The Omicron variant, now responsible for almost all COVID-19 infections according to the CDC, has once again caused hospitals to fill and strain the health care system. Similar to the delta surge, employers in all industries are contending with labor shortages, schools are suspending in-person classes, and multiple activities ranging from sports to conferences to performances are being postponed or canceled. The resulting uncertainty and fear are hijacking our amygdala, the part of our brain that signals potential danger, and renewing our collective anxieties. As a result, many of us find ourselves in a familiar place: on high alert.
Managing heightened stress is essential to avoiding burnout and find moments of joy and purpose. Here are seven tips to cope with a seemingly endless pandemic, inspired by Vanderbilt's Work/Life Connections:
- Continue to be vigilant with infection prevention. Protect yourself with vaccinations, boosters, masking, social distancing and hand-washing—and encourage those in your circle to do the same.
- Identify a solid, scientific-based information source to follow for COVID-19 updates. If you are exposed or develop symptoms, consult a trusted source of truth such as Vanderbilt University Medical Center for directions on next steps.
- Limit your exposure to media designed to heighten your sense of panic and trigger feelings of doom. Commit to check the news one or two times per day, and for a limited amount of time.
- Cultivate an atmosphere of calm. Intentionally unplug from devices and limit your time looking at screens. Refocus your attention on books, crafts, cards and games, or home projects. Movement, meditation and music are other ways to get your mind off daily stressors.
- Be creative about maintaining a social life. It may be cold outside, but you could bundle up for lunch on a patio with friends or take a midday walk with a colleague. These social connections are especially important for those with depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions, so make sure to reach out to those who might be struggling.
- Prioritize regular self-care. Ensure your diet is full of plenty of fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. Sleep can directly impact our immune system, so set a regular time each night to unwind and make sure your schedule allows for 7-8 hours of rest.
- Remind yourself of what got you through the earlier waves of the pandemic. You're a stronger person because of what you overcame—tell yourself that you have the tools to make it through this wave, too.
Sometimes individuals need additional help in managing stress—you're not alone! Seek out and share your feelings with a trusted friend, family member, colleague, clergy, or your physician or mental health provider.