Cristina Bautista, of League City, has been so anxious about the state of the world that she recently took on a new hobby — gardening.
“This is really getting to me,” she said. “I’m used to taking my kids to the park and being out all the time. But since my father was a landscaper, and I figured gardening was in my blood, I’ve just started collecting plants during this. I’m starting a vegetable garden.”
Amid a torrent of news and grim predictions about the coronavirus pandemic spreading across the country, many Galveston County residents stuck inside with limited options have turned to new hobbies and creative solutions to manage their anxiety.
“It’s definitely different than normal life,” said Chelsea Padilla, of League City. “The last couple of days, especially, I’ve felt more anxious and more of a sense of anxiety related to this, specifically.”
Feeling anxious about that which is unknown or unpredictable is a common human emotion — one shared by a large part of the population today in response to the coronavirus pandemic, said John P. Vincent, director of the center for forensic psychology at the University of Houston.
“Indeed, it’s hard to look away from it,” Vincent said. “A lot of us like to focus on the things we are looking forward to, or excited about, in the future. And what’s happened now is that kind of all bets are off, when you have things like the Olympics and the rodeo being canceled.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include:
• Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
• Changes in sleep or eating patterns
• Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
• Worsening of chronic health problems
• Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs
Bautista has a history of health issues, including asthma and stroke, and has taken calls for social distancing to heart, she said.
“I’ve just been trying to keep home because I understand I’m at a high risk of getting sick,” she said.
Stuck at home, Bautista has felt her anxiety levels jump significantly with all of the news she’s watching and reading about the virus, she said.
“It’s really upsetting,” she said. “I want to be able to leave the house and go somewhere and relax, but I can’t.”
Hence, the growing vegetable garden outside of her residence.
Padilla has never received a clinical diagnosis but says she has always felt more anxious than the average person and has developed strategies over the years to help her cope with that.
“Before all this, I used to run a lot,” she said. “It helps me reset my brain, by distracting me. But it’s also a time when possible solutions pop into my head.”
Padilla now runs on the treadmill but also has taken up gardening like Bautista and is reading fun novels to keep her mind occupied, she said.
All of these are useful ideas, Vincent said.
“Managing the mental side of this is key, taking some breaks to relax and let anxiety subside and recalibrating are really useful things,” he said.
Stressed-out people might be best served keeping routines and taking up activities that allow them to be creative but also feel like they’re accomplishing something, Vincent said.
“It’s not about the what ifs, but the what is,” he said. “Just try to maintain the best attitude you can each day and reduce that natural catastrophizing tendency.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control cautions that people with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms.
Those who are feeling stressed specifically as a result of the pandemic or mobility restrictions put into place help stop or slow its spread, however, can find many ways to mitigate the anxiety, according to the CDC. These include:
• Taking breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
• Taking care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs.
• Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
• Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
The CDC also advises that people call their health care provider if stress gets in the way of their daily activities for several days in a row.