COVID-19 / Guest posts / Health

Existential panic and stress are normal. Here’s how to deal, according to wellness experts

When coronavirus stress is overwhelming you, use these tips to up your emotional wellbeing through physical fitness, community support and more.

Take a walk outside when life gets stressful. (Photo by Ian Turnell from Pexels)
This is a guest by Anna Greenwald, founder and CEO of Philadelphia-based corporate wellbeing company On the Goga.

If you’re feeling a looming sense of existential panic right now, you’re not alone. Stress is our body’s natural (and highly effective) way of protecting us from imminent threats to our life. Our body triggers our stress response, also known as the “fight, flight, or freeze” response, in order to help us make appropriate and immediate decisions to get out of any dangerous situation we are in … or at least, the one that the body thinks we are in.

Unfortunately, our bodies can’t tell the difference between the normal stress of work, our stress about coronavirus, stress from a fight with our partner, or the stress of running from a lion. So what can we do when the stress is overwhelming us? Read on for a collaborative idea bank from our team of wellness experts at On the Goga, drawing from the fields of organizational psychology, nutrition, financial wellbeing, mindfulness and more:

Emotional wellbeing

  • Know what you are in control of. You won’t be able to control 100% of your body’s panic response. Realize that you do not have control of greater outcomes throughout this pandemic. You don’t even have full control over whether you’ll get sick. You do, however, have control over your actions (staying home, washing your hands, etc.) and your attitude (having compassion for and being connected with the world and your neighbors).
  • Do things that make you joyful. Just because life is turned upside down doesn’t mean there aren’t wonderful things to enjoy where you are. That could be a Netflix marathon with your dog, working from your backyard, or simply cooking a wonderful meal with your family. Times like these call for more moments of self-created joy, not less.
  • Working from home? Set norms and boundaries around your new working environments. Where do you work? What’s your schedule? How do you communicate to people when you’re available or busy? In a normal work environment, boundaries are often muddled, but in a remote environment they’re nearly invisible unless you address them directly.
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply the act of noticing what’s happening right now without wishing it were different. This practice of paying attention to sensory details, like the temperature of the room, helps your brain calm down and realize you’re sitting on your couch in your living room, not fighting a lion.

Physical fitness

  • Get up and, if you can, get out. Leaving at least six feet of distance between you and everyone else, of course. Most of our homes are not conducive to reaching a 10,000-step goal so it takes a bit of extra thought to actually get up and move. You’d be surprised how much of a difference climbing your stairs once an hour, or taking a walk around the block, makes for your brain and body by the end of the day.
  • Stick to your regular meal times. It’s easy to snack all day long and find yourself in the kitchen mindlessly eating out of a family-sized bag of chips while you ponder the state of the world. Take a few extra minutes to plan out three meals. If you normally snack in between meals, that’s fine too! Just enjoy as you normally would. If you wouldn’t sit at your desk devouring a whole tub of ice cream straight from the carton, then don’t do that at home either.
  • Stay hydrated. The body will ALWAYS do what it thinks is best to protect you. Strive for a state of homeostasis to reduce your body’s urge to produce additional, unnecessary stress hormones.

Community support

  • Continue to foster close personal interactions, even if they’re virtual. Remember that the informal personal sharing that can easily and naturally happen in the workplace, at a party or at the gym needs to be curated now. Invite your friend on a virtual coffee date (or happy hour) via FaceTime or Google Hangouts. It’s less weird than you think.
  • Discover how you can continue to buy local. Many of our small businesses are going to take a major hit during this time of social distancing. Can you buy a gift card from your favorite coffee shop for future use? Most businesses are sharing via social media how they can continue to serve you.

Environmental wellness

  • Open your windows. While you might not be able to spend much of your time outside, make sure to keep your windows open and air moving through your space. Not only is air circulation important for staying healthy, but it’s a great way to feel less physically cut off from the world outside.
  • Create separation between work and life. If you can no longer “leave the office” you need to hide the office. When you’re done with work for the day, pack up your stuff and put it away. The visual of your open laptop and shuffled papers triggers those fear thoughts inside your head like tiny little lions.
  • Set up an ergonomic workstation. While bleach and Purell might be sold out on Amazon, ergonomic laptop stands are not. While the couch might seem like the comfiest work spot at first, it can lead to some serious back and neck pain after eight hours.

Financial health

  • Take some time to reflect. It’s not often that we’re forced out of our normal spending habits all at once. While this is undeniably a time of financial uncertainty for many of us, it’s an important opportunity to reflect on the role money plays in our lives. Take some time to consider your personal values. What is important to you? Is that reflected in how you normally spend? What changes could you make that would positively impact the quality of your life?
  • Don’t hoard. Today is not the day to blow your life savings at Costco. There is currently no sign that food retailers will be running out of food, but you might be making your neighbors uncomfortable if they can’t buy toilet paper.

At the end of the day, what we can do right now is what many of us strive to do every day: Take time to appreciate the goodness of life, connect with others, set healthy boundaries, and care for your body. This highly challenging situation, like everything else in life, will eventually change. While we may not be able to control everything, we can find joy and ease in any moment.


On the Goga is hosting a free virtual workshop series starting Wednesday, March 25, on ways to stay happy and healthy at home. Register online.

Aly Goldstein, MS, M.Ed, executive coach; Caitlyn Williams, E-RYT 500; Eugenie George, M.B.A., CFEI; and Olivia Neeley, RD, LDN, contributed tips to this article.

Series: Coronavirus

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