Stress often results from overwhelming or difficult events (stressors), and tends to involve too much change, too much information, too many demands, or too much responsibility. There are a lot of great resources circulating currently outlining stress management skills, such as self-care, exercise, relaxation, and managing worries and expectations. I don’t want to repeat those, so I’m considering stress from another angle: the ‘too much’ phenomenon.
If you consider the ‘too much’ component of managing COVID-19:
Recommendations and changes are being made, sometimes rapidly, to help halt the spread of COVID-19, and our lives have changed quite noticeably (which can feel like ‘too much’ change). There is a lot of information regarding current world events in the media and social media (too much information). People are trying to juggle multiple demands, such as working from home with caring for their family (too many demands). It can also feel like too much responsibility trying to provide for your family in the context of job loss, or trying to prevent the vulnerable and/or your own family from contracting COVID-19.
So what can be done to help manage the ‘too much’ parts of stress and COVID-19?
Too much information: Constantly listening for media updates, reading about coronavirus, and spending a lot of time scrolling social media can cause information overload. Not to mention, it is also a popular topic of conversation in the community. Try to limit your exposure to information. For example, choose to read or watch the news in a set time slot each day; do the same for social media; and turn these sources of information off at other times. At other times, if you are receiving unwanted/unsolicited content regarding coronavirus through media, then change how you engage with your media. For example, rather than watching TV, can you put on a movie instead? Also: if people around you are regularly discussing coronavirus, then either let them know you’d like to focus on other things, or simply steer the conversation in different directions.
Another component of stress is too much change, too quickly. Government recommendations and current circumstances are evolving, often quickly. This is something outside of personal control. So what can be done? Remind yourself of the need and reasons for these changes and their benefits. Try to take some ownership of what is occurring; for example, rather than telling yourself, ‘I have to stay home with my family’, try ‘I choose to stay home with my family and be safe’. Also consider: What you would like to show your family regarding how to handle adversity? How to adapt and persevere in tough circumstances? And, how can you make the most of being at home more? Assuming personal ownership regarding change can help lessen the impact of it.
Too many demands: For some, the impact of COVID-19 has increased personal demands. For example, trying to juggle working from home and parent at the same time is a marked increase in demands! It can require creativity and support to manage increased demands. If both parents are at home, can you find new ways of working and parenting, such as having 2 – 3 hour blocks where one partner parents and the other works, and shift this back and forth throughout the day? If you’re the only parent at home and trying to work at the same time, is there flexibility regarding when you can work (for example, more at night and during child rest times)? What other help or support can you recruit to manage your demands?
Too much responsibility: Yes, we all have a responsibility to keep ourselves and others safe. It can feel like a heavy responsibility trying to do this for particular family members, such as older parents and young children. Multiple measures have been outlined for this purpose (such as social distancing). Remind yourself that this is a shared community responsibility, as well as that older family members also have responsibility for their own well being. In essence, it does not need to all be shouldered by one person.
The broader impact of coronavirus can cause other difficulties, such as financial insecurity, and it can be a heavy weight trying to provide for your family in times of economic hardship. Again, focus on what you can control, such as accessing government support, job seeking, and even retraining or upskilling to move into new labour markets.
Managing stress and adversity requires adjusting what you do and how you think. Focus on helpful behaviours and how you think about your circumstances to boost and maintain resilience. And of course, seek help if it all becomes ‘too much’- professional support can help you to shift the overwhelm.