Six ways to manage stress and anxiety during COVID-19

It’s ok to feel stressed and anxious, especially right now. Although many of us are finding solace in another Netflix marathon there are other safe activities we can do in order to keep stress levels in check. 

We asked two recreation therapists at The Royal – Ashleigh McGuinty and Sara Richardson-Brown – to share their top six anxiety-busting strategies they recommend to clients and families. Here’s what they said: 

1) Engage in creative arts

Person sitting on floor painting with watercolours

Creative activities such as visual arts, writing, music, drama, and movement have been shown to help decrease anxiety and stress, and promote positive mood and increased confidence and self-identity. Find inspiration at a local art supply or craft store, dollar store, online workshops, or YouTube tutorials. 


2) Get out into nature

Person enjoying a walk in nature

Increasing contact with the natural environment is shown to promote feelings of well- being, lower blood pressure, decrease feelings of anxiety and depression, and improve physical activity levels. If you can’t hit the trails in order to immerse yourself in nature, head out to a local urban park! Gardening and taking care of indoor plants also have positive effects.  

3) Spend some time with a pet

Woman with her dog

There are many benefits to pet therapy or having a family pet. The companionship of a pet can reduce stress, improve mood and self-esteem, increase happiness, and decrease loneliness and isolation. If you do not have a pet, borrowing a pet from a friend could be helpful, too!  


4) Tune in … to music 

Woman listening to music

The many benefits to music therapy include improved mood, sleep, and overall happiness. Make a playlist and throw on some music while doing chores, working, or cooking. Play some relaxing music in the evening to de-stress and calm down from the day. It is important to engage in both therapeutic music as well as recreational music to support your mental health and over all well-being. 

5) Practice mindfulness 

Woman meditating

The practice of mindfulness is beneficial in reducing the symptoms of subclinical depression and anxiety and can substantially reduce stress. It helps to improve coping skills, improves sleep, and most importantly, assists with overall feelings of wellbeing! Simple techniques such as focusing on the breath, meditation, body scans, and mindful walking are just some examples of mindfulness tools. John Kabat-Zinn, founder and former director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, helped to bring the practice of mindfulness meditation into mainstream medicine. He describes foundational attitudes of mindfulness such as Acceptance, Beginner’s Mind, Letting Go, and others. Learning about these concepts is at the heart of a mindfulness practice.  


6) Move more 

Man exercising with a program on TV

There are so many reasons to get moving. Beyond the physical health benefits, regular exercise is shown to help reduce anxiety and tension, promote positive mood, and increase self-esteem and confidence! National guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every week and should ideally include strength-based movement at least twice a week, but it doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. Go outside for a walk or look up some exercise classes on YouTube. (If you find one you enjoy, you’re more likely to stick with it!) Some yoga studios are offering virtual classes, and many gyms have reopened with safety guidelines in place. The best way to get moving is to get outside and double the mental health benefits. 

What we do in our spare time impacts our well-being. Recreational activities build self-confidence, self-esteem, social skills, motivation, and focus. 

If you are struggling and need help, the first step is to contact your family doctor, nurse practitioner, or go to a walk-in medical clinic. These health professionals can help figure out what’s wrong, provide treatment, and/or refer you to specialized care like The Royal.  If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please go to the emergency department of your nearest general hospital or call 911.