Coping with stress and anxiety during Covid-19

Coping with Stress and Anxiety during Covid 19


The Outbreak of SARS CoV1 and the disease it causes, Covid 19, is an immense challenge to all of us. However, it’s not only the medical challenge that is immense. The changes to our lives and the constant stream of news and social media pertaining to the spread of the virus is enormously stressful. Mental health is very important to our immune system. So it is important to try to take steps to help manage stress and anxiety.

Why we are feeling so stressed?

Many of the things that give our life purpose, meaning and joy are on hold at the moment. One of the ways that I have always used to manage stress is watching sports. Either watching Ireland snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the rugby. Or watching Liverpool’s seemingly never-ending quest to finally win a Premier League. Many of the podcasts I listen to in order to relax are also based around sports – now even the sports podcasts talk about Coronavirus.

Other ways that we would use to relax such going out to have a coffee or going to the pub for a beer or glass of wine have also fallen by the wayside. Many of the things that give our lives purpose, such as going to work and providing for our families are on hold.

One of the things that I often mention to patients is how uncertainty can fuel anxiety. These are very uncertain times. The continuous drip-feed of information and speculation about what might happen exacerbates this uncertainty.

Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system. This is despite and flight part of our nervous system. It raises our heart rate and blood pressure and increases the release of the stress hormone cortisol. The symptoms that occur as a result of this include palpitations and sweating.  this anxiety can lead us to become mentally hypervigilant. This makes it difficult to switch off and hard to sleep.

What Can I Do To Help Ease Anxiety?


Exercise can be a fantastic stress buster. The mind and body are intimately related. Exercise helps lower the body’s stress hormone cortisol. Seratonin and dopamine, hormones involved in pleasure and happiness also increase with exercise.

Being healthy and exercising is a value of mine that I hold dear. For me, it’s important to be a healthy role model for my family and also for my patients. If you are also someone who values this time make sure you have a set a time to exercises. Make it sacred time.

At this time I would strongly advise you to maintain social distancing. Many of our local personal trainers are doing virtual sessions.  Otherwise, home resistance training, cycling, running and yoga are all great options.

Sleep and rest

Over a sustained period of time chronic partial sleep loss has been shown to lower mood. It can also increase the likelihood of picking up infections, impair mental performance and reduce physical performance. It is completely normal that you may be having difficulty in sleeping at the moment. If this is the case then check out our sleep tips here.


The past 100 years have bucked the previous trend of human exposure to nature. Considerable research has linked exposure to nature with good mental health. If you are stuck indoors because of self-isolation then take heart – studies have shown that listening to nature sounds or even looking at pictures of nature can have a beneficial effect on mood.

Digital Detox

There is such an overwhelming amount of health information in the best of times. At present there seems to be a continuous stream of Covid 19 information. Endless scrolling causes anxiety and uncertainty. Avoid looking at your phone for the first hour in the morning. The stream of notifications creates unwanted anxiety when your brain is waking up.

Think about who to listen to and read. Choose one or two sources of reliable information. Having several sources of information can cause the brain to experience confusion and anxiety. In particular, be mindful of some of the false information circulating on social media and Whatsapp.

Finding Purpose and Meaning

Remember, your anxiety and worry about these challenging times is not a reflection of you and your values.  Think about your values and what matters to you. Is it being a great parent? One who is fun, enthusiastic and loving. Is it helping others? Being caring, compassionate, dignified, Heroes are made in times like these – being a hero is not being a celebrity who sings a song on Instagram. It can be by being a hero to your children through great parenting, to your parents by finding ways to stay in touch, to your friends with small acts of kindness and generosity.


This about the people who help us. Not just the medics. Not just the admin staff in hospitals and clinics. But the delivery drivers, postmen, police, community pharmacists, food store staff – all the people who help us. Keeping a gratitude diary or recording things you appreciate each day can be a fantastic way to maintain a positive outlook. The BestSelf Journal is excellent for this.

Staying in contact 

Many of us thrive on social interaction. This makes social distancing and self-isolating particularly difficult. Try staying in touch with loved ones, not just face time but also by writing notes, letters and art. As we can’t escape to The Winchester until this all blows over, think about having using Zoom to have a ‘virtual’ beer with your mates (but just a couple, too much alcohol can impair good sleep).


Breathing exercises can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the part of the nervous system that is responsible for rest and recovery. Many people find mindful meditation an excellent way to relax. There are several excellent guided meditation and breathing apps to help with this including Oak and Calm.

Eat well

Given the pandemonium we have seen with food shopping and the difficulty in getting food if you are self-isolating, this piece of advice is the hardest to achieve. However, food can have a positive impact on mood. Ensure you are having a diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables. Intuitively, this sounds like nonsense but there has been a good randomised controlled trial on this. The SMILE trial, a randomized control trial in which subjects with depression who were put on a Mediterranean diet had an improvement in mood compared to the control group who were given social support).

Can Medication Help?

Many medications used to treat anxiety and depression take a few weeks to have their full effect. So, they may be less useful for the temporary stress-induced by Covid 19.  Many other anxiety-relieving medications can be addictive. So, do try the above measures first. As always, if you are feeling that the anxiety is too much, then we are here to help.

Dr Hugh Coyne