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Experts Share Coping Strategies For Stressful Times

Dogs and cats acting strangely? On Tuesday's St. Louis on the Air, an animal behaviorist stepped in to answer your questions about animal behavior.
tohu | Flickr

Schools are closed. Libraries are closed. Many restaurants have closed — with more almost certainly on the way. Health officials say all of those measures are essential, as the ongoing spread of coronavirus has led to best practices of “social distancing.” 

But in addition to COVID-19, the coronavirus has also spread widespread angst. People are worried about their jobs and their families, even as they confront a seemingly endless cascade of worrying headlines.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, listeners shared their ideas for de-stressing in a stressful time, along with two experts: Tony Buchanan, a professor of psychology at St. Louis University and co-director of its neuroscience program, and Dr. Jessi Gold, an assistant professor in Washington University’s Department of Psychiatry.  

Dr. Jessi Gold of Washington University, left, and Tony Buchanan of St. Louis University.

Gold emphasized that it’s normal to feel anxious right now.

“Most anxiety comes from uncertainty, particular uncertainty about the future, and this ever-changing plan, and what happens the next day or hour,” she said. “Especially for college students …. Things can spiral pretty quickly.”

Even so, Buchanan noted that stress can actually have a positive impact on behavior.

“Of the effects of stress that people have studied is the phenomena of ‘tending and befriending,’” Buchanan explained. “So in contrast to the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, what you see as a response to stress is tending to those around you, befriending those around you, and trying to bolster your friendships and social relationships to counter the negative effects of stress.” And, as the two discussed, it is possible to do that even with “social distancing.”

Listen to the entire conversation:

We also heard from a number of callers, as well as listeners who weighed in online. 

One of our listeners, Edward Bryant, told us on our Facebook group page that he has been listening to the Miles Davis classic “Kind of Blue” while working. “This album always brings calm,” he said.

Other listeners weighed in on Twitter and Facebook on how they maintain their equilibrium:

  • Erin looks for the helpers. She writes: “I’ve found comfort in reading about the positive things people and businesses are doing all of this chaos! I called my elderly neighbor today to make sure she was doing OK and has what she needs. She was so thankful for my call! All she asked for was masking tape and a few bars of soap. And it took just a few minutes of my time to brighten someone’s day. I loved this quote from Fred Rogers: ‘When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"
  • Caroline, on Twitter, says she’s been resorting to “gardening, volunteering for Joe Biden, cleaning and cooking.”
  • Cassandra, on Facebook, says she and her young family have been focused on making music. She writes: “We have a piano, two cellos and a violin here, so we’ve been downloading fresh sheet music and reviewing old favorites. Also, food, charcoal sketches, Agatha Christie, tea, bourbon, Epsom salt baths and cleaning things I haven’t cleaned in five years. Oh, also growing things. I planted 50 delphiniums yesterday!”
  • Kat says she is “cleaning the attic.” Ben says that “to fight sheer boredom, we dusted off the old Wii. And music, music, music.”
  • Karl directed us to a free app called Insight Timer, which helps with anxiety, stress and sleep. He adds: “Also, housework — been taking my mind off COVID-19 by becoming a handyman, for better or worse. So far I've patched a few holes, painted the patches, and fixed a wobbly step.”
  • Lucas says he’s cooking and baking a lot … and getting projects done around the house that he’d been putting off.
  • Lindsay says she “went hula-hooping on roller blades for about an hour.”
  • Chris, on Twitter, says he’s staying off social media and computers as much as possible and reading books.
  • Jesse says he’s “putting the phone down.”

Flickr photo by Tohu used with site permission.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.