How to Stay Calm In the Time of Coronavirus

As news about the pandemic continues to unfold, it's natural to feel uneasy and anxious. Not only has the coronavirus (COVID-19) swiftly disrupted our daily lives, but the information surrounding it is changing just as fast.

Understandably, you may feel overwhelmed with emotion. Don't worry; we're right there with you. To help you navigate this uncertain time, we turned to Julie Frischkorn, L.C.S.W., the director of behavioral health and mindfulness at Spark360 to learn more about the emotional effects many of us are experiencing. Whether you're feeling fear, anxiety, frustration or worry, we hope this will help you understand why we react the way we do—and what you can do about it.

The Psychology Behind Emotional Responses

By now, you've likely witnessed and experienced a plethora of contrasting emotional responses to current events. Some of us jump to worse-case scenarios, while others brush everything off. You may have loved ones reacting differently than you. Some people swing back and forth between different emotions.

While it might be frustrating, it helps to recognize that our responses are based on existing feelings toward stressful events. In the case of COVID-19, the event happens to be exceptionally unpredictable and widespread. This can spark catastrophic thinking in some people, including those who have had significant challenges in life, notes Frischkorn. They might jump to worst-case scenarios because that's what they have experienced.

But it can also go in the opposite direction. According to Frischkorn, "folks who have [experienced] extreme difficulties may not be phased by crises." Thus, they might downplay the severity of a situation.

As for those who haven't experienced significant trauma? They can go either way, says Frischkorn. They might expect the worst possible outcome in an effort to protect themselves—or they might feel "immune" from such struggles.

Needless to say, our emotional reactions can easily sway toward either extreme. Yet, in the face of a serious, large-scale situation, it may serve us well to strive for that middle ground.

Calmness is Key

As we collectively wade through unpredictable waters, it's worth recognizing how calmness is essential for productivity and safety.

When we practice calmness, our amygdala stays quiet. The amygdala is basically the "smoke alarm" of our brain, Frischkorn explains. "It warns us when there is danger. When this part of the brain lights up, it shuts down the prefrontal cortex." The prefrontal cortex is involved in executive function, which includes skills like thinking before acting, handling unexpected situations and maintaining focus—all of which are critical in the current climate.

By staying calm, you're actively taming the amygdala, which keeps our prefrontal cortex online. This empowers us to think—and act—in the most efficient way possible.

Managing Stress In Stressful Times

With information changing by the minute, it may feel difficult to keep calm while coping with stress, but there are some practices that you can incorporate into your day to help ease your mind. Before you allow negative emotions to take over, call on one of these proven practices to decrease stress levels and increase happiness.

1. Practice gratitude: For a simple, powerful way to improve optimism and inner peace, practice gratitude as much as possible. "Write down three things each day that you are thankful for," suggests Frischkorn, even if it's in the "Notes" section of your smartphone.

2. Move your body: As the current situation evolves, our bodies are bound to release stress hormones. Instead of letting these hormones build up, aim to stay active to keep your mind occupied and endorphins flowing. Go for solo walks, play backyard tag with the kids or experiment with workouts you can do at home.

3. Reduce your triggers: While you can't always stop the smoke alarm from going off, you can recognize and minimize your triggers. Triggers can come from anywhere, including the daily news, social media posts or phone calls from a particularly paranoid friend. "If you can't eliminate [these triggers, try] to reduce your exposure to them," recommends Frischkorn.

4. Get enough sleep: Prioritizing sleep is more important now than ever. Adequate sleep is necessary for supporting your stress response, as well as a healthy immune system. In fact, poor sleep can reduce activity in the amygdala, which can negatively affect your emotions.

5. Listen to reputable sources: When you do seek out new information, be cautious. Protect your emotional and mental health by fact-checking anything you see on social media, and think twice before sharing information. Always head to official government websites or sources you trust to confirm breaking news.

6. Connect with other people: Amid physical distancing, it's necessary to avoid emotional distancing. Human beings are wired for connection, and social relationships are crucial for our overall well-being. To maintain connections during this strange time, Frischkorn suggests scheduling virtual coffee dates with friends, calling elderly relatives and smiling to others when you see people in public.

7. Be gentle on yourself: Let go of the idea that you must "make the most" of this time. It can feel difficult to give 100 percent right now—and that's okay. Give yourself the permission to press the reset button as needed, says Frischkorn.

If you're having trouble managing stress or anxiety, consider talking to a therapist; many mental health professionals are offering virtual sessions during the pandemic. Most importantly, take care of yourself, and be kind to others. We're all in this together.
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Member Comments

There have been many pandemics in the USA during my lifetime, and for many others. So I'm surprised at how this seems to be different. I think it is because certain politicians have made a lot of hay with it, scare-mongering among the peoples so that they will continue supporting a particular political agenda. It is not a surprise since our current social culture is so busy ignoring truth, making much of exploiting others, and hyping oneself up. It is even seen in the Health Industry, imagine that.
Some of us actually do more than what is listed here in the article. But I'm glad I came by and saw what the latest advice is.
May we all pay attention to what we are doing, even if we merely try to follow these guidelines here.
Peace to all who pay attention. To heck with the rest. Report
Thanks Report
Thank you for sharing this with us! Report
Well said, thanks! Report
Good tips! Thanks so much for publishing to us! Report
This has been a scary experience. It is interesting because we are experiencing a shared global trauma due to this. I think about it and think of how long it will affect people. I just read an article about an elderly woman that survived the Spanish flu and is surviving Covid - 19. Children born today will be learning how they survived this and their children will be reading about it in textbooks. Report
interesting article and comments
I am not letting me stress this out. However, I feel sad for all of those affected by it. Great article. Report
Thank you for sharing. Report
Not particularly feeling anxiety - just feel sadness about all that is happening. It's sad to go to the grocery store wearing a mask and armed with my last few chlorox wipes - forget finding hand sanitizer. I'm just glad I found toilet paper the other day, lol. Report
thanks.....timely tips Report
I had already saved this article but it is always good to look over it again Report
I had already saved this article but it is always good to look over it again Report


About The Author

Kirsten Nunez
Kirsten Nunez
Kirsten Nunez is a health and lifestyle writer, editor and author. She has a Master of Science in Nutrition and is currently based in New York. Kirsten spends her days writing articles and dreaming up healthy recipes.