Managing stress and anxiety

Coping with COVID-19

Oak Ridge, TN – There are an abundance of words circulating in the air and in print that give rise to high levels of anxiety and stress, even fear, as it relates to the coronavirus outbreak. Words like pandemic, state of emergency, social distancing, self-quarantine, incubation, fatality rate, and many more are bombarding us all day, every day. We hear it, read it, discuss and argue about it, and we certainly feel it – in our head, heart, and throughout our body. Anxiety and stress are omnipresent and keep us upended, confused, and dysregulated.

We know stress can be a healthy and appropriate coping responses to many situations, the current health emergency notwithstanding, but what can we do when it reaches toxic levels? How do we guard against the current alarm related to COVID-19 from carrying us out to the deep water of unmanageable stress and anxiety?

We all react differently to stressful situations. How we respond to the current coronavirus outbreak can depend on a variety of factors, from our family background to things that make each of us different, from the larger community in which we live to our smaller circles of influence, even our individual resilience in the face of heightened stress and anxiety. Dr. Traci Golbach Ph.D., Director of Outpatient Services at Ridgeview, notes, “Resilience is more than the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity, trauma, or significant sources of stress — such as this health crisis or current workplace and financial uncertainties, resilience is also the capacity to organize and clarify things so that one can move forward.”

Healthcare providers, including behavioral health practitioners, and other first responders are on the front line of responding to the coronavirus outbreak, and we can learn something from their resilience. Stewardship is defined as “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care.” These frontline responders are, in fact, demonstrating stewardship of our collective health and wellbeing. They are committed to adapting to everchanging information and thoughtfully organizing and clarifying their response to promote safe, timely responsiveness to this current health crisis.

So, what can we learn from them in managing stress and anxiety?

While at home and limiting your travel and physical contact with others, one place to start is to organize a daily schedule that helps you clarify what is most important so you can move forward. Taking care of yourself so you can help your friends and your family is a critical step in promoting resilience. Here are a few simple things you can do to support yourself: take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media; take care of your body by eating healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise if you can, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs; practice mindfulness techniques by taking deep breaths, stretching, or meditating periodically throughout the day; try to do some other activities you enjoy like board games, puzzles, or reading a novel; seek help in taking care of your emotional health by having supportive conversations with family and friends; and for people with preexisting mental health conditions, continue with your treatment plans and monitor for any new symptoms.

It is important to know where to look for resources that will help us manage stress and anxiety during these uniquely stressful periods. Locally, Ridgeview Behavioral Health Services has up-to-date information on its website ( related to organizing and clarifying its response to COVID-19, and its commitment to people in need of mental health services.

Tennessee Department of Health has launched a Tennessee Coronavirus Public Information Line effective at 10 a.m. Central time in partnership with the Tennessee Poison Center. The hotline number is 877-857-2945 and will be available from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Central daily.

So at a time when we’re asked by Governor Lee “to do our part by staying apart,” let us resolve to be a good steward of resilience, separately and collectively – be good to yourself, so you can be supportive to others, and together we’ll promote hope, healing, and recovery to a brighter, healthier future for everyone.