How to cope with stress during Covid
April is Stress Awareness Month, and this year for many of us stress has taken on different hues. Remember the good old days when stress was associated with workplace dynamics… juggling social commitments... rushing from one place to another with Too Much To Do?! You might think that the endless lockdowns should have alleviated stress by simplifying our lives, but a recent survey by stress.org.uk found that 65% of people have felt more stressed since the COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020.
Admittedly, many of us have been juggling a lot of responsibilities while working from home, taking care of children and so on, and financial worries may be looming large too. Yet the above-mentioned survey found that the main causes for stress this year, rather than the usual overload of stuff on our plates, were feelings of disconnection, uncertainty, and a worrying loss of control.
In our January newsletter we looked at some useful acupressure techniques as well as lifestyle tips for alleviating stress and anxiety – click here to revisit those tips.
This month, let’s dive deeper into those three factors that have piled on extra layers of stress this past year, and see how we can help ourselves and others to regain connection, certainty and control in our lives – or to adapt our perspectives so that we can be at ease in these strange times.
As always, my aim is to help you alleviate your aches and pains, from the safety and comfort of your own home. If you need a One-on-One video session to get rid of these pains in the neck (or the backside).
Can you imagine how lockdown would have been in the not-so-distant days when we had no Zoom, no social media or chat apps, no online classes and gatherings... no laptops or mobile phones even? The Internet has been a lifeline for most of us this past year, keeping us connected with loved ones near and far as well as with the world at large. Yet humans are social animals and there’s no substitute for the warmth of gathering with friends and loved ones in person, sharing a hug, a laugh, and the simple presence of others. The deep loneliness and isolation that many of us are experiencing can seriously impact our mental and physical health. Here are some ideas for regaining that sense of connection: - Talk about it!
Most of us are trying to put on a brave face while secretly feeling wretched at times and thinking everyone else is coping just fine. The more we reach out and open up, whether through heart-to-hearts with the people in our bubbles or virtual chats and phone calls with friends (or even strangers for that matter), the more we realize we’re all in this together, and most of us are struggling. Let’s not add extra layers of stress by feeling bad about feeling bad! - Loving your bubble-mates
Let’s face it, the flip side of feeling disconnected during these long days, weeks, and months stuck at home, is sometimes wishing to be disconnected from the people closest to us, with whom we share our living space. Last year we published a newsletter on Setting Healthy Boundaries in Quarantine with some tips on how to share space without driving each other crazy.
But let’s not go too far and turn those boundaries into walls of silence – those closest to us may be most in need of our emotional support and understanding, as we are of theirs. Sharing a little kindness and appreciation, in however small a way, can transform our day as well as theirs. Keeping a gratitude diary is a wonderful aid in maintaining a positive outlook on life, especially during these challenging times. And if you’re having difficulties with the people who share your space, try to include a few points that you appreciate about them in your gratitude diary! - Reconnecting with ourselves and with nature
Ever find yourself mindlessly scrolling the hours away, reading endless social media threads, news stories, window-shopping online? More than ever, the miracle of technology has become a double-edged sword... while keeping us connected with each other, the internet also pulls our attention in a hundred different directions and often leaves us with information overload, which may intensify our feelings of anxiety and disconnection. Ever thought of just switching off and reconnecting with yourself? Meditation, mindfulness, yoga, DIY acupressure massage, and Qigong are all wonderful ways of recentering ourselves and alleviating stress. And let's get some fresh air and reconnect with nature! Even just a walk up the road… smile at the trees, the flowers in your neighbors’ gardens, the blades of grass pushing up through the paving stones. Smile at strangers passing by on their socially distanced walks… we’re all in this together! - Surviving post-lockdown social life
And looking ahead, as restrictions ease again, let’s pace ourselves and gently expand our bubbles rather than bursting them – for the sake of both our own and others’ mental and physical health. The post-lockdown stampede to shops/pubs/cafes left many of us reeling last time, as the shift from isolation back into social life gave rise to different forms of stress and anxiety (not to mention another wave of COVID). The gradual lifting of restrictions gives us the opportunity to really savour the chance to reconnect with beloved friends and family members a few at a time, and to appreciate those connections like never before!
Living with Uncertainty
The other two key causes of lockdown stress, feelings of uncertainty and lack of control, are intimately connected. COVID-19 has thrown into stark relief a simple fact of human existence: uncertainty is always there, and we cannot always be in control. What if we could just learn to accept that and go with the flow? To paraphrase the famous “serenity prayer”, we could spare ourselves a lot of stress if we had the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Why lose sleep over things that we can’t change? Easier said than done, right? Yet we can train ourselves, step by step, to accept and let go when things are genuinely beyond our control. - Start small
Life is full of opportunities to let go and trust. Practice with the small things: a rainy day, a burnt pan, or an uncooperative toddler. In such situations, take a deep breath and watch your thoughts. If you are stressed or frustrated, don't pretend you’re not. Just recognize your own emotion, and then see if you can release it with a deep breath. - Keep a sense of humour
Laughter is one of the best medicines, and a sense of humour is one of our greatest allies in navigating these uncertain times. If you find yourself spinning out, try just looking in the mirror and having a good belly laugh or at least a chuckle! - See the positive side
Uncertainty and impermanence aren’t always bad news – while things can turn for the worse, they can also take a turn for the better. And even the darkest cloud can have a silver lining, even if we can’t see it yet. Try using affirmations… for example, how about replacing “I’m stuck at home” with “At last I have time to focus on myself / my home / my kids / personal projects..”
“The courage to change the things we can” bring to mind heroic deeds, yet we can all change our own lives and the lives of those around us in a positive way by the smallest, simplest actions. Here are some suggestions for counteracting feelings of helplessness and anxiety, by asserting control over our own lives on a day-to-day level. - Stick to a routine
For many of us, working from home – or indeed staying home without a job – has brought new freedoms along with new challenges. Being able to structure our own days has given us the flexibility that we might have dreamed of back in the days of the 9-5 grind, but if we let our routine unravel too far it can also bring added stress, anxiety, and depression.
Numerous studies have shown the mental health benefits of keeping to a daily routine in the midst of traumatic events. Whether you are still shielding or venturing back out into the world, if you find yourself working, eating, and sleeping erratic hours, try setting yourself a routine. This means eating meals at regular times, sleeping, walking, and exercising at set times, as well as scheduled time for relaxation and social contact (in person or virtual). On top of that, for those of us still working from home, sticking to a routine gives a sense of being in control of our lives. - Set yourself micro-goals
Micro goals have often been identified as the key to success by, well, successful people! Now more than ever, with many of our long-term personal projects on hold, micro-goals are both a way to take small, practical steps towards our bigger goals, and to stay sane and positive through these uncertain times. Put simply, micro-goals are a way of breaking down a long-term aim into small, achievable tasks. Eyeing up an eventual career change, when we emerge into the “new normal”? How about taking an online course, doing some more research, making new connections online.. whatever it is, set yourself a specific task or tasks for the day/week, and be realistic about it, so that you can pat yourself on the back for taking a small step forward, instead of being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the journey ahead of you!
Besides the wisdom to know the difference between what we can and cannot change, the wisdom of perspective can ease a lot of unnecessary stress. Cardiologist and author of the book Is it worth dying for Robert Eliot famously said,
"Rule No. 1 is, don't sweat the small stuff. Rule No. 2 is, it's all small stuff. And if you can't fight and you can't flee, flow." - Robert Eliot
Rule No. 1 has been widely quoted and has spawned some wonderful self-help books and techniques to help us stop sweating the small stuff and start appreciating the good stuff more.
But not so many people have the nerve to go deeply into Rule No. 2: It’s all small stuff. Yet that’s the ultimate stress reliever. All of it? Even the pandemic??
Most of us can look back at times of our lives when it felt like the world was falling apart – a broken heart, a lost job, a bereavement – and see with the perspective of time the new opportunities that opened up as a result of that upheaval, painful though it was at the time. How about looking at the current crisis from a birds-eye perspective (and yes the skies are clearer up there these days without so many planes around!) or an imaginary perspective of time – who knows, even 50 years from now COVID-19 might just be a footnote on the pages of history books.
Likewise, any drama in our lives, big or small, will pass. That doesn’t mean we can’t take positive steps to change what we can and make the world a better place for ourselves and others – far from it! (Remember “The courage to change...”?) But when we’re in the midst of a storm, it’s worth remembering that the sky is always there.
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