Coronavirus: How to cope with stress, anxiety during COVID-19 pandemic

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- As the novel coronavirus upends the lives of Americans across the country, many are feeling stress brought on by the pandemic.

A recent poll from the American Psychiatric Association shows Americans are struggling with anxiety.

The poll found four in 10 are anxious of becoming seriously ill or dying, five in 10 Americans are anxious about contracting coronavirus and six in 10 are anxious about family members getting the virus.

Additionally, concerns are mounting over the next paycheck, mounting bills and social isolation.

"Anxiety and stress is our body's way of telling us to pay attention," said therapist Jamie Schenk DeWitt.

She added it has never been more important to pay attention to your mental health.

"It is absolutely possible to be under stress and not know it," DeWitt said.

Extreme anxiousness can trigger a fight, flight or freeze response in the body, releasing high levels of adrenaline and cortisol, making it difficult to calm down. It can even lead to panic attacks.

"You're having a disruption in sleep, you're having a change in appetite, if you're feeling more irritable, if you're feeling a tightness in your chest, you know, those are all cues, again, that your body is saying pay attention, I'm feeling anxious," DeWitt said.

Acknowledging stress and anxiety is the first step. Identifying the root of it comes next.

DeWitt advises giving yourself the space and time to face your fears.

"You know, we're all in this together. There's no shame around the things that are happening to us and that we're all feeling," she said.

Then, take action.

"Exercise, breathing, socializing online on your phone, connecting with people, reaching out to a therapist, sleeping if you can. That helps so much with being able to relax your nervous system," DeWitt said. "Eating well. Those are a bunch of things we can do for ourselves right now."

If you're not comfortable talking to others about your fears, journaling can help by getting your thoughts on paper first thing in the morning.

"Don't even go back and read them. It's just a way to purge the stuff that's spiraling around in your head so that you have a release for it and you're not holding it in your body," DeWitt said.

She added, "I wish I could just give a prescription like, if you do this, this and this, you'll eventually feel better. But it's taking all of these steps that truly do not cost any money, that are going to accumulate to helping you find a path forward."

If you feel you need to speak to a therapist, there are several low-cost counseling services in Los Angeles. They can be found online.

There are also meditation and relaxation apps available.

The takeaway is to address your anxiety before it becomes overwhelming.
Copyright © 2020 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.