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 Coping with Stress and Anxiety During Crisis and Uncertainty

By Kristy Warren


In times of crisis and uncertainty, it can be challenging to combat stress and make room for our mental health and wellness. Whether it’s job insecurity, uneven relationships, personal struggles, or Coronavirus COVID-19, all of us face uncertainty at some point in our lives. Throughout this pandemic, record numbers of us are facing our work, school, and life routines being upended and more feelings of uncertainty than ever before.


Clinical psychologist Jerry Cerrone, PhD from Laurel Behavioral Health shares tips below for how to tackle overwhelming situations without getting stuck, how to help someone struggling, and when to seek professional help. 



When daily life feels so challenging, it’s natural to feel worried, stressed, anxious, and even angry or sad. These emotions when left unchecked, however, can wear on us physically and emotionally. Acknowledging and navigating those feelings productively is a key to staying resilient during times of crisis and uncertainty.


When faced with an uncertain or stressful situation, try these tips:


  • Remain as flexible as you can

  • Look for upsides even in negative situations

  • Find a way to step back and unwind


It’s easy to say stay flexible, but it’s much harder to constantly pivot to life’s challenges. Do your best to let go of the things you cannot change and focus on areas where you can make difference or make something better. If your child’s school needs to temporarily close in-person instruction due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, you can’t change that, but you can focus on the positive of how that decision is designed to keep your kids and others safe. You can turn the negative of an upended routine into another opportunity to connect with your kids. Talk to your family about how everyone’s feeling and give everyone a chance to work through their feelings then look for positives together.


It can be hard to find the good in hard situations but doing so breaks a mindset of negative thoughts feeding into more negative thoughts and can help you break through the cloud of negativity that can cause distorted thinking and unhealthy spiraling. Just because things are hard now doesn’t mean they’ll always be this hard. Believing things will get better and looking forward to better times in the future helps us stay focused on moving forward and working toward that better future.

Photo of Jerry Ceronne, Psychologist with Laurel Behavioral Health, Standing in Front of a Welcoming Office

Clinical pyschologist Jerry Ceronne, Ph.D., from Laurel Behavioral Health shares simple tips on how we can better manage our stress and anxiety in tough situations.




Self-care matters. It’s OK to take time for yourself, and it’s vital to make time for your own mental wellness. In order to care for, support, and connect with others, we must also care for ourselves. Stay on top of eating well. Get enough sleep, exercise, fresh air, and water. These steps help ensure your body has the resources and energy it needs to deal with challenging times. It’s also important to step back and de-stress. Identify your sources of stress, anxiety, and sorrow and find a way to step back and “take a break” from them.

Woman in a pink hoodie listening to music and journaling to relax, de-stress, and boost her mood

Not everyone relieves stress in the same way, so find what works best for you. For some that may mean time alone in your own space; for others it may mean shared laughter over a favorite movie or TV show. Others may find expressing themselves through music, art, or journaling helps them best cope with a stressful situation. Expressing yourself can help you acknowledge what’s going on, how you feel about it, de-stress, and positively reframe things.

Physical activity like taking a walk, playing a game / sport, or dancing can have the added bonus of healthy movement and its corresponding serotonin boost. For help clearing your head or getting something off your chest, try focusing on your breathing, a guided meditation app, talking with a trusted friend, or connect with others in similar situations via an online support group. 




Overwhelming situations can leave us feeling stuck and paralyzed, but you can tackle a big situation most effectively by:


  • Knowing what you can control

  • Remembering what’s really important (as a whole and to you)

  • Focusing on what you can do to make the situation better

  • Keeping the problem in perspective. Ask yourself: will this matter in six months? A year? Five years?


If you’re facing something that seems endless and relentless—like an ongoing illness, financial struggles, or the loss of a loved one—it can help to start small and deal with things one at a time. It’s also important to maintain a sense of purpose and to stay connected with people you care about. Having a support network to lean on can make overwhelming situations easier to tackle. Friends, family, support group members, and mental care professionals can provide a way to express yourself, clarify the problem, work through your feelings, and brainstorm healthy coping mechanisms and/or solutions.

If a problem or circumstance has you too stressed to tackle it productively, step back from it and take a few deep breaths. It is important to problem solve and address your concerns but set healthy boundaries.

If something’s worrying you, scheduling some “worry time” in your schedule may help stop that worry from leaking into every moment of the day.

Anxious woman sitting down and using her designated worry time to think through problems

Try to designate a specific window of time to think about it. You can devote your time and energy to thinking about it during that window, including how you might address it, but stop once you’ve reached your time limit and then redirect your attention elsewhere.




It’s normal to feel anxious or sad about certain events in our lives, but worsening anxiety and depression should be treated seriously. If you notice you or someone you know feeling persistently sad, hopeless, numb, or scared, it may be time to call a professional. A mental health expert can provide you with helpful ways to cope with stress, combat distorted thinking, and how to redirect your worry into action to help you feel better prepared and in control. Together, you and your provider can find a healthy strategy that works for you.


September is National Suicide Prevention Month. We all want to be there for those we love, but sometimes people miss the warning signs and struggle with how to identify when they or someone they know might be in serious trouble.


Watch closely for any of the following serious warning signs:


  • Constant anxiety, dread, or fear that impacts your daily life and decisions, especially if the situation would not normally induce that level of anxiety or fear.

  • Worsening depression. Everyone can feel blue sometimes, but if you’re left feeling hopeless, negative, sad, disconnected, and incapable of enjoying things you’ve loved previously for more than two weeks, talk to your doctor.

  • Emotions riding persistently close to the surface (e.g., feeling ready to cry or scream at the drop of a hat and constantly overreacting to situations or other people)

  • Suicidal ideation / thoughts. Suicidal ideation can take the form of passive thoughts about dying like “people will be better off without me” or active thoughts like “I should just get it over with.” These thoughts are a sign that things have gotten very serious and professional help is needed immediately.

  • Sudden changes in behavior. If someone begins withdrawing, giving away possessions, or reaching out as if to say goodbye, these can be signs of suicidal behavior. Sometimes others mistakenly believe the struggling person is getting better because they seem calmer, more purposeful, or generous—in reality, these can be warning signs that they have decided to commit suicide and are at peace putting their plan into place.


If you or someone you know is in immediate crisis and at risk of suicide, call the free national 24/7 crisis hotline (1-800-273-8255) and call 911 for assistance; if you know someone struggling with depression or anxiety that seems to be withdrawing, check in with them often and encourage them to talk with their family doctor or seek mental health support.


Everyone struggles with their mental health sometimes. If you need to talk to someone about your struggles, concerns, or worries—big or small—Laurel Behavioral Health's experts are here to help. In-office and telehealth visits are available. 


To make an appointment with Laurel Behavioral Health, call 570-723-0620