Giving Thanks Can Ease Pandemic Stress, SLU Expert Says

Saint Louis University Medical Center

Newswise — This time of year is usually a time of joy and celebration with family and friends. Yet, as COVID-19 cases surge across the country, Thanksgiving in 2020 will look different than it has in other years. A global pandemic, like COVID-19, can have a profound impact on a person’s psyche. 

“The pandemic is a real threat, more so in the early stages when we did not know enough about the virus, except that it’s spreading like wildfire, and people are dying,” said Suma Chand, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at Saint Louis University.

The lack of control and uncertainty can make a person feel more anxious and depressed than usual, Chand said. 

Chand says human beings are programmed to have what is known as negativity bias where we tend to pay more attention to the negative and threatening. Being vigilant for threats and negatives is a useful tool to keep us safe. Events such as the pandemic can throw negativity bias into overdrive resulting in hypervigilance. The excessive focus on threats and negatives trigger stress, anxiety, and depression.

Chand, a SLUCare clinical psychologist who specializes in cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), says cognitive restructuring techniques can be used to alter maladaptive thoughts by changing how you perceive events or circumstances. Chand says that the practice of gratitude, which is part of the Thanksgiving tradition, is a useful tool that helps change one’s mindset and improve one’s mood for the better. 

“In fact, studies have reported that practicing gratitude lowers the risk of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders,” Chand said. “Instead of focusing on the negativity of the pandemic, perhaps we all need to take time to be grateful and focus on the silver linings to help us sustain a positive attitude — to energize, to heal, and to bring hope.”

As Thanksgiving approaches, Chand offers several ideas to add to a pandemic gratitude list:

  • The rapid advances made in the medical field to eradicate the virus and treat the infection. 
  • The opportunity to spend more time outdoors in nature and explore new hobbies.
  • Greater appreciation for people in your life.
  • Thankfulness for those working on the frontlines like healthcare workers, grocery store clerks, and teachers. 

About Saint Louis University School of Medicine

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national, and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, liver disease, heart/lung disease, aging and brain disease, and infectious diseases.

About SLUCare Physician Group

SLUCare Physician Group is the academic medical practice of Saint Louis University, with more than 500 health care providers and 1,200 staff members in hospitals and medical offices throughout the St. Louis region. SLUCare physicians are among the most highly trained in their fields – more than 50 specialties in all – and are national and international experts, renowned for research and innovations in medicine. For more information, visit us at www.slucare.edu.




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