Pandemic Coping Tool Box

By Janet von Konsky Miller, MPH

4/21/20

I took a virtual yoga class a week ago. In the week before this class, I had noticed that maintaining my lockdown morale had become more of an effort. As lockdown wore on, I had noticed others expressing likewise morale challenge. During class, the virtual yoga instructor voiced these same observations. As we begin week 6 of social distancing and SCC’s shelter in place mandate, we might fill the pandemic-coping tool box with healthy strategies to maintain morale and weather this traumatic storm.

I have attended many webinars while social distancing, especially in the first few weeks of the SCC shelter in place mandate. One of the webinars presented by the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) and the American Public Health Association (APHA) was a 2-part webinar on Social Distancing. One presenter, Dr. Sandro Galea, identified the COVID-19 pandemic as meeting the criteria for a traumatic event. He said that traumatic events are associated with increased stress behaviors and mental health issues. Experiencing multiple stressors can exacerbate the consequences of trauma on mental health. Some examples of multiple stressors people may be experiencing during the pandemic may include care of a high-risk loved one, economic burdens, among others. The more stressors, the greater the trauma’s effect, especially if these added stressors endure over time.1

While the presenter suggested solutions at a system-wide level, what can we do ourselves to mitigate the stress from the pandemic and subsequent isolation during lockdown? One article suggests that connection with others, healthy eating, adequate sleep, and exercise, in addition to other coping tools, may benefit mental health during this pandemic.2 A Harvard Medical School article suggests that through physical activity we can reduce anxiety and depression and increase well-being.  When working out with others, even if it is remote, the synchronized movement may contribute to increased self-esteem and cooperation.3 Laughter,4 gardening,5, 6 viewing nature,7 and music8, 9, 10 are other strategies that have been shown to impact the stress response.

Including emotional “normalcy” as a tool to remember during this anything-but-normal time may go a long way in coping with the trauma of the pandemic.1 Anxious? Sad? Grief-stricken? Irritable? Perhaps it may be comforting to know that experiencing a myriad of feelings during this crisis may be “normal.” Remember to be kind and compassionate to self as well as others during this crisis. Include reaching out to each other in that coping tool box because together we will get through this traumatic event.*

(*Note: If experiencing overwhelming emotional and mental distress, reach out to a mental health professional)

Sources:

1NAM & APHA. (2020). The Science of Social Distancing, Part 2 [webinar]. COVID-19 Conversations. April 1. Retrieved from https://www.covid19conversations.org/webinars/science-of-social-distancing-2

2Psycology Today. (2020). Trauma of Pandemic Proportions. March 14. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifting-the-veil-trauma/202003/trauma-pandemic-proportions

3Harvard Health Publishing. (2016). How simply moving benefits your mental health. March 28. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-simply-moving-benefits-your-mental-health-201603289350

4Yim, J.E. (2016). Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review [abstract]. Tohoku J Exp Med. 239(3):243-9. doi: 10.1620/tjem.239.243

5University of Colorado Boulder. (2018). Why Dirt May Be Nature’s Original Stress Buster. Retrieved from https://www.colorado.edu/today/2019/05/09/natures-original-stress-buster

6Soga, et al. (2017). Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis. Preventive Medicine Reports. 5: 92-99. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2016.11.007

7Van den Berg, et al. (2015). Autonomic nervous system responses to viewing green and built settings: Differentiating between sympathetic and parasympathetic activity. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 12(12):15680-15874. doi: 10.3390/ijerph121215026

8Jolij, J. & Meurs, M. (2011). Music Alters Visual Perception. PLoSONE. 6(4): e18861. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0018861 

9Harvard Medical School. (2011). Music and Health. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-hea…/music-and-health

10UC Berkeley, Greater Good Science Center. (2015). Five Ways Music Can Make You Healthier.  Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/five_ways_music_can_make_you_healthier