American Sociological Association

ASA Footnotes

A publication of the American Sociological AssociationASA News & Events
May/June 2020

Strategies for Managing Stress during a Storm

Tanya Golash-Boza, Professor of Sociology and Chair of Public Health, University of California-Merced

As I am writing this, we are in the midst of a global pandemic. Everything has changed. I haven’t been to campus in weeks. My daughter in high school has had weeks without any word from her teachers. My daughters in college have come back home and have all of their instruction online. My home office has become my permanent office. Nevertheless, I have regained a sense of normalcy, which has been important for my mental health.  Here I’ll share some of the practices that have helped me.  These practices may or may not be feasible for you right now, but I encourage you to ask: is there anything you can implement into your life right now that would help you return to a state of normalcy? Is there anything you can stop doing?

During this pandemic, everyone’s new normal will look different. My new normal has been facilitated by my continued financial stability, the fact that I have a separate room in my house designated as my office, the relative independence of my daughters – who range in age from 16 to 19, and the fact that I have a partner who shares household responsibilities with me.

Despite these factors working in my favor, it took some work to get to where I am now. After spending a couple of weeks in a downward spiral of checking the news, following the local, national, and global COVID-19 trackers, reading all the backstories on the origin of the virus, watching Contagion and Pandemic, and constantly checking Twitter and Facebook, I decided I could not go on like this. I needed to make some changes. 

I made a list of things that have kept me healthy and sane in the past and vowed to try and do at least one of them every day for a week. At the same time, I was engaging in some practices that I knew were not good for me, so I also wrote down a list of things I needed to avoid in order to stay healthy and happy.

Here is my list of practices that, in the past, have helped me to preserve my mental and physical health: sleep eight hours, walk 10,000 steps, go for a jog, do 30 minutes of yoga, have a meal with my family, go to happy hour with friends, talk with friends on the phone, read or listen to a novel, go on a nature hike, bake, meditate for 10 minutes.

Here is a list of things I can avoid in order to preserve my mental health: checking social media in the morning, reading the news in the morning, checking email first thing in the morning, drinking alcohol, eating junk food, using the phone before bedtime. 

In the first week, I promised to try and do one positive thing and avoid one negative thing each day. I wrote them down on a wall calendar each day to keep track.

Starting small was critical for me. For the first week, I got in 10,000 steps every day by going on two to three walks around my neighborhood park. I live in a small town and it is still possible to go on walks and stay more than six feet away from others. I also stopped checking the news and social media in the morning. 

I felt a lot better and thus decided I could do a bit more the second week. The second week, I added in yoga, getting eight hours of sleep, and avoiding email in the mornings.  I’ve since added a daily 30-minute jog and turning off all devices an hour before bedtime, among other steps. 

These practices made me feel so much better. They also allowed me to refocus on my work, which in turn helped me to regain a sense of normalcy. Adding practices in one by one also made getting back on track feel more feasible.

I also got back into writing in stages. At first, I only worked on things that were of immediate benefit to others. The first week, I worked on writing letters of recommendation and completing manuscript and tenure reviews. The second week, I returned my focus to co-authored manuscripts because I knew these were of benefit to others (as well as myself).

I know there is a global pandemic going on right now. I also know that constantly worrying about it isn’t going to help. What are some small and big changes you can make to get through these difficult times?