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Important: COVID-19 Booster & Visitor Policy

Stress Management While Practicing Social Distancing


Barbara R. Roth, LCSW-C

July 20, 2020
During one of the most stressful and unpredictable periods in our lifetime, the normal/typical activities and events that help us get through each day are no longer available, or are available in a more limited way. Virtual is helpful but is no substitute for human contact and interaction. Gone are the handshakes and hugs and visits with family and friends in person. Listed below are some stress management strategies that might be helpful during this difficult time. Not everything works the same way for everyone. Read these suggestions and then use your imagination to craft stress management strategies that work uniquely for you and your loved ones.

LAUGH: laughter is healing and can be a full body experience. Watch your favorite funny movies and TV shows; cartoon shows can bring back memories of childhood when life was a little simpler. Watch silly videos of cats and dogs doing goofy things. If you have children or young neighbors, play with them at home or at a park. Children love to play and learn by playing. At times, it is easier for mature adults to loosen up when interacting with children. Make a baby smile and laugh.

CREATIVITY: Creativity uses a different part of our brains. Think of it as a muscle that needs to be worked in order to grow stronger. Try to ignore the voice in your head that says, “I have no talent; I’m not good enough to do this.” Paint; write; knit; crochet; sew; quilt; color; complete a jigsaw or crossword puzzle; sing as if no one is listening; dance to your personal playlist. You can even learn to make your own coping playlist in this blog post from Sheppard Pratt. Work in a garden; nurture plants (learn more about the healing power of horticulture). The idea is to create something that is uniquely yours. Personalize your mask and gloves; use whatever you have around the house to make a pandemic collage; crochet a blanket for someone in a nursing home. Journal about your experience wearing a mask for the first time in public. Your brain will thank you.

SENSORY EXPERIENCES: Although our sense of smell is not as good as other mammals, it is our most powerful sensory organ and can remind us of experiences both pleasurable and nasty. The smell of the beach on a warm summer day; freshly mowed lawn; tomato soup and grilled cheese on a rainy day; freshly squeezed oranges or lemons; the smell of the air before the first winter snow storm; pine trees in the forest; apples and cinnamon in the fall; your beloved pet’s fur; a warm cup of coffee or tea for comfort. The idea is to find a favorite smell that calms and soothes. Many people rely on “essential oils.” What is your favorite smell? The same thinking can be used for visual, auditory, and taste experiences.

MOVEMENT: It goes without saying that humans were built to move around. Even during the most difficult days of the quarantine, we were encouraged to get outside and take a walk while maintaining social distance. Tension is stored in our muscles. What kind of movement helps you relieve stress. Walking? Running? Cardio classes online? Yoga and stretching? Riding a bicycle? Working in the garden? Even if your mobility is limited, there is gentle movement that can be done in a chair. Pick your favorite activity that gets your heart rate up a little and DO IT!

CONNECT: “We are not made for this New Normal. In perilous times, our deepest human impulse is to draw close to each other – the very thing we’ve been told not to do.” By Cynthia Gorney (National Geographic, July 2020)

We are humans and are brains are wired for connection to other humans. We are social beings even if we consider ourselves to be introverts. Connect to others in whatever way is possible at this time – here are some ideas for remaining connected from one of Sheppard Pratt’s occupational therapists. As fear of the virus subsides or our scientists bring us a vaccine and/or treatment, we will once again be able to move about freely, visit with loved ones, meet in person, and join our faith communities in prayer and song TOGETHER.

SPIRITUALITY: Many people believe that spirituality has to do with practicing a particular religious belief and it does mean that to some people. However, spirituality can have a broader definition that includes any ritual or tradition that a person finds “sacred.” For those who find comfort and connection in a more traditional faith community, continue to connect in whatever way is available until you are able to be together again in person. And for those who do not enjoy the more traditional spiritual practices, find something else that enhances your sense of wonder and awe and grace and helps you make sense of the parts of life that cannot always be explained through rational thought.

One of my favorite authors is Anne Lamott, particularly her book called The Three Essential Prayers: HELP; THANKS; WOW. Reading an inspirational author is also good for stress management.

And remember, if your stress is becoming unmanageable, it is OK to seek help. Whether you choose to see your Sheppard Pratt therapist at a GBMC Health Partners primary care location or want to seek more urgent care through Sheppard Pratt’s in-person or virtual Crisis Walk-In Clinic, know that help is available.

Barbara R. Roth, LCSW-C
Behavioral Health Care Manager
Sheppard Pratt Integrated Health at GBMC
GBMC Health Partners Primary Care - Perry Hall
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