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COVID-19: Upheaval got you down? Some ways of reducing stress

Yesterday I had a life-altering experience: I left my house to do errands. Having been at home since March 12, the experience of a store, post office and small grocery store (I didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to go to the IGA) were quite traumatic. This was a new world. One composed of hand-washing stations, directional arrows and Plexiglas. Before this excursion there were many moral calculations. Questions like “Is this trip absolutely necessary?” and “Is it responsible to go out today?” circled my mind. “All those decisions could be leading some to feel moral fatigue,” according to Fordham University law and philosophy professor Michael Baur. “The sorts of things we regard as normal and natural can no longer be treated that way, and so the framework is now being rethought, revised, reworked,” he recently told CBC Radio.

We are now surrounded by a never-ending, ever-changing stream of new protocols, and the daily upheavals of everyday rituals are unsettling. So what do you do? There are a few ways to relieve this stress. One is to focus on what you can control. You cannot control those around you but you can control risks to yourself. Follow social distancing protocols, wear a mask and carry your own sanitizer. Using calming techniques is another way to reduce anxiety. For example, deep breathing exercises and “body scan” meditations can be done before you leave your house or in your car in the parking lot before you enter the store. These can help you relax. A video on YouTube called Body Scan Meditation by GoZen is a good one and is only about six minutes long; or try Coping Skill: 5,4,3,2,1 Grounding Technique, also on YouTube.


Based on estimates of the effects of the SARS outbreak in 2003, Health Canada data predict that 11 million Canadians could experience high levels of stress due to COVID-19. PHOTO Yvonne Lewis Langlois


COVID-19 has also introduced us to another stressor, “Zoom fatigue.” We are all spending a lot of time online in Zoom meetings, online get-togethers, or online chats. “Video calls require more focus than face-to-face chats,” says Gianpiero Petriglieri, associate professor at Insead University. “Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language. Paying attention to these consumes a lot of energy,” Petriglieri explains. The online chat “is like you are watching TV and TV is watching you. The video call is also a reminder of the people we have lost temporarily.” Some tips to alleviate Zoom fatigue are simple. Limit video chats to those that are essential. Turn off your camera when you can or situate your screen off to the side instead of straight ahead: this creates the experience of being in the adjoining room at a meeting and is less tiring. Schedule transition periods between online meetings when you can stretch, get a drink or take a walk outside.

If you have noticed that your stress level has increased lately, you are not alone. According to Nadia Anjachak, a doctoral student in clinical psychiatry at the Université de Sherbrooke, coping methods that were helpful at the start of this crisis are often not working for us any longer. The nightly alcoholic beverage no longer lightens your mood. The adrenaline rush that was your initial response is depleted and your sleeping habits are changing. “You have to re-examine how you were coping,” she says. Anjachak outlines some simple exercises that you can incorporate into your day to help. Two kinds of activities that can help boost your mood, she says, are “mastery activities” and “pleasure activities.” Mastery activities make you feel like you have accomplished something — planting a garden or organizing a closet, for example. Pleasure activities are simply those that bring you pleasure, like sitting in the sun or listening to music. The “three good things” exercise can also help, Anjachak says. Each night write down three good things that happened in your day or three things that you are thankful for. This helps you to focus on the positive.

There are also some basic things you can put in place to alleviate stress, she adds. Stay connected with friends and family, but don’t let the coronavirus dominate your conversations. Take walks in nature and help others. Kind acts make you feel better.

Anjachak points out that it is important to recognize when to seek help. “When things start to affect your functioning or if you have thoughts of hurting yourself, something is changing.” She suggests some resources:

The Argyle Institute in Montreal is offering free online private psychotherapy sessions. Go to or

The Quebec government website has a coronavirus /stress/anxiety information page.
Free apps for easy and quick meditations are available through the Appstore: Insight Timer, Headspace, Calm, iBreathe.

Keep in mind what Epictetus, the Greek philosopher, said in 1 AD: “It is not events which disturb the minds of men, but the view they take of them.”


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