My Approach to COVID-19 Stress Management

Calling these past several months stressful would be a massive understatement. With COVID-19 infecting people all over the world, government orders to stay inside and avoid human contact, and the potential loss of livelihood and income, everyone’s anxiety level has been ratcheted up several notches. In addition to the obvious health concerns, it’s important to develop a plan for COVID-19 stress management.

I miss sports, I miss my friends and family, and I get nervous about going to the grocery store. So I try to remind myself to do what I can to take care of my physical, mental and emotional health. I try to set routines that can help me adjust to this unprecedented period in my life.

Here are five practices I’ve adopted during the past two months for COVID-19 stress management. Hopefully, you’ll find them beneficial too.

Walking outside and getting some sun—two of my approaches to COVID-19 stress management

1. Walk.

There’s a time for sitting on the couch and binging Netflix. Actually, there’s plenty of time for that nowadays. But there’s also a time for moving, for getting your blood flowing and clearing your head.

With many gyms and parks still closed, it can be hard to maintain your regular physical practice. But even if you don’t have access to the necessary resources for your normal routine, you can still walk. In addition to the physical benefits, research shows that aerobic exercise, particularly moderate and low-intensity rhythmic movements like walking have positive effects on anxiety, depression and mood.

As a writer, I always find that walking helps my mind wander. That makes it a useful tool for eliminating writer’s block because it allows my mind to explore new ideas instead of ruminating on one particular issue.

Where I live in Chicago, the sidewalks are pretty crowded with people walking and running. In recent weeks, I haven’t felt comfortable walking the streets around my home. Fortunately, I have a treadmill in my basement. So even if I’m stuck at home, I can still take some time to let my body move and my thoughts drift.

2. Get some sun.

If you feel comfortable walking outside in your neighborhood, great! Two birds, one stone. If not, make it a point to step outside your front door for at least a few minutes.

Sunlight helps boost your body’s levels of vitamin D, which is important for immune function.* It also increases serotonin production, which may help improve mood. Furthermore, getting some sunlight during the day helps regulate your Circadian rhythm, the cycle of physical, mental and behavioral changes that take place over the course of the day. Sun exposure during daylight hours lets your body know it’s time to be awake and alert and helps you adjust better when night falls and you need to sleep.

During my first few weeks at home, my wife and I took frequent long walks outside. Now that we’re being more cautious, I still try to step outside and soak up some sun every day.

A man taking a young girl's temperature

3. Measure your symptoms objectively.

In the midst of this global pandemic, every little sneeze, cough or tickle in your throat might have you convinced that you’ve contracted COVID-19. Not only can these worries increase your stress and make sheltering in place even more unbearable, but increased stress can actually weaken your immune system.

If you are worried you have COVID-19, talk to your doctor and get tested if recommended to do so. If you just need to do a self-check to ease your mind, try taking your temperature regularly.

I’ve gotten in the habit of taking my temperature every morning and evening. Not only can this habit alert me to possible infection, but seeing my normal temperature twice a day reassures me that I’m still healthy and safe.

4. Don’t watch the news.

COVID-19 stress management doesn’t mean sticking your head in the sand. It is important to stay informed about the virus and the latest scientific recommendations and government mandates. But you only need to consume the minimum amount of news necessary to provide the crucial details. The problem with watching the news on TV is that most of it is bad and it’s harder to control what and how much you get.

I prefer to read my local newspaper every morning. Doing so allows me to get the information I need and makes it easier to cut out details and opinions that will only make me more despondent and stressed without making me any more knowledgeable. If you don’t have access to a newspaper, try to find a reliable online news outlet that you can check regularly. Or find out when your local elected official gives his or her daily press conference. Tune in for that, then turn off the TV.

5. Control what you can control.

Unfortunately, you could do everything right—washing your hands, practicing social distancing, wearing a mask in public, eating a nutritious diet, managing any underlying health conditions, getting regular physical activity—and still contract COVID-19. There’s only so much you can do to minimize your risk of infection. Beyond those healthy practices, we are all at the mercy of nature and chance.

It doesn’t do any good to worry about what will happen to us if we get sick. Sure, have a plan in place if you or a family member experiences symptoms or gets a positive test result. But don’t dwell on it. You can do your best to prevent COVID-19, but you can’t treat yourself for the virus unless you have it. Cross that bridge if you come to it.

More on COVID-19:

*-There is some debate about whether or not taking a vitamin D supplement can protect against COVID-19 infection and reduce the symptoms of the virus. However, I haven’t seen anyone discounting the benefits of sunlight. For more information on vitamin D supplementation and COVID-19, see:

  1. Vitamin D may reduce susceptibility to COVID-19-associated lung injury
  2. COVID-19: My Response to Dr. Rhonda Patrick on Vitamin D and ACE2
  3. Update on Vitamin D and COVID-19