In today’s world, no one’s a stranger to stress.
The human body’s reaction to physical, emotional, or psychological strain is normal and can be positive in short bursts – the shot of adrenaline can help avert danger or meet a deadline. But, on a long-term basis, stress can cause grievous harm to your health.
In a year when just skimming the newspaper or browsing news sites adds to the stresses of daily life —work demands, family issues and relationships, illness and caregiving, or monetary problems — every day may bring you anxiety. This feeling of fear, worry, or unease can be a reaction to stress or can occur in people unable to identify stressors.
Dr Ann Epstein, a psychiatrist at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance and medical editor of the Harvard Special Health Report: Coping with Anxiety and Stress, writes that some degree of anxiety is “normal and even necessary”.
“Anxiety signals that something is awry or might need our attention. However, you don't want the response to become exaggerated or to dominate your life," she says.
The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the loneliness epidemic across the world and neccessitated coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety to stay healthy. Here's how you can beat stress and add years to your life:
Breathe in, breathe out
Deep breathing is the best and most effective technique for reducing anger and anxiety. Studies show that angry or anxious people tend to take quick, shallow breaths, which trigger the fight-or-flight response in your mind. Taking a long, deep breath break can help calm you down. There are various breathing techniques that can help. Focus on inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly, focusing on your breath as you do so. Making meditation and deep breathing a part of your life can help make stress a thing of the past.
Challenge your thoughts
Most often than not, it is the many irrational and unfounded thoughts that make us anxious or angry. These worst-case scenario thoughts take you down the “what if” road, and may lead you into trouble. It is important to nip these thoughts in the bud, if possible, with the use of cool logic. Ask yourself simple, to-the-point questions: Will this happen? Is this rational? Has this happened before? What can this lead to? Am I equipped to deal with this? Try to reframe your thoughts and tell yourself that this too shall pass!
Exercise every single day
According to Harvard Health, exercise “reduces levels of the body's stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators. Endorphins are responsible for the ‘runner's high’ and for the feelings of relaxation and optimism that accompany many hard workouts — or, at least, the hot shower after your exercise is over”. Any type of exercise will help – a 20-minute walk, a bike ride, or a solo run.
Take care of yourself
In this time of uncertainty, a routine can help create a sense of security. Eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and avoid drugs and alcohol. Create your own relaxation techniques, depending on what you enjoy – DIY, meditation, yoga, a massage, a hot shower/bubble bath, a solitary walk, or late-night TV. Make sure you stay connected with family and friends via video calls. Make it a point to do something you enjoy every day – read a new novel, walking your dog, or cooking a new recipe.
Be kind and compassionate
The world over, people are suffering in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The fact that we’re not alone in this means it’s important to be kind and compassionate. Research has shown that the heart rate goes down and our parasympathetic nervous system is more activated when we feel compassion. There’s more. A study has revealed that many people who had been through traumatic life situations had a shorter lifespan, but a small group among them lived very long. Why? Researchers found that they were all engaged in helping friends and family through their life. Helping others increases your sense of well-being; it helps people around you and also helps nourish, inspire, and energise you.
COVID-19 hasn’t been easy for any of us. If these steps don’t help, you may want to consider whether your anxiety is normal or whether you have an anxiety disorder.
Keep in mind that cultivating calm isn’t about avoiding stress; it’s about being able to deal with negative emotions and change your mindset.