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Managing coronavirus-related stress


As the new coronavirus continues to spread, so do feelings of stress and anxiety. Because many don’t know how they will be impacted, the uncertainty around the virus can be difficult to deal with.

“Depending on their age, personality traits and history, people react differently to stress,” said Shellie Fidell, Missouri Baptist Medical Center licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist.

Stress reactions can affect behavior and mood, as well as cause physical symptoms. If you are feeling the effects of stress from recent events, Shellie offers the following tips for coping and regaining balance.

#1 Limit media exposure.

To prevent information overload, stay informed but limit and take breaks from television, social media and other sources that broadcast news about the virus. Excessive news consumption typically does not provide additional or better information than if you check the news a couple of times a day.

“In today’s news cycle, we are flooded with information; a lot of it can be upsetting. For those experiencing stress, the constant reminders can result in overwhelming feelings, which can increase heightened stress and anxiety levels,” she explained.

Shellie added that relying on credible news sources like local health authorities, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO) can help lower feelings of panic and uncertainty.

MoBap along with BJC HealthCare is working in close partnership with local and state health departments, and following guidance from the CDC and WHO to give community members access to factual information and quality care.

“Furthermore, to reduce anxiety and fear, parents should also decide how much – and what – information to share with children so as not to overwhelm them,” Shellie cautioned.

#2 Stay connected.

Even though the community is practicing social distancing to minimize the risk of illness, Shellie says it’s important to remain connected to friends and family and not isolate oneself.

“Talking to trusted friends and loved ones through texting, phone calls and video calls can give support and perspective to someone experiencing stress,” she said. “Maintaining social connections can also boost happiness and lower anxiety and depression, even for introverts.”

She also advises sharing stories, laughing and talking about other things going on rather than centering the conversation around the virus.

Following her advice, Shelli has taken steps to remain connected. “I’ve started a virtual book club to stay in touch with friends. We chose a book to read and are scheduling a FaceTime call to discuss it.”

#3 Get physical activity and sunlight.

Physical activity is a proven coping technique for reducing stress. It can also improve sleep, as well as mood.

“If going outside for a bike ride, walk or run isn’t possible, there are several free online apps to help people become – or stay – active,” Shellie said. “Take this time to try something new, like Zumba, yoga or guided meditation.”

Shelli also recommends reaping the benefits of direct sunlight. “Spending too much time indoors under artificial light can cause feelings of sadness and tiredness,” she explained. “Stepping outside for fifteen minutes of sunlight and fresh air can help boost mood, energy and feelings of calm.”

#4 Focus on the present moment.

The current situation has left many feeling uncertain, worried and powerless about the future. To overcome these feelings, Shellie urges people to practice mindfulness by focusing on the present moment.

“Unlike the past or the future, the present is what we have control over,” she said. “I also encourage people to ask themselves, ‘What can I do today?’ The answer might be that today is the perfect time to declutter your home and ready items to donate to people in need. Helping others can make us feel better and help us gain a sense of control over our lives.”

As the community adjusts to changes in work and school schedules, focusing on the present moment also causes one to slow down. “If you find extra time in your day, fill it with an activity like reading, journaling, painting or coloring with your child, which can help to reduce feelings of stress.”

Ted Gallup, Missouri Baptist Medical Center physical therapist, adds that when experiencing stress reactions, relaxation is essential for helping the body cope. “Proper, deep breathing is perhaps the easiest and most important first step to help your body relax.”

In the article, “Mastering the Art of Proper Breathing,” Ted explains the deep breathing technique that can help keep stress in check and make intense experiences seem less threatening. To learn more, visit:

#5 Keep a routine.

Maintaining the structure of a daily routine can help people feel more in control during uncertain times. No matter what happens during the day, the stability of maintaining waking times, mealtimes and bedtimes can be a comfort.

“During this time, establishing a routine is important for adults, as well as kids,” Shellie said. “However, it’s important not to be too rigid with the structure. Give yourself latitude, and don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go exactly according to plan every day. These are different times.”

When to Seek Help

Shellie advises reaching out to your provider if you feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. “There are also hotlines like Behavioral Health Response that has 24/7 confidential telephone counseling to help people in a mental health crisis.” To learn more, visit: www.ddrb.org/resource/bhr-behavioral-health-response-crisis-hotline. Their hotline numbers are 314-469-6644 and 314-469-3638 (TTY).

The following resources can also provide help those who find themselves struggling during this time:

  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a Disaster Distress Helpline (800-985-5990) that provides 24/7 crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters. To Learn more, visit: www.samhsa.gov.

  2. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) operates a helpline that provides information on mental health conditions, treatment options, local programs, recovery strategies, resource referral and support. To learn more, visit: www.nami.org. Their toll-free helpline, 800-950-6264, is available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (EST). The St. Louis region has a NAMI chapter that can be reached at 314-962-4670.

This is a challenging time, and it is normal to feel heightened anxiety right now,” Shellie said. “By slowing down, knowing that you can only take this one day at a time, getting outside when possible and connecting to others virtually can help us focus productively on the concerns of the present instead of on unproductive ‘what-if’ scenarios of the future.”

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