Zoya Marinova, freelance scientific writer on Kolabtree, writes about how to cope with stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has rapidly spread worldwide, since the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) first emerged in China in December 2019. The fast spread of the disease, its severe course in a subset of patients, and the lack of a vaccine and specific medications necessitated unprecedented public health measures. What effects does the COVID-19 pandemic have on emotional wellbeing and how to cope with them?
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The symptoms and spread of COVID-19
The symptoms of COVID-19 may develop 2-14 days after the exposure to the virus and may range from mild to severe. They may include fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, unexplained loss of taste or smell, chills with shaking, headache, and muscle aches. 
What is the emotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic?
The unprecedented public health measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to changes in the daily routines and social isolation of numerous individuals. Financial concerns and uncertainty about the future have also affected many. In combination, these factors may cause significant emotional distress, and the reactions to this unprecedented situation vary greatly. Individuals may experience fear, irritability, difficulties concentrating, exacerbation of chronic medical conditions, disruption in appetite, or insomnia. In a recent study on 1210 respondents from 194 Chinese cities, over 50% of the participants assessed the psychological effects of the COVID-19 outbreak as severe or moderate. Moreover, a substantial number of respondents reported moderate to severe depressive symptoms (16.5%), anxiety symptoms (28.8%), or stress levels (8.1%). The perceptions of threat and uncertainty, which is an important factor in the current situation, both contribute to the level of distress.
How to cope with stress during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Manage the information flow and take precautionary measures. In a stressful situation, avoiding compulsive checking of the news, especially during vulnerable times of day such as before bedtime, may help you relax.5 However, having access to the relevant health information and following clearly defined precautionary measures is also important to alleviate the feeling of unpredictability.
Maintain a daily routine. Maintaining a daily routine may also help reduce the feeling of uncertainty and bring more predictability to everyday life.
Practice self-care. A healthy diet, enough sleep, and physical activity are especially important during a stressful and uncertain time. Even moderate physical activity positively affects the mood and helps alleviate emotional distress.
Stay in (virtual) contact with loved ones. Maintaining contact with loved ones, even if it is through video or telephone calls and emails, can provide a sense of mutual support and reassurance during this challenging time. Social support may be an important resource that helps deal with the crisis.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html.
- Pfefferbaum B, North CS. Mental health and the Covid-19 pandemic. New Engl J Med. 2020, Apr 13. [Epub ahead of print].
- Wang C, Pan R, Wan X, Tan Y, Xu L, Ho CS, Ho RC. Immediate psychological responses and associated factors during the initial stage of the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) epidemic among the general population in China. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17:pii: E1729.
- Freeston MH, Tiplady A, Mawn L, Bottesi G, Thwaites S. Towards a model of uncertainty distress in the context of coronavirus (Covid-19). PsyArXiv. 2020. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/v8q6m.
- The American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-uncertainty.
- von Berens Å, Fielding RA, Gustafsson T, Kirn D, Laussen J, Nydahl M, Reid K, Travison TG, Zhu H, Cederholm T, Koochek A. Effect of exercise and nutritional supplementation on health-related quality of life and mood in older adults: the VIVE2 randomized controlled trial. BMC Geriatr. 2018;18:286.
- Parks V. The critical role of social capital during the COVID-19 pandemic: lessons from disaster research. 2020, April 16. https://egrove.olemiss.edu/population_brief/2/.