COVID-19 Brings Higher Stress and Emotion Dysregulation
The Book of Job notes “Man is born unto troubles as the sparks fly upward.”
Current stress surveys indicate Americans are stressed out due to COVID-19 concerns, work stress (money needs), imbalance in life-work experience, and lack of support (social, emotional, financial). The 2020 American Psychological Association national survey of stress in America indicates similar finding. Stress is getting the best of us! Of special concern are the physical, emotional (psychological), and behavioral implication of such high levels of stress reactivity. Higher stress reactivity is particularly recorded in families; stress is also related to educational concerns, basic needs, health care services, and missing out on major developmental milestones of children and youth. In 2019 Americans were experiencing stress levels noted at the 4.9 level; in 2020 that number rose to 5.9. Now 74% of respondent noted their stress dealt with fears and concerns about coronavirus; this same number had concerns about how the government was responding to this mega-crisis. Additionally, 71% of respondents noted that managing their child’s education was a major source of increased stress. The concerns and stress do not appear to be highly related to political party affiliations: 63% of Republicans, 67% of Independents, and 73% of Democrats were worried/stressed about coronavirus concerns. Stress appears to be impacting more so on people of color. Hispanic adults noted stress levels between 8 and 10 regarding the virus. When one compares the levels of stress for people of color with whites, there is no doubt people of color are suffering more – having higher levels of stress reactivity: fear of getting the virus 71% vs. 59%; meeting basic needs 61% vs, 47%; and, access to health care services 59% vs. 46%. For more information Stress in America 2020 may be found at www.apa.org.
Another important reality is COVID-19 fatigue. Johns Hopkins Medicine has published a helpful article about dealing with this reality. The federal government, state governments, hospitals, healthcare workers, patients, and the general public may be suffering from COVID-19 fatigue. This condition is similar to burnout under high stress conditions. Important outcomes may be habituation to death, emotional exhaustion, strong fears, auto-pilot routines, reduced energy of health care providers, and increased errors in care. This pandemic is surely one of the most serious challenges this nation (and the world) have faced. It does not appear that the crisis will end soon.
If you are experiencing serious stress reactivity, you might want to practice the following self-care strategies. Eat well, sleep well, and exercise well as much as is possible for you. Staying connected to loved ones and friends is also highly important. Use mindfulness skills to be in the present moment; realize it will change due to impermanence. Note it will change either for the better or worse. It may also be helpful to make formal plans to DO positive activities, no matter how small. Get out into nature; if you cannot do this regarding forests and mountains, at least spend more time outdoors. Regular daily walking is a good idea. Doing good things to help others is also a way to feel better about yourself; in hard times, it is not easy to feel good about yourself. Learn and practice various tried-and-true breathing techniques (usually from meditation, yoga, athletics, etc.). If you are in fact doing some of these self-care practices, but you still feel overwhelmed, defeated, anxious, depressed – it may be best to see professional for psychological help. Before you decide to work with a mental health provider, do a search about them, their practice, and their ethics.
For more information refer to Hanlon, P. (Summer, 2020). COVID-19 means different approach to stress in American surveys. New England Psychologist (Fall, 2020). pp. 4 and 7.
Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont and the Home of The Monkton Sangha
Author of Mindful Happiness