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How to Cope With Stress in Between COVID-19 Vaccine Doses

A woman wearing a mask looks out a window from behind blinds in a dark room.
Brandon Colbert Photography / Getty Images.

Key Takeaways

  • The lag time between your first and second COVID-19 vaccine doses can come with stress and anxiety.
  • Research shows that stress and other psychological factors can make vaccines less effective.
  • Meditation, exercise, breathwork, mental health support, and a gratitude practice can help alleviate stress.

The COVID-19 vaccines have offered people around the world hope that the pandemic may soon come to an end.

But getting vaccinated comes with some stress. Both COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in the U.S. require two doses. That lag time in between your first and second shot can be filled with stress and impatience, amid the changing public health guidelines and the uncertainty about when you’ll have immunity against the virus. 

However, it’s important to find ways to keep that stress at bay—not only for your emotional wellbeing, but also to make sure you get the full benefits of the vaccine. Here’s what to know about the relationship between stress and immunity, along with some tips on putting your mind at ease in between your COVID-19 vaccine doses.

Stress and COVID-19 Vaccines

Feeling stressed out for any length of time, whether it’s a few days or many weeks, can weaken the immune system, according to the American Psychological Association. It can affect the ways in which the body responds to bacteria, viruses, and even vaccines.

On January 12, 2021, the journal Perspectives on Psychological Stress published a preprint of a new report from The Ohio State University. Researchers there looked at 30 years of studies on the ways environmental factors and individual health could affect a person’s immune response to vaccines. 

The authors found “robust evidence” that stress, depression, and other mental health conditions can cause the body to take longer to develop immunity in response to a vaccine, and reduce how long that immunity lasts. The paper also showed that psychological factors played a role in the prevalence and severity of side effects from vaccines. 

Since the studies showed similar results across many different vaccines, the authors say that the findings may be generalizable to the COVID-19 vaccines, as well. That means that high stress levels could make the shots less effective on both the individual level and the public at large. 

The Root of Stress in Between COVID-19 Vaccine Doses

Keeping your stress levels low can help set your body up to develop a robust response to the COVID-19 vaccine and help you feel better, in general. But those few weeks in between doses can be riddled with uncertainty. 

Cindy Lennox, LCSW

Anxiety is the unknown. We as humans want to know the answer, we want to know what the ending is going to be.

— Cindy Lennox, LCSW

“Anxiety is the unknown. We as humans want to know the answer, we want to know what the ending is going to be,” says Cindy Lennox, MSW, LCSW, a clinical social worker at UCHealth in Colorado. 

It’s completely understandable if you feel stressed in between doses. You may be closely monitoring your body for side effects, feeling impatient that you have to wait weeks in between shots, or worried about changing guidelines that could delay your second COVID-19 vaccine dose, among other concerns. 

These feelings don’t have to be all-consuming, though. Mental health experts suggest using stress-management techniques in between your COVID-19 vaccine doses (or during any other nerve-racking time).

Focus on What You Can Control

There’s a lot that’s out of our control during the vaccination process, as well as the pandemic in general. Focusing on what you can control, rather than what’s out of your hands, can help reduce your stress levels, says Desreen N. Dudley, PsyD, a mental health quality consultant and clinical psychologist at Teladoc, which provides virtual healthcare. 

Desreen N. Dudley, PsyD

Focus on setting new goals for yourself to work toward. This can help shift the focus from awaiting the vaccine and COVID-19’s end to taking control of other life achievements.

— Desreen N. Dudley, PsyD

Dudley recommends continuing to follow public health guidelines, like wearing a mask and social distancing. These measures not only will help protect you while your body is building an immune response to the vaccine, but also can help make you feel more in control during this stressful time.

“Individuals should view getting vaccinated as taking one step toward a goal that is shared with many others,” adds Dudley. “It is important to recognize and appreciate that sense of hope.”

Practice Meditation

Building a 10-minute meditation practice into your everyday routine can provide stress relief between COVID-19 vaccine doses, says therapist Jessica L. Meister, LCSW and PhD candidate in clinical psychotherapy. 

Meditation can help you notice and observe the thoughts and feelings that are upsetting you, Meister explains. While meditation won’t make those valid concerns go away completely, it can help them from spiraling out of control.

Jessica L. Meister, LCSW

The purpose of meditation is not to have blank mind or be totally zen with no worries or feelings. It’s to transition into becoming a neutral observer of thoughts and feelings with less judgment and attachment.

— Jessica L. Meister, LCSW

Not sure where to start? Try a meditation app, like Calm or Headspace, or check out free guided meditation videos on YouTube, suggests Meister.

Move Your Body

Exercise can work wonders on a person’s physical and emotional wellbeing. A 10- to 15-minute walk around your neighborhood or a local park can help bust stress by keeping you in the present, says Lennox.

“As you are walking, look at the trees, think about the colors. Listen to the world around you. Do you hear cars, children playing, sirens? Breathe deeply in through your nose and smell what your world is bringing to you,” she says.

If walking is not your thing, consider doing other activities that get your body moving. Gardening, fixing a car, stretching, or even doing household chores can all provide stress relief, especially if you keep your mind immersed in the present moment.

Get Plenty of Rest

Nothing amplifies stress and anxiety quite like a lack of sleep. Try to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night between COVID-19 vaccine doses to help cope with stress, says Dudley.

“A good night’s rest rejuvenates the body and the mind and can allow us to come up with new ways to solve existing problems,” she explains. Plus, research shows that getting enough sleep around the time of your shot can help your body respond to a vaccine more effectively.

Practice Gratitude

Gratitude can be a useful tool for curbing stress and boosting your emotional resilience. You can start this practice by writing a list of the things you feel grateful for, says Meister.

“Specifically including the opportunity to obtain this vaccine, which others do not yet have access to, on your gratitude list can help mitigate any negative feelings of stress about having to wait for the second dose,” she explains.

Try Breathwork

Stress can impact the way you breathe. You may find yourself holding your breath, or taking shallow and irregular inhales and exhales, which can exacerbate anxiety and other mental health conditions. Lennox recommends practicing therapeutic breathing to help make stress more manageable in between COVID-19 vaccine doses.

“Therapeutic breathing is diaphragm breathing, [which is] different than the ‘deep breathing’ that most people have heard of or done on their own,” she says. “[It involves] filling the lungs with oxygen, not shallow chest breathing. By allowing yourself to breathe in this manner, the body responds by lowering heart rate and racing thoughts.”

You can try therapeutic breathing by inhaling through the nose, holding it for 5 seconds, then pushing the breath out through the mouth with your lips in an “O” shape, Lennox explains. Repeat three times, with 4-second pauses in between each set.

Seek Mental Health Support

While there are plenty of at-home techniques to help reduce stress, seeing a mental health professional can provide additional support during challenging times. “Having this space and time each week to yourself to be able to express your fears and feelings has been shown to reduce stress,” says Meister. 

Remember: You’re not alone in feeling stressed in between COVID-19 doses, nor do you have to cope with those feelings on your own. Getting the right type of support, whether it’s from a therapist or through a mindful practice, can help you get through this challenging time.

What This Means For You

It’s totally normal to feel stressed out and impatient while waiting for your second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. However, research shows that stress can make vaccines less effective, so it’s important to find relief.

Consider incorporating a 10-minute meditation practice and some physical movement into your day to reduce stress. A gratitude practice can also help you cultivate emotional resilience. You may also consider meeting with a therapist for one-on-one mental health support during challenging times. Remember: You don't have to cope with stress and uncertainty alone.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. American Psychological Association. Stress weakens the immune system. Published February 23, 2006.

  2. Madison A, Shrout MR, Renna ME, Kiecolt-Glaser JK. Psychological and behavioral predictors of vaccine efficacy: considerations for COVID-19. Perspect Psychol Sci. 2021;16(2):191-203. doi:10.1177/1745691621989243