Photo byThao Le Hoang on Unsplash
Everyone experiences stress and anxiety at different times in their lives. Our lives have without preamble been turned upside down. We could never have predicted the current situation that has become our ‘new normal”.
Our stress levels are at an all-time high!
While some folks seem to have various methods of coping, others encounter varying degrees of difficulty in managing their stress levels.
Stress is often the result of mental or emotional pressures. You feel overwhelmed with life. The disconnect begins with a real or perceived demand on your brain or physical body. Stress is compounded when multiple competing stressors are placed on us. Presently we are faced with many unpleasant stimuli and this may cause us to feel incapable of holding the reigns.
We try valiantly to hang on but may become unable to and just let go, retreating into ourselves.
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Stress can present in one of two ways:
Acute stress has its origins in the fight-or-flight response. It is the body’s signal of imminent danger that alerts us to the presence of a threat and prepares us to fight or take flight. It is part of our built-in protective mechanism.
This type is more insidious, the stressor remains for longer periods of time, and will generally affect your health and your everyday life.
This ongoing stress produces symptoms, such as shortness of breath, headaches, insomnia, etc. These chronic stress responses are more sneaky and subtle than those of the acute stress response, but their effects are longer lasting and way more problematic.
Stress may also be triggered by sudden emotional changes, i.e., a loss or a change in your living situation, our health and our world, e.g., COVID-19.
Some ways to manage are:
- Get enough rest
- Take deep breaths
- Use guided imagery
- Recognize factors that trigger your stress
- Keep a diary, things seem much less threatening when you see it in writing
- Try progressive relaxation
- Get a massage
- Get physical e.g., yoga, exercise
- Eat a balanced diet
- Limit caffeine & alcohol
- Avoid illicit drugs, they may make stress and anxiety worse
- Get moving, change your scenery e.g., take a walk
- Try medication therapy
- Develop some hobbies
Deep breathing − Breathe slowly through your nose. Hold your breath for about 3 seconds. Exhale slowly out your mouth. Close your eyes, if you can, and concentrate on controlling and slowing down your breathing.
Guided imagery − Close your eyes and picture a safe, peaceful scene. Choose someplace you love and where you feel safe. Concentrate on the details of the scene and remember how you feel when you are there.
Progressive relaxation − Sit or lie quietly. Start by making a group of muscles tense or tight and then relax them. Tense your muscles for at least 5 seconds, then relax for 30 seconds and repeat. Then, move to another group.
Laughter − Laughing helps lower stress. Try watching a comedy on television. Tell funny stories. Share jokes, books, or laugh with a friend.
Music − If you love music as I do, this is a surefire way to allay stress and anxiety and help you relax. If you play an instrument, now is a good time to give it a go.
Massage − We all know the joys and benefits of a good massage; get a back rub from someone you feel safe with just bask in the presence of their companionship.
Meditation − Do a familiar activity that calms you and helps you clear your mind. If a walk or a run helps you to feel calm, do so in a safe space.
Take a 10-second break − You may feel very stressed but not able to leave where you are. If so, close your eyes and breathe deeply for 10 seconds, e.g., on an airplane.
Yoga or other forms of martial arts− These slow and purposeful body movements coupled with deep breathing, serve to take your focus off the stressor and can help you feel better.
Limit/stop caffeine, alcohol, and illicit street drugs — these substances can all cause/increase stress and anxiety, so avoid them when and if possible. Finally, medication therapy — talk to your healthcare provider about what medication / therapeutic options are available and may be effective for your particular situation.
Together you can initiate therapy that still allows you to remain a productive member of society.
With our lives turned inside out and our current circumstances extremely stressful, we hopefully have the support of family and friends.
Go outside and enjoy nature, adopt a pet, listen to music or call up a family member or a friend. Watch a funny show, and take a long bath while listening to music. Practice some deep breathing exercises. Remember to seek out resources that offer assistance as well as use some of the techniques set out above in learning to cope and self-de-stress for better mental health.