By Corey Lewis, CPT, CSCS
When we face situations that are beyond our control, our stress levels rise. When these situations seem to drag on with no certainty in sight, low stress levels can become chronic. The pandemic environment that we are all now experiencing is epitomized by uncertainty, unpredictability, and no foreseeable endpoint. It’s no wonder that the average person’s stress level has skyrocketed. In this article, we present the six key steps to handle stress that will allow you to better cope with the anxieties of living through the Covid-19 pandemic.
When you face a challenging, new, or uncomfortable situation, part of your body’s natural response is to become stressed. The stress process begins with the brain initiating the release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These have an immediate physical effect. They will cause your heart to beat faster, your blood pressure to increase, your lung capacity to constrict, and your muscles to tighten. All of these things take place to put you on high alert for whatever is to come next.
Not all stress is bad. In certain situations, it can help us to perform better, like when giving a speech. This type of stress tends to be temporary; when the speech is over, the stress is gone.
It is the type of stress which is ongoing, unrelenting, and seemingly endless that can be harmful. This type of stress gnaws away at us, robbing us of our vitality and making it hard for us to function. That’s the type of stress that many people are experiencing right now as they try to navigate their way through the Covid-19 crisis.
Here are six practical things you can do immediately to handle stress related to the Covid-19 situation.
Often, our stress is the result of worrying about what might happen tomorrow or the next day. More often than not, the thing we obsess over never eventuates. In the process, however, we rob ourselves of peace of mind in the present. Living life a day at a time is a great stress reducer. So, try not to stress about what tomorrow might bring. However, this is, clearly, easier said than done.
The first step in taking life one day at a time is to realize that there are certain things that you don’t have control over. Accept these things and stop worrying about them. Then, make a list of the things that you can control. If, for example, the Covid-19 lockdown has meant that you will struggle to pay your rent this month, be proactive by getting in touch with your landlord, explaining the situation, and requesting a negotiation. Then, having done everything that is in your power, leave the situation alone, both physically and mentally.
We are all living under a new reality as a result of the pandemic situation. We’ve faced pressures and challenges that we’ve never experienced before. So, it is unreasonable to expect ourselves to be operating at the same level that we were previously. Try to set realistic expectations for yourself. If you aren’t able to maintain the same study, workout, or nutrition habits as before, it’s not the end of the world. Try to maintain a sense of humor about yourself, relax, and ride through the situation. Not taking ourselves too seriously is an important way to help handle stress.
When you know the things that lead to high stress levels, then you are in a position to more effectively handle them. If you’re able to avoid the situation, then do so. If not, you will be able to prepare yourself with strategies designed to minimize stress. If, for example, you are finding that the isolation of the lockdown stipulations in your area is causing you stress, be proactive by planning Zoom hookups, going for a daily walk (provided that your local regulations allow this), or phoning a friend.
There is a direct correlation between your quality and quantity of sleep and your stress levels. It is during the hours of sleep that your body replenishes and rejuvenates itself. Without sufficient sleep, you will be more tired, lethargic, irritable, and less mentally sharp. All of these factors will contribute to heightened stress. In addition, a common symptom of stress is impaired sleep, so a destructive sleep and stress cycle can be created.
In order to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep, you should maintain a predictable bedtime routine. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. You should also make your bedroom a technology-free zone. The last thing you want when you’re trying to drift off is stimulation. To ensure that you don’t get it, keep your smartphone, tablet, computer, and TV out of the bedroom. You should also make your bedroom as dark and as quiet as possible.
The benefits of physical activity as a stress reducer are well known. Whether it consists of pounding away at a heavy bag or hitting the floor for a set of push-ups, a quick workout can quickly change your mood. The feelgood endorphins released by exercise combined with physical movement and the knowledge that you are doing something positive and productive for yourself is a powerful mood booster.
The fact that you are in a lockdown situation doesn’t mean that you have to curtail your exercise routine. Maybe you can’t go to the gym, but you can use your bodyweight as your workout tool, combining it with plyometric exercise, backyard sprint training, and daily walks around your neighborhood.In addition to getting regular exercise, it is important to consume mood-boosting foods.
The more orderly your daily routine is, the less stressed your day will be. Even though you may have been thrown out of your normal routine, you should endeavour to stick to it as much as you can. That means getting up at the same time as you normally would, having your meals at the same time, and following a structured daily routine. Try to spend the last few minutes of each evening writing a to-do list for the following day, complete with time allocations. If you have switched to working from home, you may find it beneficial to dress in your normal work clothes. Many people have found that this helps them to differentiate mentally between home and work mode. It is also helpful to have a designated room that you can use as your office work space.
As it stands, it appears as if we will be living under this pandemic environment for quite some time. It will eventually end and we will then go back to our normal way of life. In the meantime, you can enjoy life with minimal stress. Apply the six suggestions given here and you will be able to make the most of the remaining time before we beat this virus.