Managing stress and anxiety during a crisis

During period of crisis it’s understandable that people feel heightened stress and anxiety. This tip sheet was written during the height o the COVID-19 pandemic, but the advice is useful to anyone experiencing stress and anxiety, especially in relation to natural disasters and other times of crisis.

It’s important to take care of yourself by using strategies that help you to manage your stress levels and responses to the current state of uncertainty, change and social isolation.

What are some of the signs of stress and anxiety?

Stress and anxiety can result in a range of different physical and emotional reactions. Be aware of signs that might indicate that you’re stressed or anxious, including:

  • being short-tempered or irritable
  • headaches
  • an upset stomach
  • sleeping difficulties
  • a lack of concentration
  • feeling run down
  • tension in your jaw, or shoulders or other parts of your body
  • fatigue or extreme tiredness
  • rumination or a racing mind
  • feelings of worry, fear or unease
  • finding it difficult to relax and be calm.

Seven tips for managing stress and anxiety

1. Reduce your news intake

In times of crisis, it’s recommended that you monitor how much, and what news you’re exposing yourself to, as well as when you’re consuming it.

Set some boundaries around the amount of time you will dedicate to reading or watching the news, such as 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening.

This can keep you updated with the latest information, but also put restrictions on your exposure, as consuming too much media can increase anxiety.

Avoid watching the news before sleep as this can interrupt your ability to fall asleep or sleep soundly.

It’s also important to ensure that you are getting your information from reliable sources, such as the Australian Government’s health alerts or the World Health Organization.

2. Focus on finding connection

With increased social isolation, people are at greater risk of feeling lonely and isolated.

Positive relationships are essential for our mental health and wellbeing, and it’s important to spend time talking with friends and loved ones who will be able to provide you with connection and support.

While we are having to physically distance ourselves from others, we can maintain our relationships by using communication methods still available to us, such as the telephone, text messages, email and video-conferencing. You can also spend quality time with people you live with.

3. Maintain routine as much as possible

During times of external instability and change, it’s important to keep your routine the same, or as similar as possible to maintain structure in your day, which can be beneficial for your mental health.

This includes when you wake up, eat, work, engage in leisurely activities, and sleep.

This can maintain your sense of structure and minimise your work spilling over into your personal life.

If you’re out of work, try to plan your day to maintain or rebuild a sense of purpose and structure.

You can stick to your routine by scheduling your tasks for the day, such as cleaning and cooking, as well as leisure time.

We also recommend staying informed about the government services that are available, including financial supports.

4. Try to get some exercise

Although, during this time, we’re spending more time at home, it’s important to continue to exercise outdoors where possible, to benefit our mental health and keep us in touch with nature.

This could involve walking, jogging or cycling (while adhering to social distancing guidelines and travel limitations).

It’s recommended to exercise for at least 15 to 30 minutes, three days a week.

If you’re finding this hard, even just a 10-minute walk each day can have a positive impact on your mood and re-energise you.

You could also exercise indoors by using online videos to work out, practise yoga or other types of activity.

5. Practise self-care

Self-care involves looking after our physical, emotional and mental health.

This means eating a healthy and balanced diet, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, exercising regularly and getting restful and adequate sleep.

It also includes making time to do the things you love, such as reading, writing, gardening, listening to music or spending time on a hobby.

6. Get enough rest and relaxation 

Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. It’s important to practise sleep hygiene, particularly if you have trouble sleeping.

Some useful resources on sleep are provided on page 3.

Take regular work or study breaks during the day, especially in the current circumstances which may be causing you to experience a heightened state of anxiety.

Try to take 5 to 10-minute breaks each hour to switch off from screens or smart devices and do something calming and relaxing.

Some relaxation exercises include meditation, mindfulness, yoga and progressive muscle relaxation.

There are also less formal ways to relax, such as listening to music, going for a walk, having a gentle stretch or drinking a glass of water.

There are a range of websites and relaxation apps for smartphones that are available to download, which are listed over the page.

7. Remember to keep things in perspective and be kind to yourself

During times of anxiety and stress, we’re more likely to focus on the negatives and view things as worse than they really are.

Try to remind yourself that the current situation is temporary, and that by staying home, you are doing your bit in helping to slow the spread of the virus in your community.

Also remember that as a community, we are all in this together, and this new and unprecedented period might even have some benefits, such as enhanced relationships (albeit at a distance) with family, friends and neighbours.

For useful resources please read our full tip sheet.