5 Key Ways to Help Manage Your Stress During the Pandemic

We’re not strangers to stress and the effect it has on our bodies, lives, decisions, and well-being. Stress can be acute (short lived and happens quickly, like a sudden deadline) or chronic (continual stress over a long period of time, like COVID). Regardless of the type, our bodies react to stress in the same manner. 

What are the common physical signs of stress? Our heart begins to pump more rapidly. This enables more oxygen to get to our cells throughout the body so we can quickly make energy. We also become more mentally alert and several hormones are released into the body. The hypothalamus, in the brain, sends a signal to our nervous system that there is something stressful. This is the same nervous system that manages digestion, blood pressure, and breathing. After the signals are sent, our body starts to release adrenaline and then cortisol. Overwhelming amounts of research show that the physical response of stress leads to problems with memory and cognition (our ability to receive, translate, and learn information). It also causes weight gain, digestive issues, high blood pressure, sleep problems, muscle aches, anxiety, depression, and chest pain. This all sounds scary and I’m sure that you might feel physical changes in your body just from reading this. Sadly, we can’t totally avoid every stressful situation so we need to learn to work through it. How do we do that, especially in a time that feels hopeless? 

1 – Change Your Perspective and Focus on the Positive

This type is helpful for both acute and chronic stress. Imagine that you were asked to make some last minute changes to a project or you’re about to speak in front of a large audience. You feel that surge of panic. By changing your perspective about the situation, you will be able to use that surge for motivation. The first step is to think about the why. Why am I doing this? Why should it be done?  Maybe the answer is, I like my job or I want to be a good employee. I feel that what I have to do is important and valuable. 

Worrying doesn’t help. I know many people, myself included, that worry. Worrying about something shows that it is important to you. However, worry doesn’t actually make the situation better. But changing your perspective about the situation does. Also, looking for a positive solution or finding the positive in a situation reduces the effects on stress on the body. 

Positivity has been studied by numerous researchers. The conclusion is unanimous, positivity is correlated with reduced stress, lower risk of chronic diseases (heart disease, diabetes, strokes etc.), improved emotional regulation, and an increase in healthier choices. Staying positive in a difficult situation can be difficult. Sometimes being mindful helps one to become more positive. Spending time with family and friends also helps. Remember to physically distance and wear a mask (even if you’re around your family and friends). 

2 – Focus on Eating a Well-Balanced Diet

When it comes to health, everything is connected. Health is not linear, it is circular. There is a very strong correlation between “how we feel and what we eat” and “what we eat and how we feel.” When we are stressed we tend to crave high-caloric foods because of the hormones and physical changes to our body. Stress causes insomnia which causes our body to crave sugary foods in order to stimulate the body. All of this creates stress-eating. There is also an overwhelming amount of research that shows highly processed and sugary foods can cause us to feel anxiety or depressed resulting in a never-ending cycle of chronic stress on our bodies. Eating a well-balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, nuts, and seeds reduces the strain on our body. It helps to reduce chronic stress and will improve your ability to think positively, which results in better emotional regulation and the ability to manage stress (a circular connection). Next time you feel stressed, reach for the carrot instead of the Cheetos and realize that this is true “self-care.” 

3 – Schedule Time for Fun Every Week

Making time to do the things you love helps improve your positive mood and provides value and meaning to life. Finding something enjoyable to do will help relieve some of the symptoms of stress. What is it that you really love to do? I love to go hiking, cook, read a book, watch a movie, play a card or board game, and exercise. 

4 – Exercise

Exercise lowers the level of hormones triggered by stress and reduces your blood pressure. Exercise triggers those “feel good” hormones and helps with our focus, sleep, and decision making. The key to exercise is making sure it is something that you love. If you don’t like running, then don’t run. It will only cause more stress. Spend the time investing in the type of exercise that you love and do it every day. I’m a cardio junkie so I love HIIT, tabata, zumba, dancing, and running. The national recommendation is to spend at least 30 minutes every day being active. I recommend 60 minutes. Bonus points if you are active outside. The sunshine is so beneficial for your mood and not to mention your immune system.  

5 – Create a Bedtime Routine 

Having an adequate amount of sleep just makes everything easier. Make sure you aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Turn off your devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Don’t keep your cell phone in your room and don’t use it as an alarm clock. Try to create a routine that will help you relax. Personally, I read in bed for about 10 minutes and then listen to classical piano music until I fall asleep. You can try yoga, meditation, or stretching just before bed too. Get enough sunshine in the day. The body needs the sun to produce melatonin – the sleeping hormone. What to do about worrying or mind racing? I have struggled with this throughout my life. When I find that I can’t relax my mind, I start what I call “rant-writing.” I simply get a piece of paper and pen (no electronic devices because there are too many distractions and the lights from the screen will wake you up) and write whatever comes to my mind. I don’t try to control my thoughts. There is no judgement or thought process, simply writing. I stop writing when my brain doesn’t have anything else left to say. 

From time to time, everyone can use a little help. If necessary, seek out professional help to assist you in managing this difficult time. Health is not linear, it is circular. In order to have a healthy body we need to have a healthy mind. Take care of your mind and your body will thank you. Take care of your body and your mind will care for your body. 


Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Stress and Health

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Happiness, Stress, and Heart Disease. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/happiness-stress-heart-disease/

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Burden of Stress.

The impact of stress on body function: A review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396/

Food for Thought 2020. Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing?