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Ways to cope with stress and anxiety as delta variant cases increase

"A lot of what I'm seeing is kind of a mix of anxiety, worry, uncertainty and then anger is a predominant emotion"

ST. LOUIS — The surge of the delta variant of COVID-19 is causing many people to be anxious and uncertain about the future.

The mental health strain of the back and forth can impact all of us.

Since March 2020, anger, hopelessness, loss and frustration came up for many. Then the vaccine came out offering some hope.

By now, many of us thought, we'd be in a better position.

Yet that's not the case, and these previous emotions are starting to creep back in once again.

Dr. Tim Bono is a Washington University psychologist and studies the science of happiness. 

"It can easily feel like things are spiraling out of control," he said. "It can evoke a lot of the anxiety, distress, and despair that many of us experienced that we thought was behind us and now we could be facing again."

For more than a year, we've carried heavy emotions. Changes, tragedies and downfalls have been weighing on us.

Many are just exhausted.

"It’s like on the 20th mile of the marathon, you have a lot of left behind you, but you still have a ways to go. But we don’t know how long this marathon is going to last. That sense of exhaustion can be compounding a lot of the stress and anxiety we’re experiencing," Dr. Bono said.

Dr. Jessi Gold is a Washington University psychiatrist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. 

Dr. Gold said it's OK to feel all of these emotions, even if they don't feel great. 

"A lot of what I'm seeing is kind of a mix of anxiety, worry, uncertainty and then anger is a predominant emotion. It's not necessarily a bad thing to feel angry. I'm one of those people who would say, any feelings that you have are valid and normal," she said. 

For some, she said, they may feel like all of these feelings are compounded. 

"It sort of feels compounded because we never really got a chance to take a breath. So it was like it was going up and we are feeling like we were doing a little bit better and then right at that moment, you never really got a chance to digest it and breathe. I think it could just compound it because you never really got a break from it at all," Dr. Gold adds.

Dr. Gold said whatever you're feeling, feel them completely. 

"It's really important to put them out there and say, I feel that and it's OK, and it give space to talk about it," she said.

At times, it's hard to see the light.

That's where these WashU doctors come in to shine light on some strategies to cope.

"One of the best ways to cope with that is to direct our attention to things that are in our control," Dr. Bono said. "The things that we can control is like the practice of gratitude, taking care of ourselves, working as hard as we can with our work and jobs now."

Dr. Gold suggests creating a to-do list and being able to check off tasks you've done. 

"I'm a big fan of picking whatever coping mechanism works for you," she said.

She proposes trying several methods out like journaling, going for a walk, or practicing mindfulness. From there, pick what works for you. 

Having a trusted friend or family member to be vulnerable can be useful too.

If you need further assistance, it's OK to ask for professional help.

"You're allowed to ask for help because it's just like any other thing you're asking for help for and it's not a weakness it's a strength," Dr. Gold said. 

If you need mental health support, you can call the Behavioral Health Response Crisis Hotline at 314-469-6644.