Dr. Ezemenari Obasi, Director of HRI, speaks about ways to manage stress during COVID-19 social distancing.

As social distancing directives continue and COVID-19 diagnoses mount, so do our stress levels. Ezemenari Obasi, a counseling psychology professor and director of the HEALTH Research Institute at the University of Houston, suggests that people can manage stress by putting it to good use. 

“Stress is nature’s way of mobilizing our resources to take on life’s challenges,” said Obasi, who also serves as associate dean for research in the College of Education. “In the case of COVID-19, we can take this extra energy and focus it on best practices – such as washing hands often, avoiding close contact with others and disinfecting surfaces – for protecting our families and preventing the spread of this virus.” 

While people typically associate stress with being all bad, Obasi explains that stress at its core is neutral. It’s designed to help the body confront a problem. Think of the classic fight-or-flight situation. If danger approaches, stress can help you run faster than you thought possible. Still, Obasi said, too much stress can cause wear-and-tear on the body, reducing its ability to work effectively and heal during sleep and, thus, increase chances of contracting an illness. 

“While stress is not bad on its face, it’s still extremely important to manage stress,” Obasi said. “While it can be difficult during an unprecedented situation like COVID-19, we can make stress work for us and practice strategies for reducing stress.” 

Obasi offers several strategies for managing stress: 

  • Use the energy from stress to focus on healthy practices such as good hygiene and social distancing 
  • Limit exposure to round-the-clock news coverage 
  • Check-in on and connect with family, friends and others in need 
  • Talk about how you’re feeling with others. It’s important to not feel alone and to connect with others, even through online methods (FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, etc.) 
  • Now is the time to implement all the health promotion activities you’ve been wanting to start such as walking, other exercising, having a balanced diet and getting enough sleep 
  • Try to commit to a daily routine to build back a sense of normalcy  
  • Minimize or eliminate caffeine, alcohol, nicotine or other drugs used to cope 
  • Consider stress-reduction activities such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, yoga or mindfulness.