Coping with the Stress of COVID-19

March 16, 2020, 9:33 am | David Brown

By David Brown, Behavioral Health State Specialist, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Over the past few weeks, we have been bombarded with information about preparing for and protecting ourselves from being infected with COVID-19, a disease caused by the new coronavirus. The key messages have been about handwashing, not touching your face, limiting travel, cleaning and disinfecting, and staying home from work if you feel ill.  

However, some individuals are more prone to experience stress reactions if they see or hear repeated messages about the outbreak in the media or online. We may begin to worry more about our own health status and that of our loved ones. This fear could interfere with sleeping, eating and our ability to concentrate. It could also lead to increased use of alcohol or other drugs. 

Take care of yourself

senior man talking by phone by LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/, there are very good recommendations on how to take care of yourself during such times of stress. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following advice.  

  • Avoid excessive exposure to media coverage about COVID-19. Keep informed, but try to limit the amount of news you take in about COVID-19, whether it is from social media, television, radio, newspapers or magazines.  
  • Take care of your body. Eat well-balanced meals, get plenty of rest and build physical activity into your day.  
  • Connect with others. Talk to family members, friends or trusted colleagues about your concerns. Maintain important relationships. For example, go on a date with your partner or spouse.  
  • Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking. Optimism helps us to approach unpleasant circumstances in a more encouraging and helpful way.
  • Do not be afraid of asking for help. This is especially important if such media contact is influencing your ability to take care of yourself and your family. 

Support your children 

There are also many things parents can do to support their children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provides the following advice.  

  • Take time to talk with your children and reassure them. Answers questions and share basic facts they can understand. Let them know it is OK to feel worried and share the positive ways you are coping with stress.  
  • Limit your child’s exposure to media coverage about COVID-19. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be scared about something they do not understand.  
  • Maintain a routine as best as possible. Try to maintain regular activities, which bring a sense of stability to the child.  
  • Be a role model. Follow the recommendations on how to support yourself. 

Access helpful resources

Iowa Concern, offered by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, provides confidential access to stress counselors and an attorney for legal education, as well as information and referral services for a wide variety of topics. With a toll-free phone number, live chat capabilities and a website, Iowa Concern services are available 24 hours a day, seven days per week at no charge. To reach Iowa Concern, call 800-447-1985; language interpretation services are available. Or, visit the website,, to live chat with a stress counselor one-on-one in a secure environment. Or email an expert regarding legal, finance, stress, or crisis and disaster issues.

211 is a free, comprehensive information and referral line linking Iowa residents to health and human service programs, community services, disaster services and governmental programs. This service is collaborating with the Iowa Department of Public Health to provide confidential assistance, stress counseling, education and referral services related to COVID-19 concerns.  

The Disaster Distress Helpline provides crisis counseling and support for anyone in the U.S. experiencing distress or other behavioral health concerns related to any natural or human-caused crisis. Calls (1-800-985-5990) and texts (text “TalkWithUs” to 66746) are answered by network crisis centers, who provide psychological first aid, crisis assessment and intervention, and referrals to local behavioral health services for follow-up care and support.


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