Stress Management is challenging at any point in time, let alone when we are facing a global pandemic. Right now many of us fear for loved ones, have experienced job losses, may be essential workers on the frontlines, and are facing incredible uncertainty about the future. Stress and health seem to be the number one shared concern for everyone right now. Based on our expertise in mental health and nutrition science, we have insights to share on things you can start doing TODAY to reduce the level of stress you are experiencing and improve your cognitive, emotional, physical, and relational wellbeing.
First a little background on stress, what is it, why do we have it, how can we deal with it? Stress is our body’s natural way of preparing us to encounter danger. When our mind perceives a potential threat, we have two choices; try to avoid it or deal with it head on. This is what is commonly called the “fight, flight, or freeze'' nervous system response based on our neurological wiring to protect ourselves from real threats to our physical safety. The threat of danger alerts our body to release a number of hormones in order to turn on the “sympathetic nervous system” which increases our heartrate, generates fast shallow breathing, tenses our muscles, and dilates our pupils. This system is incredibly useful for when you say encounter a tiger unexpectedly in the forest. However, it is slightly less useful for being confined to your home for weeks on end. This biological stress responses often leads to chronic pain, anxiety, irritation, difficulty focusing, poor decision making, and relationship problems.
So what can we do to help our bodies to turn down the intensity of this automatic response? The good news is there are many simple things you do right now that will help you to immediately have some relief from this chronic state of hyperarousal.
8 Stress Reduction Activities To Do today:
Take a walk outside for at least 20 minutes: this allows a physical release of pent up tension and energy stored in your body. Walking outside also calms a racing mind by releasing endorphins and switching your focus to the environment around you. If it is unsafe for you to talk outside right now, you can get the same benefits by moving your body in a way that feels good (dancing, yoga, jumping jacks, etc)
Challenge your negative thoughts with alternative perspective: our thoughts really do become our reality. Right now we are being FLOODED with bad news, fear, and change. It is logical for our thoughts to become pessimistic and obsessive about the “doom and gloom” facing us. However, the more time we spend thinking negative thoughts, the more we will find evidence to support this negativity. Instead, focus on what you can control right now. See if there is a way to shift your perspective to notice the good things in your life at this moment. Maybe that you have food to eat, you have a bed to sleep in, you get more time with your loved ones (whether that be physically or over FaceTime), you have time to reflect on what you want out of life, and maybe you have more time for self care. Notice your thoughts and ask yourself, is there a different way to see what I’m going through?
Light a scented candle: changing our sensations through smell, touch, taste, sight, or sound is incredibly powerful for shifting mood and interrupting our stress response. Lighting a candle with a pleasing smell (particularly lavender, lemon, jasmine, or peppermint) is a quick and easy way to bring a sense of calm.
Take slow deep breathes (paced breathing): trick your nervous system to release calming hormones by engaging your breath. To do this effectively, take a deep inhale for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 4 seconds, then exhale for 4 seconds. Repeat this 10 times in a row to instantly calm your heartbeat, relax your diaphragm, and flood your body with calming oxygen.
Laugh: Laughter really is the best recipe! Make time each day to watch something unrelated to COVID-19 that makes you belly laugh. Comedy skits, cat videos, sit coms, or your favorite movie...whatever is your jam! Laughter boosts your mood, inspires hope, generates connection, strengthens your immune system, and can even diminish pain.
Call someone you enjoy talking to: Connecting to our loved ones is more important than ever during this time. It is important to have someone safe to vent to, laugh with, and be able to share in the experience you’re going through. Conversation creates a buffer against stress by knowing you are notalone in your experience. Talking to someone else will shift your perspective out of your own worries. Most importantly, it fulfills our human need for connection and belonging.
Journal: When all else fails, write down what you’re experiencing. Journaling does not have to be a complete recount of your day or any specific length. Put pen to paper and write down whatever comes to mind. This act of releasing the emotions and thoughts tightly wound in our minds helps to bring clarity to what you’re needing. Maybe you need time alone, you’re just hungry, you need to sleep, you need to resolve a conflict, or you need to get started on a pending project. Gaining clarity on what you need allows you to take control and decide how to tackle the problem. It is empowering to know you are managing the problem instead of being a victim to the problem. Establishing a sense of control during an uncontrollable situation will reduce your stress and anxiety.
Create a sleep routine: sleep deprivation leads to a chronic release of cortisol and adrenaline in order to keep us awake through exhaustion. This creates a state of hyperarousal. We often compound the problem by using caffeine to fuel us during the day, then alcohol to calm us at night into rest. This pattern wreaks havoc on our circadian rhythms and our resulting ability to manage our emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. Create a calming routine (perhaps take a warm bath, read, listen to a meditation app) and aim for 7- 8 hours of sleep.
You are doing an incredible job just by getting through this time and courageously showing up for your life every day. These activities will help your body to move from hyperarousal to a more relaxed physical state. In order to address more persistent forms of stress and its impact, it may be helpful to check in with your primary care doctor, a psychotherapist, or alternative healing practices such as acupuncture, massage, yoga, and naturopathy. Here at Restore Family Therapy Inc., we are continuing to work with clients while respecting social distancing by providing TeleHealth appointments. If you’re interested in learning more about stress management, mental wellness, or the sort of treatment we provide, please reach out for a free consultation at restoreft.com.
Carrie Cueto LMFT #111543