We all have a normal stress response that helps us stay vigilant and get through our normal lives. But when we find ourselves in extreme, protracted stressful situations, the cumulative effect of that response can become damaging.

Dr. Kathy Becker Blease, director of the School of Psychological Science at Oregon State University, said the coronavirus pandemic is creating just that level of heightened stress in countless people.

“If we don’t address it, we’re liable to end up depressed, anxious and not in a good place to cope in the long term,” she said.

She’s one of three academics from OSU who have created a course to help people understand this stress and to find coping methods. It’s called “Punch through Pandemics with Psychological Science.” OSU students can take it for credit, and the public can take it for free.

Becker Blease is teaching the 10-week course alongside Regan A. R. Gurung, professor of psychological science and interim executive director of OSU’s Center for Teaching and Learning, and Kate Gallagher, OSU’s College of Liberal Arts’ Contemplative Studies coordinator.

Becker Blease said we often think of traumatic stress as resulting from a one-time catastrophic event, but people can also develop post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms from experiencing a betrayal or a lack of control — like a major pandemic that undermines our health and financial stability.

Gallagher recommends people take proactive steps to add routines that get us physically in our bodies through exercise, and also advises adopting meditative practice. Something as simple as a deep breathing practice can be a huge help during uncertain times, she said.

“Even just laying on your back, breathing deeply for five to 10 minutes,” Gallagher said.

The class starts March 30 and run for 10 weeks. Interested participants can find more information here.

“There’s nothing in that course where you have to sit down at a particular time, it’s on your schedule,” Becker Blease said. “We’re also putting the materials on a website. If you want, you can just pop in and pop out.”