Stress in the Time of COVID-19

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Provided by Prince William County

Never-ending media coverage about COVID-19, uncertainty and fear of the unknown is almost sure to cause some level of stress or concern.

How Stress Manifests Itself

There are a number of ways stress manifests itself and causes problems in people. Among them:

  • fear and worry over health or the health of a loved one,
  • changes in eating and sleep patterns,
  • difficulty sleeping,
  • difficulty with concentration,
  • worsening chronic health problems and increased use of tobacco,
  • alcohol and other drugs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said those who can be most affected by the stress of during times of crisis include:

  • older people and people with chronic disease,
  • children and teens, doctors,
  • nurses and first responders who are helping treat others with COVID-19
  • and people with mental health or problems with substance abuse.

Prince William County Behavioral Health Wellness Supervisor Heather Martinsen said parents will recognize when their children are feeling stress with changes in behavior. “If something seems off, parents and people who know the children will know their personality and mannerisms. If something seems off, that’s where we need to be concerned.”

Mental Health

In the worst of cases, people who are at risk of suicide may find the increased stress of dealing with the disease and the uncertain times overwhelming.

The best thing people can do for someone who is at risk is to stay in contact with them, Martinsen said. “Calling someone to see how they’re feeling would be beneficial. Give them a call, Facetime with them – whatever you can do. Just say, ‘Hey, how are you? What do you need.'”

Martinsen said that there are resources available for those who are contemplating suicide. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. There is always someone on the line to talk with, day or night. The volunteers at the lifeline can connect people with local resources.

Action in the Community Through Service (ACTS) takes phone calls regarding suicide, crisis intervention for trauma, sexual assault, domestic violence, and substance abuse at its helpline at 703-368-4141.

There is also a Suicide Prevention Text line. Text HOME to 741741to connect with a trained person, or go to the Tap to Text at

Taking a break from reading or listening to the news, including social media, getting exercise and plenty of sleep, doing enjoyable activities and talking to trusted friends and family about concerns and feelings can help people cope with stress, according the CDC.

Martinsen said staying in touch through phone and video calls is a good way to deal with stress. “Reaching to people they trust and can connect with is a good thing. I think it’s really about making connections. If there’s someone you may not have to for a while, give them a call.”

Getting good, reliable and accurate information about COVID-19 from trusted sources such as the CDC, the World Health Organization, or WHO, along with state and local public health agencies, can also help people evaluate risk and cope with the threat of the disease.

Thinking back on other times of stress and adversity and using the skills learned then, can also alleviate worry and manage emotions, according to WHO.

For COVID-19 questions, call the Prince William Health District public information line, 703-872-7759, or visit


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