed, like we are losing control, difficulty relaxing and sleeping, low self-esteem, lonely, and if this persists you can feel depressed. These are all normal feelings. The first step is to acknowledge that you feel the way that you do. What we resist, persists. What we try not to feel, takes on a life of its own. Just acknowledging that you are scared, or uncertain, whatever it is, can help. Don’t confuse what’s going on externally with COVID-19 with what’s going on internally. Think about what you have influencer over. We live with two circles. The circle of concern (world hunger, finances, kids being out of school) and the circle of influence (the things you have influence over). The more you can exercise your influence muscle by doing something, the more it can decrease the concerns. Specific things can include picking only one or two trusted media sources in the morning and afternoon to listen to and get caught up for 15-30 minutes and then shut down and don’t listen anymore, especially not 2 hours before you sleep. Take control over the media you are consuming. Second, stay focused as much as your mind will allow on this moment, the here and now. What can you gain from this moment? Such as time with family, opportunities to make your life better, learn something new, etc. Move from saying “what if” to “then what”. For example, if I were to lose my job, then this is what I’ll do. 

When it comes to social distancing, how can we stay connected? 
We can stay connected in new and creative ways. We can try to find ways to connect emotionally through digital platforms. This will allow you to be with our friends and family, laugh and get your minds off things. Doing this regularly can help. When we are helping our patients through depression we encourage them to stay connected with these supportive people, even if you don’t want to. Even for our elderly population who can be feeling socially isolated, that social connection can be extremely helpful to them. 

Everyone has different personalities, but how can we be more flexible during this time?
All of us are different. We all manage stress and anxiety differently. As we enter into these uncertain times, we need to stay grounded in the things we know about ourselves and those around us. Breathing from the belly, deep breaths regularly and often can help. You’d be surprised that if you hold it and let it out, it clears your mind. We are resilient people and have been through pandemics and epidemics before. Feelings and thoughts are transient; they are not always reality. They come and go. It’s not permanent. It will come and go.