<  / Stories

Managing stress during a pandemic


A forest with mountains in the background.
We all have different tolerance of, and responses to, stress.


A woman with glasses smiles into the camera.
This story was contributed by Meredith Reynolds, Ph.D, psychologist at UHNBC.

It’s natural to feel worried and afraid about COVID-19. These are stressful times. Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. Know that you’re not alone. It’s normal to feel “off” right now and it's important to take daily steps to care for yourself.

What does stress look like?

We all have different tolerance of, and responses to, stress. Some common signs of chronic stress are:

  • Physical - fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, stomach pain, trouble sleeping.
  • Mental - fear, numbness, fatigue, burnout, withdrawal, guilt, impatience, irritation, anger, difficulty concentrating, trouble making decisions.

How can we cope with stress?

Since your response to the current pandemic is uniquely yours, choose strategies that will work for you. A few ideas include:

  • Keep to your routine. As much as possible, aim to continue your routines with sleep, activity, meals, and hobbies.
  • Be patient and kind with yourself and others. The current situation may challenge how we think, feel, and act. Give yourself and others the benefit of the doubt and the grace to work through things.
  • Practise acceptance. We are in stressful times. Wishing it were different leaves us feeling stuck. Instead, aim to accept what is and try to focus on what you can do today.
  • Practise mindfulness. You could focus on an object in front of you, noticing how it feels, looks, smells, or sounds. Or you might try one of the many guided meditations available online or through apps like Breathr, Headspace, or Calm.
  • Breathe. Pausing to focus on your breathing creates calm. Try breathing in for four seconds, holding your breath for four seconds, breathing out for four seconds, and holding your breath again for four seconds. Repeat until you feel calm.
  • Practise gratitude. Each day, take time to reflect on what you are grateful for. Try to be specific. Notice new things each day, even if they are small.
  • Be active. Find ways to move and connect with your body. Even better, get outside, if possible.
  • Start journaling. Put your thoughts, worries, fears, and hopes on paper (or on your phone or computer). This can help to put things into perspective.
  • Manage your media intake. Pandemic news can be upsetting, and too much news can leave us feeling worried. Choose trustworthy media sources. Consider taking a media break or limiting the amount of time you engage with media each day.

Where can we go for more information?

Here are some helpful websites with strategies to support your well-being and mental health during COVID-19: