Coping with Pandemic Stress

Coping with Pandemic Stress


By Olivia Nash-Dolby.

For many of us, the typical lockdown schedule can feel a bit like Groundhog Day: wake up, put on a pair of tracksuit pants and a business shirt, shake off-screen fatigue to prepare for a day of Zoom meetings, check the COVID-19 case numbers for the day, maybe get out for a walk on your lunch break. Perhaps you also have to manage your child’s remote learning whilst trying to squeeze some work in, or are in a share-house and have to take meetings in your bedroom. These situations are far from ideal and many Australians are struggling to manage stress as a result of the pandemic.

Also, FYI stress is a reaction to a stressor. Simply put, stress is what we feel when something that cerates stress i.e., a stressor occurs.

Stress is a normal and natural part of the human experience – in fact, it serves a very important purpose! For example, if a car in front of us suddenly stops (stressor), our body produces adrenaline and cortisol (the “stress hormones”) resulting in the “fight, flight or freeze” response (stress). This gives us focussed thinking and increased energy levels to help us respond in time and slam on our brakes.

As we can see, stress quite often comes to a natural end within a matter of minutes.

Problems occur when our stressors and therefore stress doesn’t let up. Ever-present and fluctuating stress because of the pandemic can keep us in a state of high alert and, aside from leading to an increased risk of physical health issues, can also cause increased levels of depression and anxiety.

But never fear! Here are a few quick and simple ways to change the way you respond to stress and to feel calmer within a matter of days:

  1. Be in cold water: Go for a swim in the ocean, a lake or a pool. If this isn’t possible, try running cold water for the last 30 seconds of your shower.
  2. Breathing exercises: Breath in through your nose for 5 seconds (making sure that you feel your ribcage expanding) and breathe out through your mouth for 10 seconds.
  3. Social connection: Put on your favourite song and get your family or housemates to join you in a dance party.
  4. Do things that you love: Small, familiar things to bring you joy. For example, gardening, cooking, journaling, painting etc.


These activities stimulate the vagus nerve, which is known as the “care-taking nerve” of the body. The vagus nerve constantly assesses our environment and influences how stressed we feel. It is the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us to feel relaxed in the “rest and digest” state. If the vagus nerve is activated in times of stress, it can help calm us and protect our bodies from the physical impacts of stress. This is important in COVID times when the outside world doesn’t always feel safe and the lockdown routine has removed many ways that we cope with stress.

The more we do activities that stimulate the vagus nerve, the more effective they will become in times of stress (think of it like training at the gym). Try to avoid stressful situations after you do these activities, so you stay in a relaxed state as long as possible.

This blog was written by Olivia Nash-Dolby, to learn more about Olivia’s experience, click here.

To book an appointment with Olivia or one of our other Psychologists, click here

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