4 women share their experiences with stress caused by the COVID pandemic

We asked four women to reflect on the stress they’re feeling during the pandemic, how it affects them and what helps them find joy in the midst of uncertainty.

Key takeaways

  • COVID-19 has taken a toll on our lives in every imaginable way—emotionally, physically, socially and financially.
  • Many months into the pandemic, we need new approaches to building resilience and hope into our daily lives.
  • Four women share how they’re “really” doing and ways to make space for self-care. 

[4 MIN READ]

After months of pandemic-induced stress, many of us are struggling to feel hopeful and optimistic. Whether you’re missing the everyday routines of life, apprehensive about how online schooling is affecting your children’s mental health (and eyes!), the pervasive social unrest or frustrated by conflicting attitudes toward social distancing and mask-wearing, you are certainly not alone. We sat down with four women (some of whom work at Providence) to talk about the stresses they’re facing—and how they are coping.

The triggers that knock us down

Dealing with pandemic-related stressors can be draining mentally and physically, to say the least. Over time, this leads to emotional exhaustion—which makes us more susceptible to triggers that cause anxiety, frustration or fear. 

Exhaustion means you’re less equipped to face normal challenges, let alone the new problems everyone is dealing with.

“Exhaustion means you’re less equipped to face normal challenges, let alone the new problems everyone is dealing with,” says Sarah a healthcare marketing professional and mother in Seattle. “When I’m exhausted, anything can trigger a stress response—being unable to go to my favorite restaurant, not being able to travel, coping with uncertain and moving targets when it comes to work-related goals, too many ‘new normals.’ I just don’t think humans are wired to withstand this much stress with no breaks.” 

Spending too much time on social media and dealing with misinformation can trigger a stress response too, says Marguerite, a social media professional. “Seeing posts that make broad statements with no source listed or reading two posts that state completely different ‘facts’—that makes me so mad,” she says. “Being online also exposes you to hardships outside your own sphere, like how native tribes don’t have access to vaccines right now. It’s hard enough to deal with my own challenges, but seeing how other people are suffering is very upsetting as well.”

It’s hard enough to deal with my own challenges, but seeing how other people are suffering [online] is very upsetting as well.

For others, triggers include being overwhelmed at work, something that’s especially true for healthcare workers. “The additional responsibilities related to caring for people with COVID-19 has created so much extra work on top of our usual patient care,” says Ellen, a clinical project manager and mother of three. “Having too many days in a row of working or being on call is a trigger for me. Then I go home and see how distance learning is affecting my kids—I can work myself into a spiral about that. It takes a lot of self-talk to remind myself how fortunate my family is.”

How stress affects us

In the midst of a complicated public health emergency and societal unrest, many of us are doing, feeling and saying things that surprise even ourselves. “It has been humbling and nerve-wracking to struggle to find peace or hopefulness, or at least some aspect of normalcy,” explains Meghan, a dietitian in Southern California. “I have found myself in several instances feeling extremely unsettled, melancholy, even tearful — definitely less joyful than usual.”

It has been humbling and nerve-wracking to struggle to find peace or hopefulness, or at least some aspect of normalcy.

Sarah says she has a shorter fuse and frequently finds herself on the edge of an angry outburst. “I lack the level of patience I used to have, and I am short and abrupt with my family members,” she explains. “I am always looking for ways to fix everything. Should I buy something (retail therapy)? Should I quit my job? Should I get a divorce? Should I paint my walls, cut my hair, rearrange the furniture?”

Pandemic-related stress can make us less able to respond in healthy ways. We can all relate to Sarah, who admits to watching too much TV, avoiding exercise and drinking alcohol more frequently than is typical for her. Not coincidentally, she’s gained about 20 pounds since March—which only compounds her feelings of frustration.

Coping skills for the next phase

Stress is a normal part of life, and our bodies are equipped to deal with it—to a point. Psychologists use the term “surge capacity” to describe the mental and physical resources humans draw on to survive stressful situations and build resilience. But this capacity is typically reserved for short-term crises, such as natural disasters. Managing a longer-term emergency such as COVID-19 (9-months!) requires a different approach that focuses on self-care and being kind to yourself. After all, it’s the first global pandemic for any of us to live through. 

Managing a longer-term emergency such as COVID-19 (9-months!) requires a different approach that focuses on self-care and being kind to yourself.

The women we spoke to realize the importance of self-care and are building it into their lives. Ellen’s “go-to” is exercise — an excellent choice in that it improves fitness, boosts endorphins (a “feel good” hormone) and provides much-needed ‘me time.’ “As difficult as it has been to maintain a usual routine due to gym closures and restrictions, I have made it a priority to get exercise daily,” she says. “Thank goodness my gym is very creative about safely hosting outdoor workouts, come heat, rain, wind and even a bit of smoke!”

Meghan has combined walking for exercise with prayer—something she says has helped her feel better physically and spiritually. “I come back feeling so much lighter and in a much more positive mind-space,” she says. “I also started keeping a gratitude journal. Writing in it lifts my spirits. Praise and prayer help me find peace again—God is always there with open arms to comfort and strengthen me and give me renewed joy!”

I indulge in a good cry. I listen to music that reminds me of happier, more carefree times—maybe dance a bit in my home office when no one is looking.

For Sarah, it’s about learning to create space for herself and not feel like she’s being selfish when she does. “I read self-help content online, or watch the Hallmark Channel or rom-coms,” she says. “I indulge in a good cry. I listen to music that reminds me of happier, more carefree times—maybe dance a bit in my home office when no one is looking. I ‘get ready for work’ as I used to when I went into the office every day. Putting on ‘real’ clothes, jewelry and make-up can perk me up and make things seem almost normal again—even if only temporarily.”

And finally, Marguerite has realized how important it is to limit her exposure to social media and protect her emotional and mental health. “Breathing techniques and meditation help me reset, and I’m trying to be outside as much as possible,” she says. “Faith and reading scripture are so important, too. I participate in weekly Zoom community gatherings as part of my routine. Even though our meetings are virtual, they make a difference to my outlook.”

A powerful yet simple relaxation technique

“Box breathing” is an easy, practical technique that can help return your breathing to its normal rhythm in stressful situations. Try it next time you are feeling tense or anxious.

  • From a seated or standing position, slowly inhale through your nose. Hold your breath and count to four.
  • Slowly exhale through your mouth or nose. Hold your breath and count to four.
  • Repeat at least three times—or until calm returns.

You can also try diaphragmatic breathing, especially if you are having breathing trouble due to anxiety or wearing a mask.

Your primary care provider can connect you with support, community organizations and resources to help you cope during these stressful times. Providence primary care centers are open and provide a safe environment for in-person care. 

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If you prefer telemedicine, consider using Providence Express Care Virtual, which connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms and provide instruction and follow-up as needed.

Related resources

Lessons in resilience: A comedian shares her story

Insights and advice for managing uncertainty

Science based-tips for resilience during the coronavirus crisis

Tips for beating stress eating

Community resources to help you cope

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Women's Health team is committed to providing useful and actionable insights, tips and advice to ensure women of all types can live their healthiest lives.

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