So, Mental Health Awareness month has come just as pretty much of all us are having to face a strange world of Coronavirus fears, lockdown anxiety, loneliness, and boredom. With all that we are having to face right now I can’t think of a better time to visit some much-needed tips on how to deal with stress.
Obviously, stress is inevitable, but too much stress can negatively impact your mood, relationships, sleep routine, and even how your body functions. And given that we are living in such uncertain times, I think it’s fair to say we’re all facing a bit more stress than normal.
If you’re trying to figure out how to best manage your stress, there are some therapist-approved tips ahead.
1. Practice Tolerating Uncertainty
A study during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic showed that people who had a harder time accepting the uncertainty of the situation were more likely to experience elevated anxiety.
The solution is to learn to gradually face uncertainty in daily life by easing back on certainty-seeking behaviors.
Start small: Don’t text your friend immediately the next time you need an answer to a question. Go on a hike without checking the weather beforehand. As you build your tolerance-of-uncertainty muscle, you can work to reduce the number of times a day you consult the internet for updates on the outbreak.
2. Tackle the Anxiety Paradox
Anxiety rises proportionally to how much one tries to get rid of it.
Struggling against anxiety can take many forms. People might try to distract themselves by drinking, eating or watching Netflix more than usual. They might repeatedly seek reassurance from friends, family or health experts. Or they might obsessively check news streams, hoping to calm their fears. Although these behaviors can help momentarily, they can make anxiety worse in the long run. Avoiding the experience of anxiety almost always backfires.
Instead, allow your anxious thoughts, feelings and physical sensations to wash over you, accepting anxiety as an integral part of human experience
3. Center Yourself When Anxiety Hits
If you feel your anxiety levels rising, the first thing to do is take a couple of deep breaths. This is a simple technique to calm yourself and engage the parts of your brain that deal with focus, memory, and problem-solving (your prefrontal cortex). From there, it’s recommended to bring your awareness to your feet or “feeling your feet,” a mindfulness exercise that will “literally ground you.”
4. Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation
If you’re feeling stressed, Jessie Bohnenkamp, LPC, NCC, founder of Plum Counseling and Wellness, recommends trying a technique called progressive muscle relaxation. “Often, when we’re feeling stressed, we tense up parts of our body, which then sends signals to our brain that we’re unsafe and need to be on guard for danger,” she states on her website.
To counteract this, lie on your back, or in a comfortable position, and starting with your toes, focus on fully relaxing each muscle group, or body part, moving slowly up your body as you let all of the tension drain away.
5. Strengthen Self-Care
During these anxiety-provoking times, it’s important to remember the tried-and-true anxiety prevention and reduction strategies. Get adequate sleep, exercise regularly, practice mindfulness, spend time in nature and employ relaxation techniques when stressed.
Prioritizing these behaviors during the coronavirus crisis can go a long way toward increasing your psychological well being and bolstering your immune system.
6. Stretch Every Day
Stretching isn’t just reserved for runners and people who lift weights. Dr. Tasha Holland-Kornegay, PhD, LPC, founder of Wellness IRL, a platform to reduce healthcare provider burnout, recommends stretching daily to help relieve stress and relax.
While it may seem like a lot of work, you can simply stand in a doorway and try to stretch your arms apart, trying to reach the upper sides of the doorframe. Hold for 90 seconds and then release. These simple exercises will entice the nervous system and boost your energy,” according to Holland-Kornegay.
7. Limit Social Media and the News
OK, it’s hard but you should really only be using social media to stay in touch with friends and family when you might start to feel isolated. If you’re like me and use Facebook and Twitter to also get your news, then be smart about it. Follow a few verified news outlets that you trust, as well as the Center For Disease Control and the World Health Organization, for news that’s accurate and up to date. It’s fine to unfollow or block sources that are only causing you anxiety.
It’s also really good practice to only allow yourself certain times of the day to check your news feeds and social media.
8. Establish A Routine
Ok, so this one is really hard for me. I’m someone who is always rebelling against routine but it can be a huge help in times like these. Having a daily routine gives you sense of structure that can really be vital for managing emotional stress during uncertain times.
Decide what your priorities are right now and set boundaries between different activities, especially if you’re transitioning to a work-from-home setup. Remembering to take time to exercise, eat well, connect with people you care about, and do simple things that bring you joy is also foundational to maintaining your emotional resilience under pressure.
9. Talk To Yourself About Yourself
Yea, this one might take some getting used to but it can really help. According to Jason Moser, PhD, director of Michigan State University’s clinical psychophysiology lab, “Third-person self-talk can be used across the board as you’re anticipating a stressful event, as you’re feeling anxiety in the moment, or when you’re dealing with something that caused stress and anxiety in the past, like rejection or failure.”
To self-talk, all you have to do is talk to yourself about the stressful event in the third-person, Dr. Moser explains. For example, you could ask yourself a series of questions. “When you’re using your own name, the brain switches to another mode as if you’re talking to someone else. In a nutshell, what happens is that you’re creating a psychological distance between you and the issue you’re facing.”