With little warning, the unprecedented global crisis created an overnight need to physically distance ourselves from others. Stress is at an all-time high as we deal with the uncertainty and the significant disruption to our rhythms and routines. In a season where we are unable to physically interact with colleagues, family, and friends as we typically do, the need to care for our individual and collective mental health becomes more important than ever.
In a time where many of the typical methods we use to manage stress aren’t as readily available, my hope is that we can practice social distancing without becoming disconnected.
Below are some strategies on how to reduce and manage stress, anxiety, and fear.
Focus on what you can do
Washing your hands for 20 seconds, sneezing into clothing or tissue, avoiding groups and practicing social distancing, and following public health recommendations will be beneficial in the end. These basics protective measures are key to flattening the curve, which in turn will be a stress reducer.
Do what you can to stay healthy
There are many health obstacles when working from home, but it’s important to keep yourself healthy. Remember to exercise and stretch, continue to eat fruits and vegetables, eat less sugar, get the sleep you need, and drink more water.
Practice gratitude and look for the silver lining
Consider that there is more time for those books you’ve always wanted to read or projects you’ve wanted to do around the house. There is now time to focus on family time or your relationships, you can catch up on paperwork that’s been piling up on your desk, or you can even indulge in binge-watching a show.
Limit news intake, online searches, and articles about the crisis
This one is important. There are constant news articles being published on an hourly basis. Stay informed but avoid endless hours of research. Be mindful of the harmful stress that this can cause. Intentionally unplug and lose yourself in a pleasant activity. Doing something creative or learning something new will help your mind rest and restore.
Validate your concerns, knowing this is a unique, unprecedented experience
Validating your feelings and concerns has been proven to reduce internal reactivity and stress. Permitting yourself to experience how you are already feeling can reduce the intensity of the emotion.
Engage your diaphragm, practice breathing exercises, or learn yoga. Your brain needs fresh oxygen to think clearly. This stress reliever is a great way to bring piece to your mind.
Create new rhythms
As we embrace our new paradigms, look for ways to create new routines to meet your needs. Working from home and the need to assist kids with distance learning creates new stresses along with new opportunities for creativity in scheduling, creating new boundaries, and managing work spaces.
Contain your anxiety by scheduling “worry time”
Reminding your brain that it’s not time to worry yet, and that your stress can wait until tomorrow at 3:00 P.M. When you give yourself an allotted time of 15 minutes to worry about the current situation, you’re less likely to worry throughout the day.
Use your electronic connectivity to connect with others
While it can be helpful to embrace your introversion, maintaining connection with friends and family members avoids isolation. Tools like smartphones, FaceTime, and video networking applications give us the ability to stay connected, even if we can’t physically be together.
Give yourself permission to rest
In this busy world, we all collectively need rest and quiet. For many years, pioneers, settlers, and hard winters kept people in and away from others for months at a time. Practice quiet – it will literally restore your brain. Expect that your mind will initially fight the quiet since it won’t feel normal, but as we’ve heard from wise teachers, practice makes perfect.
Grieve the losses of the season
We’re all experiencing losses, and they will impact different people in different ways. No matter if it is a canceled event, trip, or changed wedding plans, be mindful there are people whose family members are sick, dying or have died, and others who have lost or will lose their livelihood. We all have our own journeys, so avoid minimizing concerns as well. Give compassion to yourself and others during this challenging pandemic.
Look for ways to be one of the helpers in whatever capacity you can do
Be kind, shop for others who are more vulnerable than you, or donate to food banks who will see more need as people lose income. If you’re able to, consider continuing to pay others who have to stay at home. It has been shown that getting out of ourselves and doing things for others has a positive impact on our brain chemistry and is a win/win for us and the people we’re helping.
Use your Birkman Stress Management report to understand your stressors and be more productive
The information in the Birkman Stress Management report provides you with indicators of stress in your life, help you manage your expectations to reduce the stress load, and give recommendations to build resistance to stress. This report is great for you to dig into currently to truly understand how your stress reactions during this time of change, decision making, and possible strained interpersonal relationships.
My encouragement is to pick two or three suggestions from this list each day over the next couple of weeks and see the difference it makes in your stress management. Your brain and your body will thank you!