Talking to an Expert: Stress During Coronavirus Disease

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Nicole Johnson

“Do we love the things that are happening around us and in our world? No. No, we don’t. Can we handle it, can we cope with it? Yes.” 

Dr. Nicole Johnson spoke about managing stress in the face of the coronavirus disease pandemic on JDRF’s Facebook Live March 27 event.

Watch the full, recorded livestream below. 

“Stress can cause negative outcomes with our diabetes care,” Dr. Johnson said. “You need to take care of yourself, so you are able to take care of your diabetes and of the diabetes that exists in your family.”

Dr. Johnson, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) in 1993, has dedicated her career to understanding and educating others about diabetes and its impacts on the psychosocial well-being of those both with and touched by the disease. She has a Doctor of Public Health degree, as well as master’s degree in Public Health and Communication. She serves as Senior Director of JDRF Research.

Dr. Johnson offered a list of 10 tips, interspersed with personal stories and thoughts shared by her 14-year-old daughter, Ava, who joined part of the broadcast.

Nicole Johnson, Ph.D, and her daughter, Ava, during the Facebook Live event on March 27
Nicole Johnson, Ph.D, and her daughter, Ava, during the Facebook Live event on March 27

Ten Tips to Keep Stress in Check–Even in a Pandemic

1. Connect with you doctor and follow CDC stay-healthy tips.

Doing all you can to protect yourself and your family should ease your worry level.

2. Do all the things that keep you healthy and help manage your T1D.

This includes eating well, exercising, sleeping.

“End your day on a positive note. If you go to bed feeling anxious, you are more likely to have disrupted sleep which is not wise for anyone, but especially for someone living with a medical condition.”

She recommended turning off the late-night news and instead reading a book or listening to music.

“Do something that makes you feel grounded, connected, peaceful.”

3. Find a non-judgmental person who will listen to your concerns.

“In isolation, and left unchecked or unexposed, our emotions can get the best of us.”

4. Ask for help if you need it.

“Asking someone to help you get through things, if you need it, is absolutely the right thing to do. This is a very difficult time for a lot of people.”

Dr. Jonson shared an American Diabetes Association link of healthcare practitioners trained in diabetes and mental health wellness.

5. Limit media consumption of COVID-19 updates.

“It’s interesting and exciting to have information come our way. But don’t let it overwhelm you and feed into negative outcomes.”

6. Seek new or old outlets for relaxation.

Dr. Jonson suggested a quick internet search for apps or sites that offer meditation, yoga, prayer, everyday tips to help you relax and connect.

We found a few online sites that match her suggestion, including Brightside lists “12 cool websites to relax your mind; and lists the “best anxiety aps in 2019.”

Ava said she found her grade-school driveway chalk and decorated their sidewalk. “It’s creative and fun and you can get feelings out that you can’t put into words.”

7. Structure you time.

Stuck at home with no place to go, you might find it easy to fall into negative habits. Instead, get up, eat healthy, set time for work and studies, make time for exercise and include fun activities.

“Make sure you have bright moments in the day that bring you joy.”

8. Practice gratitude and joy.

Find and embrace what you are grateful for – books, music, family and friends, technology that enables us to stay connected, our pets, nature.

“Maybe we are grateful for the extra time that we now have – to spend with family – or maybe time to find something new that sets your soul on fire.”

9. Keep communications open with family and friends.

Remember that everyone feels and handles stress differently. And, that while being together can be “a true gift” it also can create tension and conflict.

Watch closely and listen with “non-judgmental ears.” Sometimes children may not express their concerns or share them clearly. “Letting them know that you will do everything possible to keep them safe, healthy and well protected is sometimes what children need to hear most.”

Also, allow family members space to cope with their anxiety, but then come back together to talk about the root cause and establish that you are in this together.

10. Shape your own story.

“The story we tell ourselves about what we are experiencing, about what is happening is very powerful. Our brains are wired for stories. So, I urge you to craft you story from a positive mindset. It is easy to get trapped in “what if” and the absolute negatives and the crisis modes — those are elements that create your story. You can grab hold of these, flip the perspective, and be your own author. Own that story and create it with positive intent because your health and well-being will improve if you do that.

“Focus on what is real, what is hear and what is right now.”  Dr. Jonson is focusing on the “gifted” opportunity to spend time with her daughter.

“Although the circumstances are not ideal, and they are stressful, we can let little rays of hope into the situation. And we can flip the perspective from stress and anxiety to positivity and optimism and joy.”