Published May 5, 2020 | With a crisis like the ongoing pandemic, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by stress. So what should you do to manage stress during a pandemic? In the PKD Foundation’s new webcast series, we asked Rogosin Institute’s Director of Behavioral Health Daniel Cukor, Ph.D., to address stress concerns from the PKD community. Let’s dive into his recommended strategies for how to manage stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stress and PKD
Stress is a large side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and it can be difficult to balance. As stress loads increase, so does the strain on the body to mentally and physically respond (the concept of allostatic load). It can be challenging to sustain over time. With PKD, there are additional challenges beyond daily life demands (finances, family dynamics, etc.) such as the effort needed to maintain wellness. This extra strain impacts the balance of our social, biological, and psychological health.
In a study done on 135 ADPKD patients in England, they evaluated how depression versus EGFR predicted responses in the body. They found that over time depression, more than eGFR, was predictive of pain, sleep, quality of life, and mental/physical functioning scores. When people feel well, they are able to do well. When they feel depressed, mental and physical health suffers.
Strategies to Manage Daily Needs During a Pandemic
While worrying is natural during the COVID-19 pandemic, worry exists to prompt us into action. That’s why we create savings accounts, establish life insurance policies, etc. Productive worry during a pandemic means frequently washing your hands, practicing social distancing, and wearing a mask in public places. But it’s easy to fall into a worry spiral—unproductive worry. If you can’t change it, there’s no value in worrying about it. Try and find ways to get your mind off your troubles. While it might feel unnatural to do nothing and stay home watching TV, think of it as a positive action. By following CDC recommendations and staying home, you’re still taking an active response.
New developments on the pandemic hit headlines everyday. Focusing on the present versus the future is also needed to help us cope with the stress. Ask yourself, “What do I need to do for myself to be safe today, this week?” Since we don’t know what next week may bring, concentrate on the present and what you need now with the information available.
Taking Care of Caregivers
Whether you’re working on the front lines or caring for family at home, it’s important that caregivers also receive support. Caregiver burnout increases in times of crisis, and it’s vital to prioritize your own wellbeing to continue providing quality care to others. Here are a few things to look out for:
- Feeling overwhelmed, constantly worried
- Tired too often
- Getting too much or not enough sleep
- Gaining/losing weight
- Feeling sad
- Headaches/bodily pain
- Abusing alcohol/drugs
If you’re experiencing some of these signs, talk to your healthcare professional. To prevent feeling overwhelmed, follow these helpful tips.
- Take time/space for yourself to recharge
- Accept help
- Focus on what you’re able to provide
- Get connected
- Seek social support
- Set personal/family health goals
By focusing on their wellbeing, caregivers can avoid burnout in times of high stress.
As we all spend more time at home, it’s easy to feel lonely and disconnected. Combating loneliness starts with managing our time. We all have a list of “things to do when I have time.” Now’s that time. Whether it’s learning a new language, taking up knitting, or fixing things around the house, each of us can channel our time into being productive. We need to challenge ourselves to create ways of remaining connected and infusing meaning in our lives.
While we might not be seeing people in person, technology is here to keep us connected. Text or call friends you haven’t spoken to in a while. Set up a Zoom meeting or virtual game night with your family. With today’s technology, there are countless ways we can still interact with our loved ones.
Helping Children Manage Stress
Though it depends on their age, limiting exposure to COVID-19 news and stress helps children cope during the pandemic. It’s helpful and healthy to keep conversations more positive so that children adopt that behavior. Emphasizing what’s in their control, like washing their hands and practicing social distancing, is important in empowering kids to feel they’re safe and healthy.
With big changes to children’s daily life, it’s also essential to create a regular routine. Establishing bedtimes, setting a meal schedule, and implementing family time, help create a sense of normalcy. In general, kids also need physical activity, social connectedness, and intellectual stimulation. Create opportunities to stay active by taking a family walk. Set up a Skype call to bring them face to face with their peers. By finding creative ways to keep children challenged and engaged, we can help them cope with these confusing times.
By choosing hope and developing a plan for coping, each of us can help manage our stress during a pandemic. It’s important to remember we’re all experiencing a shared trauma—this is temporary and life will get better. Though it’ll take time for things to become more normal, adopting these strategies can help manage our stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In living with PKD during the COVID-19 pandemic, there can be lots of questions. We’re committed to providing our community with important resources, including webcasts with healthcare specialists, and timely updates on social media. If you have questions or need help coping with PKD during this unprecedented health crisis, we’re here for you. Email or call (844) PKD-HOPE.