Psychotherapist Laurie Nadel offers guidance to spot and counter feelings of stress during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Jeff Truesdell
April 24, 2020 12:20 PM
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The ramped-up stress placed on health-care professionals and other essential workers on the job during the country’s response to COVID-19 is not limited to their ranks.

Anxieties test everyone in a pandemic, Laurie Nadel, a psychotherapist who specializes in the effects of trauma, tells PEOPLE. Jobs have been lost or put on hold; kids who would be in school are finishing classes on the couch; parents and couples who go their own ways to work may be forced to spend full days sharing confined spaces under stay-at-home orders; reduced income means hard choices about where to spend the money.

“You may find that it’s difficult to eat, it’s difficult to sleep, focus, concentrate, a feeling that another shoe is about to drop, a loss of appetite, a desire to numb out with drugs or alcohol,” says Nadel, author of The Five Gifts: Discovering Hope, Healing and Strength When Disaster Strikes. “There’s a tendency to isolate and withdraw from other people when we get overwhelmed by disturbing events, which can also be disturbing to people who are witnessing these events by seeing them online or on TV.”

To read more about coping in the midst of the pandemic, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday.

Nadel shares several tips to recognize and counter those feelings:

Keep a schedule and eat well

“It’s really important to maintain as normal a schedule as possible,” she says. “Even though we’re under stay-at-home orders or isolation, try to have lunch with somebody via Zoom. Don’t eat at your desk. Choose your food. Even if you don’t feel like eating, making food choices gives you a sense of control over something in life that you can control.”

Engage with others

“Talking is really the best medicine for feelings of helplessness and traumatic stress. Be aware that people do care. It helps you understand that whatever you’re feeling is normal.”

“Empathy is the universal donor,” says Nadel. “It keeps us strong, it keeps us courageous, and it keeps us connected.”

Take short walks or stretch

“It can be difficult when you’re exhausted. Even if you just shake out your hands, something that gets your attention away from your head can help take the edge off for a few seconds.”

Seek moments to relax

“Find ways, even five minutes a day, to replenish yourself in some way,” she says. “Close your eyes and take yourself back to the best vacation you’ve ever had. Hang out with a pet, or talk to a friend. Whether you just close your eyes and listen to music or light a candle and look at the flame for a few minutes, that will help.”

Narrow your attention

“This takes just a few seconds. Focus on your feet and just feel your feet rubbing against the floor. It literally grounds your emotions and will help to clear out any agitation or anxiety.”

Don’t make big life decisions

“This is not the time to go on a self-improvement program, to make significant life changes,” she says. “Disasters are amplifiers. Any kind of a disaster can put tremendous pressure on family relationships and marriages. A lot of relationships break up, but people can suddenly decide to get married as well.” Think twice.

  • Reporting by CAITLIN KEATING

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