Handling COVID-19 Stress
May 29, 2020 | by Samir Aziz MD, ABPN

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic can be overwhelming. It’s anxiety provoking for everyone and has cultivated uncertainty in all of us, especially with current restrictions, major shifts in our social life and daily routines, and for the time being, no end in sight.

Anxiety is a normal physiological response that can aid in healthy thinking and sound decision making. However, it can also lead to a vicious cycle of rumination, overgeneralization, and catastrophic thinking. This leads us to significant cognitive distortion and poor situational judgements.

I think we have an opportunity to examine how we can deal with stress and reduce anxiety in these hard times.

Mindfulness is a great stress-busting tool often used in meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It allows us to be present and deal with our emotions in a healthy way, and avoid harmful rumination over negative emotions that range from anxiety, to worry, to depression.

Mindfulness tells us that instead of automatically accepting and reacting to negative thoughts, it is necessary to observe these thoughts and feelings with an objective lens. Cultivating a state of mindfulness is allowing yourself to be aware of the actual situation rather than your own interpretation of it. As humans we tend to overgeneralize and catastrophize situations when we get emotionally challenged. Mindfulness also encourages us to refrain from predicting the worst-case scenario. Just because something can happen does not mean it will.

It is important to recognize and acknowledge our feelings, especially since current life disruptions and deviations from what we’re used to can be very frustrating. But it is equally important to consider the larger context of this situation, and know that while these disruptions are frustrating, it is what must be done for the greater good and things are getting better.

It may be difficult, but we need to make the best of it. Daily routines and structures are very crucial to balancing our emotions. Working or being productive, daily exercise, meditating or journaling, spending time with immediate family members in our homes, phone calls or virtual meetings with our extended family, and observing our normal meal times and maintaining proper sleep hygiene and schedules are all things that allow us to reframe our negative thoughts and worries, and replace them with those that are positive and reassuring.

As humans, we all have moments where we feel frustrated and vulnerable, but once we take the first step away from our heightened thoughts or emotions with constant reality-based thinking and/or self-re-orientation, we can become the best versions of ourselves. This is how we get through and keep going.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Aziz, please contact your Polyclinic primary care provider for a referral.

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