Five strategies to ease anxiety and stress related to COVID-19

UCLA psychologist Michelle Craske shares five things we can all do to find some mental and emotional comfort.

While we may experience stress and anxiety differently, there are some proven strategies for coping with the type of stress you may be feeling because of the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine. We suggest you use the following five healthy coping strategies for stress related to COVID-19. You might remember them as the Five Cs.

Strategy 1: Connected (stay connected)

Even though the vast majority of us are remaining safer at home and practicing safe distancing while in public, that doesn’t mean we have to confine ourselves to social isolation. Connecting with family and friends is one of our most basic ways of coping with stress, anxiety and sadness. Current research — that builds upon decades of previous studies — shows that social support, like sending a card or calling someone or texting “how are you?” reduces the effects of stress. When you’re feeling lonely, reach out, by phone or, because we’re lucky enough to be living in 2020, using apps like FaceTime and Zoom. Meet a friend over a virtual dinner. Gather with family to play a board game online.

Balancing act

People who live with family, friends or roommates are spending a lot more time with each other than before. Crowded homes don’t provide much “alone time.” Parents struggle to balance personal, work and child care responsibilities. These can be really stressful situations.

Pro tips for harmony at home

  • Add structure to your day
  • Assign chores
  • Build in fun and relaxing activities
  • Take time for yourself

Strategy 2: Control (focus on what you can control)

Focusing on what we can control reduces anxiety because it turns our attention away from all uncertainty. Examples of ways you can take control include:

  • Take care of your health. You should feel good when you practice safe distancing and get regular sleep, because you know you are taking care of yourself.
  • Make a schedule for your day that includes designated time for eating, sleeping, exercising, working and socializing. Prioritizing time for friends and yourself can make you feel joy and reduce sadness and stress. Remember these schedules are just a guide. Give yourself permission to take things off the list if your day doesn’t go as expected.
  • Be sure to do something physical every day. Go for a walk at the same time each day, meet a friend at an online workout class, do a plank challenge.
  • Don’t forget to take time to do the things that help you grow or bring you joy. Read a good book, try a new recipe, do some crafts, write, learn a TikTok dance or pick up an old musical instrument.

What to include in your schedule

  • Personal time
  • Social time (with your housemates or online with others, even coworkers)
  • Growth activities (the things that give you a sense of accomplishment, like working on a project or learning a language)
  • Activities that give you a sense of joy or happiness (like a hobby, reading or another relaxing activity you can do from home)

Strategy 3: Calm (engage in activities that make you feel calm)

As noted, the uncertainty we’re facing affects our bodies. To calm your nerves and body, and just as importantly, to remain relaxed, we recommend exercise, yoga, meditation and slow breathing. Build these activities into your schedule rather than waiting until you need them. Many exercise and yoga studios are offering free classes online right now. There are apps that can guide you through deep breathing and meditation. Many other activities can be soothing, too, like doing a jigsaw puzzle, drawing and, yes, even doing chores.

Strategy 4: Cut down on the news

We need to limit how much time we spend watching and reading news about COVID-19. While it’s important that we stay informed about the latest guidelines in the places we live, it’s pretty common right now for people to binge on the news. This increases our worry without actually helping us figure out what to do.

Next time you realize you just watched or read a lot of news, ask yourself these two questions:

  • “Do I feel better or worse?” Sometimes, we might feel better at first, but this feeling doesn’t last for very long. Most of the time, we feel worse.
  • “Did I learn anything that I could do to change the situation?” Probably not.

Pro tips to avoid news binging

  • Schedule one or two 30-minute blocks to read or watch the news.
  • Choose your news sources carefully. We suggest going directly to a credible news site or a government agency site rather than relying on other sources.
  • Be careful with social media. Right now social media platforms can feed anxiety because many people are posting about COVID-19 — it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole chasing more information, forgetting that stories on social media can be inaccurate, exaggerated or false.

Strategy 5: Caring (give and receive kindness)

More than ever, it’s important to be caring and kind to others. Even the smallest gesture can make a difference. We can be kind to our housemates, we can reach out to a friend, coworker or neighbor who might be feeling lonely. And for those who are able, we can donate time or money to local causes. Acts of kindness help us feel better about ourselves and decrease our anxiety and sadness. And a bonus: When we do something kind for someone there is a ripple effect — that person is more likely to show kindness to others.

Add acts of kindness to your daily schedule. We’re all in this together. And we can all benefit from helping each other right now.

There is hope

Remember, it’s normal to feel anxious or sad right now. Sometimes these feelings, however, can make it difficult for us to do what we need to do. The good news is that there are things we can do to manage our anxiety, stress and sadness. By practicing the five Cs, giving and seeking support from others and getting professional help when needed, we can learn to navigate and even thrive during this unprecedented situation.

When to get professional help

Sometimes we need professional help.

If you’re feeling that your stress, anxiety or sadness is stopping you from doing what you need to do, please seek professional help. It’s a sign of strength to ask for help. You’re not alone in your struggle to maintain feelings of calmness and stability at this time.

Downloadable Resources to Use on Your Own

Information Sheet: