What We’ve Learned About Managing Stress from 1 Year of COVID

What We’ve Learned About Managing Stress from 1 Year of COVID

Managing stress and anxiety resulting from uncertainty is critical now and moving forward; here are 11 tips on how to do so

Susan Jakobson

Before March 2020, most of us already had a pretty good awareness of how to manage stress including the importance of healthy eating, exercising, and striking a balance between our personal and professional lives.

Then a pandemic hit and most of the world found itself in lockdown, facing stresses we couldn’t have imagined, such as layoffs, homeschooling children stuck at home, and supporting and protecting vulnerable family members. Even everyday activities such as grocery shopping became a strategic exercise—and a new source of stress. 

For a lucky few, stress levels actually went down, at least initially as working at home seemed to offer a better balance between work and personal life, without the daily grind of a commute. But, that lack of a commute could sometimes be an issue—there was this fuzzy, nebulous start and not a real finish to the day. Lines blurred between meeting needs of family at home and getting work done. For others on the front line who were unable to work from home, there was a constant fear of contracting the virus and passing it on, ambiguous messaging on how to protect themselves, and insufficient personal protective equipment in many workplaces. 

One year later, many of us have lost so much in our present lives and in some situations, even permanently. As with any loss, there may come the stages of grief—first confusion, disbelief, and denial, followed by anger, bargaining and even depression, and, finally, acceptance. We won’t necessarily experience all of these stages or in that exact order—many of us get stuck at one stage and can’t move on. We are all trying to do the best we can given the situation. Managing stress and anxiety resulting from uncertainty is critical now and moving forward. So, what can we do?

 Here are 11 key learnings from the past year to apply going forward:

  1. Set boundaries—define your start and finish to the work day. Practice saying no to multiple and non-essential demands. Ways of saying no include—“no, not right now, I’ll get back to you, I’ll think about it, the timing is not right”—you get the idea. 
  2. Work on building your resilience—this is one skill we can all improve on and is a valuable tool moving forward in uncertain times. We all have a choice on how we react to stress. One method known as the four A’s—accept, adapt, avoid, or adapt—offers a helpful way to deal with difficult situations. Check out this free resource to learn more: https://wsmh-cms.mediresource.com/wsmh/assets/sra1wdqns28co88g
  3. Gain perspective—things will not be this way forever; we will continue to adapt as new information is being discovered every day. 
  4. Manage news feeds and social media wisely by setting limits on time spent and nature of the content accessed.
  5. Plan on how you will get healthy amounts of rest, food and water, and exercise.  Develop a written self-care plan—act upon the plan—update regularly and share with those who care about you.
  6. Let the small stuff go—does it really matter if the milk is placed in the fridge door or on the shelf (or does it?). Forgive those sharing this confined space called home and move on through the minutes of your day. 
  7. Learn to take a deep breath when triggered to anger—step back and reflect on what that person is going through—then move on. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response,” says Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor. If he could do it, we can.
  8. Being kind to yourself and others—give the benefit of the doubt especially when you don’t really know what the other person is going through. 
  9. Recognize that you are doing the best you can—that you are having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.
  10. Avoid judging others—know they are doing the best that they can.
  11. Recognize that life will never entirely go back to normal. Think in terms of “when things open up more.” Consider the positive changes you want to keep in your life once “things open up” again.

For an infographic version of these 11 tips, click here.

Walking my hound, Walker, is something I do for several hours a day. It is good for him and for me. I think a lot and take special note of what we see on our journeys, stopping to briefly chat (at a distance) to those I pass along the way. People are hungry for connection. I notice more dads playing with their young children in their yards. I see older people holding hands and walking sticks as they shuffle along the snowy sidewalks. There are notices on the shopkeeper’s doors asking for our support by ordering takeout or calling for an appointment to arrange to buy their wares. 

At the end of the day, we are all doing our best to get through this, hour by hour and day by day, while still looking forward to “when things open up more.” 

Susan Jakobson

Susan Jakobson is the founder of Jakobson Consulting & Analytics, which helps to build healthy and productive workplaces. This is achieved by exploring client needs, consultation, reviewing data, and working directly with employers, employees, and unions to decrease mental health stigma, promote supportive behavior amongst employees, and provide realistic approaches to resolve complex mental health and work performance issues.