How to Cope With Stress and Anxiety During the COVID-19 Outbreak


Due to the shelter-in-place and lack of social interactions during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to prioritize your mental health. Staff Photo: Ella Hartmanis.

Ella Hartmanis, Staff Writer

There is no question that the recent school, business, and public-area closures, resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, have prompted concern for physical health. However, it is also important to take into account the effects the pandemic may have on mental health. The stress created from the worry over personal physical health, loved ones, school closures, job loss, lack of social interactions due to shelter-in-place orders, and the uncertainty of the length of the restrictions all have a subtle, but cumulative impact. These issues could lead to stress, anxiety, fear, loneliness, confusion or anger, according to psychologist Dr. Lynn Bufka. Although everyone reacts differently in these situations, it is important to be aware of their consequences. 

The recent shelter-in-place order requires all non-essential workers in California to stay at home and limit their interactions with others as much as possible. “One of the inherent challenges of social distancing is that it removes us from our normal routines and natural in-person interactions with friends. That has the potential to impact everyone’s mental health because we are a social species. Interrupting the ways in which people typically are social, like going to school and seeing your friends, can make some people feel more alone and isolated,” Menlo school counselor Jake Fauver said in an email to The Coat of Arms. 

As noted, everyone responds differently, but those who may respond more negatively to stress include seniors, people with chronic diseases, teenagers and those with a mental health condition, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Each person will respond differently, but it could be more challenging for an extrovert who draws their energy from other people,” Fauver said.

For those with mental illnesses, whether that be an obsessive-compulsive disorder  (OCD), anxiety, clinical depression or really anything else, their response to the pandemic may exacerbate their disorders or at least cause major setbacks if they have been making progress in their lives, according to NBC.

Millennials and Gen Xers are already the most stressed generations, according to multiple surveys conducted by the American Psychological Association. That stress may be amplified during this pandemic and therefore it is crucial that everyone prioritizes their mental health. Teenagers may be influenced and react to what they see from the adults around them, according to the CDC. Hence, it is important to try to create a healthy, supporting environment at home.

A few common signs of stress include changing sleeping and eating patterns, fear for loved ones and difficulty concentrating, according to the CDC. Although these are common concerns for all people during an infectious outbreak, it is important to take a break from all of the news and social media outlets discussing the pandemic. Step away from the websites with information about the worldwide infection and mortality rates. Instead, give yourself time to do things you enjoy and reach out to others, although primarily remotely. “Reaching out and improving connections outside the home with friends, classmates, past classmates from middle or elementary school to check in and touch base, are all good fuel for challenged souls right now with our shelter-in-place,” Menlo school counselor Tracy Bianchi said in an email to the Coat of Arms.

There are many recommendations on what to do to boost mental health during the pandemic. First, create a routine, because having structure is helpful during a time of disorder, according to CNBC. Second, get outside when you can, while avoiding too many people, to get exercise and fresh air. Thirdly, focus on what you can control. There is a lot of uncertainty concerning how long the pandemic or shelter-in-place mandate will last; therefore, it is important to control what we can to help keep everyone safe. This includes thoroughly washing your hands and keeping your immune system strong by eating healthfully and exercising, according to CNBC.

“The lack of various social interactions presents its challenges; however, each of us has the ability to find different ways to connect. If you need help or support in that, reach out to an advocate, Mrs. Bianchi, myself or another trusted adult,” Fauver said.