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Stress has always been an aspect of life. A person can get stressed with either work or daily life. With the COVID-19 pandemic, stress has become a greater part of what is affecting people of all ages.

Recently, Puerto Rico also experienced the impact of Tropical Storm Isaias, which increased our already high stress levels.

As medical experts warn: fear and anxiety can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has taken note of this and has offered information about dealing with stress in this “new normal” and healthy ways to cope with it.

A new pandemic can be particularly stressful. “The fear and anxiety about a new disease and what could happen can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions on adults and children. The public health actions, such as social distancing, can make people feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety, even though these actions do help reduce the spread of Covid-19,” states the CDC in its website.

When Dr. Enrique Gelpi, a child psychologist at the San Jorge Children’s Hospital, was asked what is the main source of stress during this pandemic, he replied that “one of the most significant of these stress producing variables is the feeling of uncertainty that the pandemic has brought in almost every aspect of our lives. From daily living routines to academic, social and job-related dynamics, basically every important part of our existence has been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 virus.”

Some other signs, according to the CDC, that a person is suffering stress during the pandemic can be:

- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, your financial situation or job, or loss of support services you rely on.

- Changes in sleep or eating patterns.

- Difficulty sleeping and concentrating.

- Worsening of chronic and mental health problems.

- Increased use of tobacco, and/or alcohol, or other substances.

Not all people react the same way to stress. A person’s response “can depend on their background, social support from family or friends, financial situation, health and emotional background, the community a person lives in, and many other factors. The changes that can happen because of the pandemic and the ways we try to contain the spread of the virus can affect anyone,” according to the CDC.

An example of how people react differently to stress can be seen in children, as they react to what they see from their parents or caregivers. If parents are dealing with the issue in a calm and confident matter, they can help their children cope better. Parents who are better prepared can be more reassuring to others around them.

Now, the good thing is that with stress, there’s always a healthy way to cope. Gelpi advises that some positive ways of coping with stress include:

- Stick to routines and, if necessary, establish new ones.

- When feeling desperate, look for help or talk to someone.

- Try to exercise or do some physical activity daily.

- Be sure to expose yourself to the sun and do not stay for too long in a close and dark area.

- Establish good eating habits.

- Reduce the exposure to screens, video games and technology.

- Integrate applications that can coach you daily to maintain good mental health, establish positive thoughts and use other approaches to stress management such as: mindfulness, relaxation techniques, music, art or others.

From all the information acquired from the CDC, and the recommendations from Gelpi, the best option that people can have to diminish stress is to take a break from all the stressors that are around them, from news stories to worries, and relax.

The pandemic is not yet controlled and until a vaccine is developed, we will all have to manage our stress loads. Focus on finding positive ways to cope with tough situations and perhaps we can even thrive in these hard times.

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