Responding to stress during COVID-19

We are living in challenging times. COVID-19 has changed our workdays and workloads. Our family schedules are altered. Our community looks different than it ever has before. Amid these changes and challenges, we may feel an increasing uncertainty about what tomorrow will look like or what we will be asked to do.

Living through these kinds of changes and challenges, both individually and as a community, can cause stress. Prolonged experiences of stress may alter our behavior, our reactions, and our view of the world.

Here is the latest Employee Assistance Program (pdf).

You might feel this stress if you're working on campus, if you're working remotely, if you are overworked, or if you are feeling under-worked. Each person experiences stress in various ways and based on each of our individual contexts and concerns, both at work, at home, and within our larger community.

So how do you know if you'e experiencing this kind of stress?

  • If you are more easily angered or "snap" at people more often
  • If you can't find the motivation to do things you love
  • If you struggle to make decisions, or make impulsive decisions
  • If you feel overwhelmed or anxious
  • If you can't sleep or sleep too much
  • If you feel "off" or like you can't recognize yourself

These kinds of reactions are completely normal in the face of abnormal situations. A global pandemic is an abnormal situation and it is natural to have increased stress or anxiety.

It can be hard on our relationships when we act out of stress or act differently than we did before.

So what can you do to help yourself in moments of stress?

Name it

It's ok to tell people that you are stressed, that you're scared, that you are having a tough time. We are all in this together and being honest about what we're feeling can help those around us know how to help.

It can be helpful to find supportive people to share your concerns with. Are you anxious about being on campus and around others? Are you concerned about your kids and how they are navigating this new reality? Are you worried about your workload and how to get things done, either from a remote office or with new in-office rules?

Being able to name your stress and inviting trusted friends, family, or colleagues to share your burden can be part of reducing your stress load.

Get moving

Any type of movement is good for stress. If you are a runner, keep running! If you like to dance, dance away! Even doing calming movements like yoga, knitting, stretches, or meditation are helpful ways to engage your body and rest your mind.

Wait to respond

Stress can impact the way we relate to others. We might be more short-tempered, more easily frustrated, or give people the cold shoulder and isolate from others. If you recognize that your interactions with others are getting more contentious, wait it out. It's ok to tell people you need a moment to collect yourself. Maybe it could be helpful to have a practice of counting to 10 before you respond to make sure that you're in a calm place. If you have lashed out in anger, apologize and ask to try again to respond when you're feeling better.

Ask for help

These are hard times. There are people who want to help.

  • Washington Employee Assistance Program (WA EAP): the UW Employee Assistance Program has a list of resources and are available 24/7 to help you through this time. You can call them 24/7 at 866-598-3978. The initial service has no cost and the call is toll-free. You can use this for yourself or for members of your household.
  • Call a friend or family member. Chances are that others in your life are scared and frustrated now as well. Just because we can't be physically together with others right now doesn't mean we can't stay connected to people.
  • Find ways to stay connected to yourself, especially as we enter the winter months. Take breaks during your workday, get plenty of rest and water, engage in activities that lighten your mood, stop working at the same time each day. These kinds of tips can help you stay grounded and engaged to yourself in the weeks and months to come.
  • Check in with your supervisor or manager. You might be having a hard time completing your work or staying focused, especially if your schedule or work location is different. If you can, let them know that you're struggling and see if they can help you find focus and a better path forward.

In the face of abnormal situations, it is a normal human reaction to feel scared, frustrated, anxious, or angry. As we figure out what to do in the face of COVID-19 and the changes we are experiencing, let's give ourselves and others extra grace and compassion during this time.