For most of us, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed everyday life dramatically, almost overnight. For some, the pandemic adds another layer to the fear, worry and stress of a cancer diagnosis. How can you cope?
Researchers who studied the effects of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pandemic of 2003 found that many people experienced fear, anger, confusion and symptoms of post-traumatic stress during that time. Those emotions may be caused by financial loss, depression, boredom, worries about taking care of loved ones, loneliness, misinformation, disruption of everyday routines and many other factors.
Here are some suggestions to help you stay mentally healthy during the pandemic:
- As the need for social distancing continues, remind yourself that you’re doing something very important to protect others in your community, especially the elderly and those who have underlying medical conditions.
- Information overload can intensify your anxiety. Take a break from watching TV, reading the newspaper or scrolling through social media. Or limit yourself to checking the news a certain number of times per day, for a specific amount of time. Set a timer to remind yourself when you need to stop.
- When you do look for health information, make sure it comes from a reliable source — for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Take care of your body. Practice deep breathing. Meditate. Eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs.
- Develop a regular schedule that includes:
- Some type of productive activity, such as household projects (or working from home, if you’re able to do that).
- Relaxing with activities you enjoy — reading, playing board games or listening to music. Try something new, such as painting or knitting.
- Time outside at least once a day, if possible. Go for a walk or bike ride, or spend time in your garden, as long as you keep at least six feet away from other people. Research shows that being in nature can lower your blood pressure and relieve stress.
- Getting up and going to bed at the same time each day. This will help with sleep patterns. Disconnect from news or social media at least an hour before going to bed.
- Connect with friends and family through social media, texting, phone calls or video chats. These get-togethers can be informal or organized into social “events” (for example, a virtual coffee date).
- Practice self-compassion. These are difficult times, and it’s understandable that you’ll feel upset and overwhelmed at times as we all figure out how to cope with these unprecedented circumstances. Try to treat yourself with kindness and flexibility. Some days it’s easier than others!
If continued stress disrupts your eating or sleeping patterns, interferes with your ability to concentrate, causes any chronic health problems to get worse or leads to increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs, ask your Roswell Park physician for a referral to a counselor.