PEORIA — Don’t be stressed about the fact that COVID-19 is stressing you out — it’s a perfectly normal reaction to a serious threat.

“When we perceive a threat, our bodies and our brains work to protect us, and that's where that sympathetic nervous system kicks in and triggers a release of a stress hormone. In many ways, it’s a good thing: It’s allowed us to survive over the years of human existence,” said Luke Raymond, manager of behavioral health at OSF HealthCare.

Stress hormones trigger action, a good thing when a threat, like a charging bear, is imminent. But the threat of the coronavirus is more ambiguous and drawn out.

“We don’t know how long it will last, we don’t know what the impact will be,” said Raymond. “That creates uncertainty on how to respond, and that makes the anxiety all the more difficult to handle.”

Coronavirus is looking like a long-haul situation, and a constant flow of stress hormones for days or weeks is not a good thing. Ultimately, it could lower your immunity to the virus.

Raymond offered a few tips to help people deal with the new reality the pandemic has brought into our lives.

“Stop being obsessive about checking the news. I’m guilty of this. I think we all fall into this, because subconsciously we are looking for that answer because it’s so ambiguous; we keep checking and re-checking,” he said. “Maybe once a day look at it, and go from there.”

The same goes for social media, which is great with helping people stay connected, but not so great if the coronavirus is the only topic being discussed, said Raymond.

It’s important to take good care of your body to keep your immunity high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s page on managing the stress created by the pandemic. Eat well, exercise and get plenty of sleep. Try meditation to calm your mind, and avoid alcohol or drugs.

“Take a walk, get some fresh air. And while we have to maintain social distance, you can probably take a walk with somebody and have a conversation,” said Raymond.

The CDC also recommends talking to others about your concerns. Stay connected through the internet and phone, and make efforts to safely speak to elderly neighbors who may not be online.

“Isolation is pretty hard for us to deal with and can be kind of damaging, so it’s important to stay connected as much as we can,” said Raymond.

Local resources are available for people seeking professional help with anxiety and stress. OSF HealthCare has a free mental health app for smartphones and computers called SilverCloud. It's an anonymous, interactive platform to help manage the feelings and causes of depression, anxiety or stress. Access it at www.osfhealthcare.org/silvercloud. OSF also has a helpline for people looking for behavioral health services in the community, 308-8150. The United Way’s 2-1-1 line is also a great way to get connected to a variety of services in central Illinois, and UnityPoint Health’s UnityPlace has a behavioral health crisis hotline at 671-8084 in Peoria County and 347-1148 in Tazewell and Woodford counties.

Sometimes a change of perspective can be very helpful in managing a difficult situation, said Raymond.

“We focus a lot of time, energy and effort on the deficit, what we can’t do, rather than focusing on what opportunity we are given,” he said. “It's a good opportunity to catch up on things around the house that we haven’t had time to do — clean out a closet or read a book you’ve been meaning to get to. Slow down, reconnect with things that are super meaningful to you.”

Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or lrenken@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.