Manage Anxiety & Stress

Stress and Coping

The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) may be stressful for people. Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Coping with stress will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger.

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Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations.  How you respond to the outbreak can depend on your background, the things that make you different from other people, and the community you live in.

People who may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis include:
  • Older people and those with chronic diseases at higher risk for COVID-19
  • Children and teens
  • People helping with the response to COVID-19, such as doctors and other healthcare providers, or first responders
  • People who have mental health conditions including problems with substance misuse
If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others call 911 or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746.

Stress may manifest itself in many ways during an infectious disease outbreak:
  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms. Additional information can be found at the SAMHSA website.

Taking care of yourself and your friends and  family can help you cope with stress. Helping others cope with their stress can also make your community stronger.

Things you can do to support yourself:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
Call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.

Reduce stress in yourself and others

Sharing the facts about COVID-19 and understanding the actual risk to yourself and people you care about can make an outbreak less stressful.

When you share accurate information about COVID-19 you can help make people feel less stressed and allow you to connect with them.

Learn more about taking care of your emotional health.

Support your child

  • Take time to talk with your child or teen about the COVID-19 pandemic. Answer questions honestly and share facts in a way your child can understand.
  • Reassure your child that they are safe. Let them know it is okay if they feel upset. Share with them how you are dealing with your own stress and help them learn coping skills from you.
  • Limit your family's exposure to news coverage of the pandemic. This includes social media. If your child has social media accounts, take the opportunity to discuss setting boundaries and taking breaks from it. 
  • Children may misunderstand or misinterpret what the see or hear about the pandemic. This often causes fear, which they express in different ways (i.e., acting out, extreme worry).
  • Try to keep or create a daily routine. It does not have to be a "full-schedule" day, but encouraging regular wake-up times, getting dressed, play time, school time, etc. helps create a sense of normalcy.
  • Be a role model. Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends, family members, and support network.

Keep in mind

Children and teens react, in part, to what they see the adults around them doing. Calm and confident adults can provide strong support to their children. Staying informed from reputable sources allows adults be prepared and reassuring their children.

Not all children and teens respond to stress the same way. Some common changes to watch for include:

  • Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
  • Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (e.g toilet accidents, bedwetting)
  • Excessive worry or sadness
  • Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
  • Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens
  • Poor school performance or avoiding school
  • Difficulty with attention and concentration
  • Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
  • Unexplained headaches or body pain
  • Use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
CDC resources on helping children cope with disasters

Burnout and Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS)

Responding to COVID-19 can take a emotional toll on Healthcare Workers, First Responders, and other professionals. There are things you can do to reduce burnout and STS reactions:
  • Acknowledge that burnout and STS can impact you while working during a major event, such as a pandemic.
  • Learn the signs and symptoms, including physical and mental.
  • Allow time for you and your family to recover from responding.
  • Create a list of self-care activities you enjoy, such as spending time with people you care about (virtually unless you live with them), reading books, gardening, etc.
  • Take a break from media coverage of COVID-19.
  • Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed or concerned that COVID-19 is affecting your ability to care for your family and patients as you did before the pandemic.

If you have been in isolation

Being separated from others if a healthcare provider thinks you may have been exposed to COVID-19 can be stressful, even if you do not get sick. Everyone feels differently after coming out of quarantine. Some feelings include:
  • Mixed emotions, including relief after quarantine
  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
  • Stress from the experience of monitoring yourself or being monitored by others for signs and symptoms of COVID-19
  • Sadness, anger, or frustration because friends or loved ones have unfounded fears of contracting the disease from contact with you, even though you have been determined not to be contagious
  • Guilt about not being able to perform normal work or parenting duties during quarantine
  • Other emotional or mental health changes
Children may also feel upset or have other strong emotions if they, or someone they know, has been released from quarantine. You can help your child cope.
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