A pair of experts took on the topic of challenges of life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Marty Markay, MD, discussed the manner in which the pandemic is impacting our society more generally and shared what he thought the future holds in store for us all. Markay is part of the well-regarded team at the John Hopkins School of Medicine and specializes in epidemiology. His focus is on the spread of infectious diseases as well as preventing and combating infectious diseases.

In addition to Dr. Markay, Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., also presented. Her commentary is the subject of this informational resource. Dr. Lombardo is described as a “celebrity psychologist.” Basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal has described her as his “head coach for happiness.” In her professional practice, Dr. Lombardo focused on three areas:

  • Sports performance
  • Life coaching
  • Stress and stress management

When considering strategies to take on the unique challenges of life in the era of COVID-19, Dr. Lombardo pinpointed her presentation on stress management practices, strategies, and tactics.

The Stress Continuum

Dr. Lombardo spoke of what she calls the stress continuum, with a specific focus on this range in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic. The stress continuum she developed involves a scale from 0 to 10. On the scale, 1 to 3 is what Dr. Lombardo calls the Green Zone. This is the Zone in which a person has minimal stress. A person in the Green Zone is able to logically consider his or her situation and the environment around them. An individual in the Green Zone is able to make more rational decisions based on intelligent contemplation. 

The Red Zone is at the other end of Dr. Lombardo’s stress continuum. The Red Zone is 7 through 10 on the scale. This is when stress is at its peak and when a person’s biological fight or flight part of the brain kicks in. 

Dr. Lombardo explained that with the upheaval associated with the COVID-19 health crisis, a person needs to understand where he or she is at on the stress continuum. By understanding where an individual is situated in regard to his or her stress, that person has a better perspective on when and how important decisions should and should not be made. In other words, in the Green Zone, an individual is in a position to make important decisions. When in the Red Zone, that is not the case. Rather, an individual needs to address his or her stress level before moving forward to make decisions on important issues. 

Proactively Dealing With Stress

Ideally, in order to best address the inherent stress associated with life in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, a person needs to develop proactive strategies to deal with that stress. A crucial and particularly stressful element of life in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic is the recommendation (in some locations) and the legal mandate (in other jurisdictions) to stay at home or shelter in place. As a consequence, Dr. Lombardo cites a trio of primary areas in which a person needs to focus when developing strategies to proactively deal with stress:

  • How to survive being around your family
  • How to cope with working at home
  • How to cope with other people who are themselves stressed

As part of proactive strategic planning to deal with stress, Dr. Lombardo underscores the importance of “moving your body.” She strongly encourages including physical activity in a comprehensive proactive strategy to manage stress in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic. This can be something as simple as taking a walk. 

Retroactively Dealing With Stress

When you end up with increasing levels of stress during the COVID-19 pandemic era – and that naturally will occur even with the most comprehensive proactive planning – you need to be aware of what you can do to retroactively address stress. A key way in which you can retroactively address increasing stress levels when staying at home, sheltering in place, or otherwise living in the COVID-19 era is to maintain healthy social contacts with family and friends.

Yes, people need to physically distance themselves from others. However, thanks to technology, people do not need to become socially disconnected. Dr. Lombardo stresses that a person is in the best possible position to retroactively address rising stress by reaching out to trusted family members and friends and share concerns and fears. 

In addition, because stress in the midst of a healthcare crisis can be so profound, people are wise to be open to the prospect of seeking support and assistance from mental health professionals. Indeed, there are different types of therapeutic alternatives that can be helpful in assisting a person deal with stress and other emotional and psychological issues. 

Beware of Too Much Information

A final parting note made by Dr. Lombardi involved “staying informed” during the COVID-19 pandemic. She affirmed that it is vital for people who have adequate, accurate information about the state of affairs when it comes to the pandemic. However, while reliable, accurate data is good, you can experience information overload. Dr. Lombardo advised that research demonstrates watching news broadcasts can worsen a person’s mood by 27%. Thus, care must be taken in regard to the volume of information consumed through the news media on a daily basis.