How Stress Affects the Body
Covid-19 Stress & Coping

Coping with Stress, Worry, Grief, and Loss

Stress is one of those things most people recognize but is hard to define. One way to think about stress is how our brain and body respond to life’s demands. Stress can be short-lived, or it can persist over time. Long-term stress has significant effects on our brains, our bodies, and our minds. It literally changes the functioning of our brain and the chemistry in our body!

Learn more about Five Surprising Ways that Stress Affects Your Brain.

Stress in childhood has not only been linked to numerous psychological problems such as suicide risk, substance use, and depression, but also physical problems such as heart and liver disease. Living in conditions of extreme and long-lasting stress should be taken seriously and efforts to cope with stress can help prevent serious illness.

View a video on the six signs of stress that you shouldn't ignore.

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Covid-19 Stress & Coping

Impact of Stress on the Body

When we think about stress, we tend to focus on the source of the stress, which might be challenges we face or big changes in our life. But these stressors are only part of the story. How much of an effect a stressful event has on us depends on how we manage or cope with the stress. We can all identify times in our lives where something significant happened in our communities and people around us reacted in different ways. Some people were overwhelmed and wanted to give up, others sat patiently and waited, others were extremely active and made efforts to figure out what to do. Each of us copes differently, and that’s OK.

It is important to recognize that in this pandemic, we are not experiencing just one brief stressful event, but rather a prolonged period of stress, which we refer to as "chronic stress". Our biological stress response system was not designed to be activated for such a long period of time, and chronic stress can put a lot of wear and tear on both our mind and our body. The figure to the left highlights the many ways in which stress can affect our various biological systems, which keep us healthy when they work well, but make us more vulnerable to illness when they do not work well.

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Covid-19 Stress & Coping

General Coping

If stress refers to the changes in our lives which challenge us, coping refers to the way that we that we deal with those stressful changes. We can decrease some of the negative ways stress impacts our body by using coping strategies. This is particularly important when faced with a chronic stressor like the COVID-19 pandemic. Coping strategies can include:

Check your thinking

  • Adjust expectations. Anticipating various outcomes to scenarios in life may assist in preparing for the stress associated with any given change or event.
  • Try to maintain helpful and adaptive thoughts. Gather information from reputable sources and look at the likelihood of various outcomes. Instead of focusing on a highly unlikely outcome, take comfort in knowing that a much less severe outcome is the most likely.
  • Problem solving. Problem solving is a coping strategy that involves identifying the source of the problem and coming up with solutions. We might not be able to solve the pandemic, but this strategy might be helpful for some problems we are dealing with.

Calm your body

Engage in self-care behaviors

  • Try to get enough sleep. Adults should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep a night, and children need more. It might be harder than usual to get a good night’s sleep right now. If you are having a difficult time sleeping, you might want to try some of these tips from the National Sleep Foundation.
  • Physical activity. Regular exercise is a good way to handle the stress of the current situation. This may involve walking, running, yoga, or using household objects as weights.
  • Nature. It is helpful to simply get outdoors and enjoy nature.
  • Find some balance. Try limiting your news exposure and spending time engaging in other activities, such as reading a book for pleasure.

Get in tune with your emotions

  • Acknowledge what you are feeling. Spend some time really trying to think what you are feeling and experiencing. Give it a name. Try to understand what the feeling is about.
  • Embrace humor. Finding comic relief can be helpful in times like these.

Maintain social connections

  • Seek support. Asking for help, or finding emotional support from family members or friends, can be an effective way of maintaining emotional health during a stressful period.
  • Lean on those who bring out the best in you. Choose to spend time with people who help you to feel better and more in control of your life.
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Covid-19 Stress & Coping

Coping with Worries Related to COVID-19

We cannot avoid the stress of the pandemic, but we can work on developing healthy thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to help manage or regulate that stress, which in the end helps to keep our minds and bodies healthier. There are also some more specific strategies we can use to make our worries about COVID-19 less overwhelming. It can help to focus on what we can control right now instead of what we cannot control. We can also cope with our worries by trying to think rationally instead of worrying about the worst thing that could happen. Below, we provide some ideas for dealing with a variety of worries you may be having.

How to Cope with Common Worries Related to COVID-19

Worrying about getting COVID-19
Focus on what you can control
How to cope with these thoughts

Instead of worrying about the worst thing that could happen, remind yourself, “There is a risk that I could get coronavirus. But if I wash my hands, don’t touch my face, and keep my distance from others, it is much less likely that I’ll get it.”

Having a hard time adjusting to changes in everyday routines
Focus on what you can control
  • Consistency is key. Try to keep as much of your routine as safely possible.
  • Continue with your regular hours of waking up and going to sleep.
  • Continue with your regular meal times.
  • Find ways to exercise at home or outside at the same times you would regularly exercise.

How to cope with these thoughts

Instead of worrying about the worst thing that could happen, remind yourself, “This will not last forever. This will just be my routine for now until this crisis is over.”

Having a hard time adjusting to working and/or learning from home
Focus on what you can control
  • Create a space in your home that can be productive for your work or school.
  • Set a schedule that would be similar to your schedule at work or school.
  • Prioritize important tasks and be okay with "good enough", recognizing that you might not be as productive as usual.
  • Find an accountability buddy to share your goals and progress with.
  • Plan to take breaks (together with your kids if they are learning from home).
  • End the work day or school day with clear boundaries.

How to cope with these thoughts

Instead of worrying about the worst thing that could happen, remind yourself, “This is a new situation and it does not have to be perfect. I will keep working to make each day a little better. I need to be patient with myself and those around me.”

Missing connection with friends and extended family
Focus on what you can control
  • Maybe you cannot physically be near them right now, but you can:
    • Call them routinely.
    • Use video calling if that is available (e.g., Facetime, Zoom, Skype).
    • Write them a letter.
  • Because physical distance is not the obstacle in these virtual times, take this opportunity to reconnect with friends and family who live far away.
  • Try out an idea from this list of fun and creative ways to stay connected:

How to cope with these thoughts

Instead of worrying about the worst thing that could happen, remind yourself, “I cannot be with them right now, but I can keep in contact and see them using technology.”

Worrying about money
Focus on what you can control
  • Explore financial assistance options to determine what you are eligible for:
  • Prioritize your payments, taking care of your most basic needs first (e.g., shelter, food, utilities).
  • Search for alternative sources of income.
  • Consider asking friends or family for help.

How to cope with these thoughts

Instead of worrying about the worst thing that could happen, remind yourself, “During this state of emergency, I need to do whatever I can to get through. If I cannot pay my bills, then I cannot pay my bills. I will do my best to recover financially as soon as this crisis is over.”

Struggling with uncertainty about the future
Focus on what you can control
  • Find things you can be certain about, whether that is your daily breakfast routine, video calls with friends, or playing a board game with your family.
  • Consider writing down your worries and leaving them on paper so they can stop racing around in your mind.
  • Refocus this energy into old or new hobbies (e.g., drawing, playing guitar, biking).

How to cope with these thoughts

Instead of worrying about the worst thing that could happen, remind yourself, “Even though I do not know exactly when things will change or how they will change, I know that this crisis has to end sometime.”
Recognize the good things you still have in your life and practice being grateful for them.

Worrying about a loved one who is sick with COVID-19
Focus on what you can control
  • If you are caring for someone with COVID-19 at home, follow these recommendations from the CDC.
  • If your loved one is hospitalized, listen to your loved one’s healthcare provider and do what you can to communicate with your loved one (e.g., phone call, video call, send a get-well card).

How to cope with these thoughts

Instead of worrying about the worst thing that could happen, remind yourself, “Most patients recover from this than not, so my loved one will probably be just fine.”

How Stress Affects the Body View this short video to learn more about how we are all experiencing this loss together.
Covid-19 Stress & Coping

Grief and Loss

Human beings are creatures of habit who often follow routines each day. We also pursue experiences in our life that are meaningful and rewarding. COVID-19 has damaged both of these fundamental human processes. It has disturbed our routines and habits, and it has taken away many events we planned for a long time and looked forward to. We are all experiencing grief.

We are grieving the loss our normal routines, the loss of social connection as we used to know it, the loss of long-awaited events we can no longer participate in, and perhaps also the loss of whatever sense of certainty about the future we used to have. It is important to acknowledge the grief you may be feeling, discover ways to manage it, and explore how you might be able to find meaning in it.

Learn more about how "That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief"

In addition to grieving the sense of normalcy we have lost during the pandemic, some of us might also be grieving the loss of a loved one. This may be a loss due to COVID-19, or this may be a loss due to another illness or an accident. No matter the reason for this loss, grieving in a time of isolation presents unique challenges. Some ideas for how to navigate these challenges are presented below.

Dealing with the Loss of a Loved One: How to Grieve in Quarantine

  • You might not be able to hold an in-person service to honor your loved one or hug others mourning their loss, but it is as important as ever to grieve.
  • Connect with family and friends over video to show that you are together in spirit, even if you can't be together physically.
  • Get creative and come up with new rituals to grieve your loss - whatever form it takes, remembering and honoring your loved one is one of the most important things you can do right now.
  • If you decide to put off the memorial service or funeral until after the pandemic, consider holding a smaller service of some kind within the first few weeks after death so that your grieving process can begin.
  • Consider virtually talking with a therapist and/or joining an online support group.
  • For additional resources for working through grief and a link to an online support group, visit .

Modules describing signs and symptoms of behavioral health conditions are not diagnostic. If you have questions or concerns about your mental well-being, contact My Sanford Nurse at 701.234.5000, 1.800.821.5167, or click here to find a Sanford Health care professional. If you are having thoughts of self-harm, call the suicide prevention LIFELINE anytime at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If this is an emergency, please call 911.