Coping with Covid-19

26Health offers tips for coping with the stress associated with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Pandemics are Stressful

The ongoing conversation about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is causing stress for some people. Having anxieties about the coronavirus pandemic and the changes in our society provokes overwhelming and strong emotions in adults and children.

Positively coping with stress will make you, the people you care about, and your community, stronger.

Symptoms of stress include:

• Fear for your own health and the health of your loved ones
• Changes in your sleeping or eating patterns
• Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
• Worsening of chronic health problems
• Worsening of mental health conditions
• Increased consumption of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations

How you respond to the outbreak can depend on your background, the things that make you different from other people, and the community you live in.

People who have stronger responses to the stress of a crisis include:

• Older adults and people with chronic diseases who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19
• Children and teens
• People who are helping with the response to COVID-19, such as health care professionals and first responders
• People who have mental health conditions, including problems with substance use

Take care of yourself and your community

Taking care of yourself, your friends, and your family can help you with stress management. Helping others manage their stress also makes your community stronger.

Ways to Cope with Stress

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the coronavirus pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting. Take care of your body.

Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate

Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals

Exercise regularly

Get plenty of sleep

Avoid alcohol and drugs

Remain calm.

Controlling your response to COVID will help control stress. Take reasonable action by acknowledging the potential threat and avoiding excessive panic.

Recognize and release.

Strong emotions can cloud your judgment. To prevent this from happening, feel what you are feeling, then allow yourself to let it go.

Be prepared.

Make sure you have essential items like masks and hand sanitizer on you at all times.

Connect with others.

Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

Know the facts to help reduce stress.

Share the facts about COVID-19, as opposed to inaccurate information. By correctly understanding the risk, you and the people you care about make an outbreak less stressful.

When you share accurate information about COVID-19, you help make people feel less stressed and make a connection with them.

Take Care of Your Mental Health

Call your healthcare provider if stress is consistently getting in the way of your daily activities.

People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms. Additional information can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

For Parents

Often, children and teens react to what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they provide the best support for their children. Parents are more reassuring to others around them, especially children, if they are better prepared.

Watch for behavior changes in your child.

Not all children and teens respond to stress in the same way. Some common changes to watch for include:

Excessive crying or irritation in younger children

Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, toileting accidents or bedwetting)

Excessive worry or sadness

Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits

Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens

Poor school performance or avoiding school

Use of tobacco or other drugs

Alcohol abuse

Ways to support your child.

  • Talk with your child or teen about the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child or teen can understand.
  • Reassure your child or teen that they are safe. Let them know it is OK if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they learn how to cope from you.
  • Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. Children may misinterpret what they hear and could be frightened about something they do not understand.
  • Try to keep up with regular routines. If schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities.
  • Be a role model. Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members.

For People at Higher Risk for Serious Illness

People at higher risk for severe illness—such as older adults and people with underlying medical conditions—are also at an increased risk of stress due to COVID-19. Special considerations include:

  • Older adults and people with disabilities are at increased risk for having mental health concerns, such as depression.
  • Mental health problems could present as physical complaints (such as headaches or stomach aches) or cognitive problems (such as having trouble concentrating).
  • Doctors are more likely to miss mental health concerns among: 

Common Reactions to COVID-19

  • Concern about protecting yourself from the virus because you are at higher risk of serious illness.
  • Concern that regular medical care or community services may be disrupted due to facility closures or reductions in services and public transport closure.
  • Feeling socially isolated, especially if you live alone or are in a community setting that is not allowing visitors during the outbreak.
  • Guilt if loved ones help you with activities of daily living.
  • Increased levels of distress if you: 
  • Prior to the outbreak, have had a history of mental illness, such as depression.
  • Live in a lower-income household or have language barriers.
  • Experience stigma because of age, race, ethnicity, disability, or perceived likelihood of spreading COVID-19.

Support Your Loved Ones

Check in with your loved ones often. Virtual communication helps you and your loved ones feel less lonely and isolated. Consider connecting by:



Mailing letters or cards

Text messages

Video chat

Social media

Help keep your loved ones safe.

  • Know what medications your loved one is taking. Try to help them have a 4-week supply of prescription and over the counter medications. See if you can help them have extra on hand.
  • Monitor the other medical supplies needed (oxygen, incontinence, dialysis, wound care) and create a back-up plan.
  • Stock up on non-perishable food (canned foods, dried beans, pasta) to have on hand in your home to minimize trips to stores.
  • If you care for a loved one living in a care facility, monitor the situation and speak with facility administrators or staff over the phone. Ask about the health of the other residents frequently and know the protocol if there is an outbreak.

Take care of your own emotional health.

Caring for a loved one takes an emotional toll, especially during an outbreak like COVID-19. There are ways to support yourself.

Stay home if you are sick.

Do not visit family or friends who are at greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Use virtual communication to keep in touch to support your loved one and keep them safe.

What Health Care Providers Can Do

  • Help connect people with family and loved ones to help lower distress and break up barriers to communication.
  • Let older adults and people with disabilities know it is common for people to feel distressed during a crisis. Remind them that asking for and accepting help is a sign of strength.
  • Have a procedure and referrals ready for anyone who shows severe distress or expresses a desire to hurt themself or someone else.

What Communities Can Do

Community preparedness planning for COVID-19 should include older adults, people with disabilities, and the organizations that support them in their communities, to ensure their needs are taken into consideration.

  • Many of these individuals depend on services and support provided in their homes or out in the community to maintain their health and independence.
  • Long-term care facilities should be vigilant to prevent the introduction and spread of COVID-19. See guidance for long-term care facilities and nursing homes.

For People Coming Out of Quarantine

It is often stressful to be separated from others if a healthcare provider thinks you have been exposed to COVID-19, even if you do not get sick. Everyone feels differently after coming out of quarantine.

Reactions to coming out of quarantine include:

Mixed emotions, including relief after quarantine

Fear for your own health and the health of your loved ones

Stress from the experience of monitoring yourself or being monitored by others for signs and symptoms of COVID-19

Sadness, anger, or frustration because friends or loved ones have unfounded fears of contracting the disease from contact with you, even though you have been determined not to be contagious

Guilt about not being able to perform normal work or parenting duties during quarantine

Other emotional or mental health changes

Children also feel upset or have other strong emotions if they, or someone they know, have been released from quarantine.

For Responders

Responding to COVID-19 takes an emotional toll on you, and you may experience secondary traumatic stress. Secondary traumatic stress are symptoms of stress resulting from exposure to another individual’s traumatic experiences, rather than from exposure directly to a traumatic event.

You reduce secondary traumatic stress reactions by:

  • Acknowledge that secondary traumatic stress can affect anyone helping families after a traumatic event.
  • Learn the symptoms of stress including physical (fatigue, illness) and mental (fear, withdrawal, guilt).
  • Allow time for you and your family to recover from responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Create a menu of personal self-care activities that you enjoy, such as spending time with friends and family, exercising, or reading a book.
  • Take a break from media coverage of COVID-19.
  • Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed or are concerned that COVID-19 is affecting your ability to care for your family and patients as you did before the outbreak.

Learn more tips for taking care of yourself during emergency response.