As we near the two-year mark of COVID-19 and various lockdowns and restrictions, Registered hypnotherapist and psychotherapist, Grace Zhu, resident life coach at SANGHA, tells BLLNR how to combat stress brought on from the global pandemic.
The World Health Organization has stated that the current global situation is generating more stress and anxiety for people – would you agree with this?
Absolutely. I think stress and anxiety are becoming the top threats to well-being, and more and more people are suffering from it, both mentally and physically.
Would you say that people who already suffer from mental health issues are more likely to experience stress and anxiety or do you think there has been a rise in new cases?
Both. People who already suffer from mental health issues may be less well equipped to deal with new challenges, resulting in increased stress and anxiety. It has also been shown that people who have exhibited symptoms of stress or anxiety in the past, such as insomnia or migraines, are more likely to experience the same symptoms again than those who have not experienced them before. The current situation is incredibly challenging for many different reasons, and naturally more than some people can easily cope with, therefore a rise in new cases can be expected.
What would be your advice for people who are dealing with increased anxiety?
Practice Mindfulness: A great number of studies have shown that mindful practices can significantly reduce anxiety, depression, and related somatic symptoms. You can integrate four to five brief mindful practices into your daily routine for optimum results, for example, breathing meditation, mindful walking, or yoga, Pilates, Qigong, Tai Chi, all these mind and body awareness practices. You can also practice mindfulness in your daily life, that’s Life Zen, just put your full attention to the present moment when you wash dishes, or walk the dog, clean the room, or have a drink, do all this kind of things, with full awareness is mindful practice. Mindfulness can bring you more to the present moment and help you to stay away from the endless worries about the future.
Many people have said that their stress is manifesting itself into nightmares – how would you say we combat this?
Treat dreams as your friend, instead of your enemy. The science of sleep tells us that while deep sleep is the time for your body to renew and repair itself, dreaming sleep (REM stage) restores your mind, in part by helping clear out irrelevant information and handling your emotions. 30% to 50% of the emotions you experienced during the day will go into your dream and be processed or even healed through your dream. Therefore, dreams are not the problem, not even the nightmares. On the contrary it’s just doing its job to help you. There’s no need to combat it. What you need to do is to manage the emotions you experience during the day and leave less emotional burdens to your dream. You can do this by living your daily life mindfully, applying stress management skills, checking your thinking habit and belief systems and seeking professional emotional healings.
If someone does suffer from an anxiety attack, how would they be able to quickly calm and centre themselves?
B (Breathing). Breathing is a bridge between your mind and body, and it is also something that you can control. In order to calm you down, it’s a big help if you focus on how to breath smoothly and regularly. If you tend to hyperventilate during the anxiety attack, breathing through a brown bag or even through your palms covering your nose and mouth, can help you to correct it. Some breathing practices involve counting and can help you to generate a smooth and regular breathing pattern, while counting your breath could also provide an anchor for your attention.
A (Attention). Worrying for the onset of the attack and watching out for the symptoms showing that it is coming will create a sudden surge in your anxiety levels, and further aggravate the anxiety attack. That’s why the anxiety attack tends to be triggered more easily and happens more frequently under particular circumstances with time. Only a minor part of the anxiety comes from external triggers, the major part is aggravation from inside ourselves. Basically, the problem is the anxiety that is triggered in anticipation of the anxiety attack. Therefore, shifting your attention as soon as possible is crucial to eliminate this secondary anxiety. Reach out to someone close to you to seek support when you begin to feel anxious. Whether in person or over the phone, it can help to shift your attention.
C (Cognitive). Between attacks, it is essential to study anxiety attacks and know that it will not cause you physical harm, even if it feels like it will. You can prepare some words and practice them well in advance to repeat during the attacks to calm you. They could be sentences like, “It will not kill me”, “I just need to keep calm and get through it”, “it will be over soon”.
Healthy Lifestyle (stress management). If you take a look at your first onset and recall how you were doing before it, most likely you could find yourself very stressed for a period of time, sleeping late, or drinking too much. Through living a healthy lifestyle and practicing mindful stress reduction, it can reduce your everyday anxiety levels and will help reduce your anxiety attacks.
There is no doubt that we will emerge from this global pandemic as a changed world – what are some positive takeaways from this?
First of all, we should all realise that human beings are only one part of the natural world, and we need to live with the other creatures in the world with awe and in harmony. Another very important thing I think we will all take away is that health is before wealth. It’s also important to take care of our mental and physical well-being in order to be resilient amid this ever-changing world.
What would be your top three habits to adopt for a positive and healthy life?
Get enough sleep. Plenty of studies have shown that sleep is a foundation to our physical and mental well-being and is considered as one of the main pillars of health. Adjusting your circadian rhythm and having a good night’s sleep is the top habit for well-being. Eating a balanced diet and having three meals a day, on time, each until you are 70% full. Also, change the way that you think (cognitive upgrading). Your thoughts generate your emotions and control your behaviour. Therefore, it is important to check your thinking habits, change your limited beliefs and shift your consciousness.