Health & Science

Managing Stress and Anxiety (and Frustrating Behavior) During the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic

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As our families, schools and communities enter week we-don’t-even-know-anymore of mandatory school closings from the novel coronavirus pandemic, there is still a very high amount of uncertainty. Routines are disrupted, sports and after school activities are cancelled, families are finding themselves home together with very little (or way too much) to do and a lot of big feelings and emotions. It is normal for both adults and children to have feelings of stress and anxiety during times like these.

When children are feeling stressed, scared and in need of reassurance, they will often show it in ways that can feel frustrating to parents. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends parents watch for the following signs of stress and anxiety in children and teens that are coping with the pandemic.

  • Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
  • Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, toileting accidents or bedwetting)
  • Excessive worry or sadness
  • Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
  • Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens
  • Poor school performance or avoiding school
  • Difficulty with attention and concentration
  • Avoiding activities enjoyed in the past
  • Unexplained headaches or body pain
  • Using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs

Likewise, many parents are feeling a lot of anxiety and stress in these unprecedented times. First of all, it’s difficult to handle many of the above-mentioned ways kids can act out under stress. From meltdowns to refusal to participate in e-learning, parents are faced with juggling their short-term reactions to negative (often irritating, to be honest) behaviors, while simultaneously worrying about potential long-term mental health issues that could be underlying their kids’ actions. On top of that, parents are concerned about work, their children’s education, paying bills, food and other resources as well as being worried about the novel coronavirus itself. While many adults are used to being able to solve problems or find solutions, this is not a situation where there are many solutions. It is important parents take care of themselves as well as helping their children and friends cope. Coping well with stress will make you, your family and your community stronger.

While experiencing stress in this situation is normal, everyone reacts differently to stresses such as these. The CDC shares that signs of stress for adults during an infectious disease outbreak such as the novel coronavirus can include:

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs

Furthermore, people with preexisting mental health conditions should be aware of new or worsening symptoms and be sure to continue with their treatment. Many mental health providers are turning to teletherapy to maintain continuity of care during the period of self-distancing.

During these stressful times, it is important to practice self-care to reduce your stress and stress in your children.

  • Take breaks from reading and listening to media about the novel coronavirus. While it is important to be informed, too much media consumption can increase anxiety and stress.
  • Take care of your body. Eat well and exercise. Develop a mindful practice such as meditation, deep breathing or yoga. Avoid consuming too much alcohol or using drugs.
  • Maintain a schedule. Make sure you and your child are getting enough sleep and engaging in a variety of activities during the day. Try to limit your stress about school packets or homework at this time.
  • Make time in your day to unwind. Listen to music, drink tea, take a bath or read a book. Journal, color, paint or nap. Help your children identify peaceful practices like these that appeal to them.
  • Connect with your friends and family. Utilize technology such as FaceTime and Skype to talk to your loved ones. Talk to trusted friends about how you are feeling. Encourage your children to talk about how they are feeling about the coronavirus and the effects it is having on their day to day life.

For more information about how to decode your child’s worrisome or frustrating behavior—and what else you can do to help them cope—check out our age-by-age guide.

This article was adapted and reprinted with permission from Michigan State University Extension, Michigan State University’s statewide outreach organization.


Dealing with school closures, childcare issues, or other challenges related to coronavirus? Find support, advice, activities to keep kids entertained, learning opportunities and more in our Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic Facebook Group.

For ongoing updates on coronavirus-related issues and questions that impact children and families, please find additional resources here.