Coping with Stress in a Post-pandemic World


By Catherine A. SandersonAmherst College

We all experience various minor and major challenges: dealing with irritating coworkers, coping with a lingering health issue, feeling overwhelmed by an endless to-do list, and so on. We can’t always eliminate stress from our lives. But, we can choose to respond to stressful situations in a new way, by changing our thoughts and behaviors in ways that reduce their detrimental effects on happiness and health.

Corona Virus news with assorted related newspaper headlines surrounding it
The 2020 pandemic certainly didn’t do any favors regarding people’s stress levels. (Image: zimmytws/Shutterstock)

A Long List of Stressful Situations

It’s important to keep in mind that all stressors are not the same and, therefore, reducing stress isn’t ‘one size fits all’. Instead, different strategies are most effective for managing different stressors. So, people who learn a variety of different types of strategies are better equipped to manage the different stressors that come their way.

The worldwide coronavirus pandemic of 2020 led to an interrelated set of multiple acute and chronic stressors. This pandemic in, and of itself, was a cataclysmic event. Growing numbers of people became ill and growing numbers of people experienced the death of family members and friends. Interpersonal stress increased at home as schools closed and many people lost their jobs, which also led to serious financial stress, while others shifted to home-based work.

Meanwhile, those not working from home suddenly encountered more hazardous conditions. Other stressors included the experiences of confinement, isolation, and anxieties about protocols. Even consumption of pandemic-related news and news about reactions to pandemic news may have become an additional stressor.

Many people also developed and relied on various strategies for reducing stress. Here are a chosen few most supported by empirical research.

Relaxation Techniques to Eliminate Stress

People meditating with masks on
Practical solutions such as using relaxation techniques like meditation can help relieve stress. (Image: yurakrasil/Shutterstock)

Relax. Stress leads to bad health outcomes precisely because it creates physiological arousal and increases levels of cortisol, which exerts additional wear and tear on the body and suppresses the immune system. 

But you can counteract the body’s natural response to challenges by using relaxation techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation to reduce arousal and thereby reduce the negative effects of stress on the body.

This article comes directly from content in the video series Introduction to PsychologyWatch it now, on Wondrium.

Changing One’s Mindset and Befriending People

Change your stress mindset. Perception always influences our stress response. That’s why many of the things we think of as stressful—too many emails in your inbox, being stuck in a long line at the post office, having a job interview—are really that way only because you interpret them in that way. Save your real stress response for things that are literally life-or-death, and not the relatively small hassles of daily life.

Friends taking a selfie in a cafe
Connecting with other people can help since having social support helps cope with minor and major stress-inducing events. (Image: Pressmaster/Shutterstock)

Find a friend. People with more social support are better able to cope with the minor and major stresses of daily life, sometimes thanks to practical help, but also simply having a listening ear. People with greater social support experience better health outcomes across virtually all domains, from better psychological well-being to faster recovery from illness to a longer life expectancy.

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining

Look for any silver lining. It is possible for us to think about moderate levels of acute stress in a new, more positive way, as energizing and inspiring, not just exhausting and debilitating. And anybody can, with practice, get better at looking ‘on the bright side of life’. How? It’s amazing what a difference it can make to focus on something—anything—that’s relatively good about the situation instead of what’s bad. 

This process of reframing stressful situations to find something positive does not happen automatically, at least not initially for those who aren’t naturally optimistic. But making a deliberate effort to find something good can help you get better at reframing, and in turn, reduce the negative effects of stress on the body.

And, if possible, try to find some people around you who tend to see things in a more optimistic light and try to model their reaction. People who reframe their acute stress response can reduce their chronic stress levels and show better psychological and physical well-being. And this effect can be contagious, in a good way.

The Value of Studying Stress

The topic of stress is an essential one in psychology because it illustrates so many different aspects of the field: the intersection of our biology, cognitions, and emotions. So, stress helps us understand the rest of the field of psychology. 

Stress also illustrates a more general principle—that how we experience the world is more than a function of what happens to us. Rather, how we interpret our experiences, also affects sensation, perception, and pain

Common Questions about Coping with Stress in a Post-pandemic World

Q: How has the 2020 pandemic affected stress levels around the world?

The pandemic made it harder to eliminate stress from one’s life since many more people than usual were dealing with stressful situations such as falling ill or losing loved ones. The pandemic also forced many people into isolation, making contact with others—such a great stress-relieving technique—harder to do.

Q: What are some practical things one can do to relieve oneself of stress?

Using relaxation techniques such as meditation can help eliminate stress. It’s also helpful to change one’s mindset about the little things in life. Having a more positive outlook and seeing the glass half full while befriending others and connecting with people are also great ways to relieve stress.

Q: Why is studying stress an essential topic in psychology?

To eliminate stress, one must first study it and its sources since it relates to so many different sections of human biology, cognition, and emotion. Stress helps to understand other parts of the vast field of psychology. Also, stress teaches us about ourselves and how we experience the world and interpret those experiences.

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