Stress Awareness Month is the perfect time to reflect on the last two years following the coronavirus outbreak: how we’ve coped so far, how we feel today and what strategies we can employ if things are still a bit too much. Because it can’t be disputed that Covid-19 and the ongoing pandemic upended every aspect of our lives! Freedoms changed overnight as lockdowns were introduced globally, preventing us from socialising with family and friends, all while living under the threat of a violently spreading virus. These changes and the suddenness at which they happened resulted in new stressors taking hold of our mental wellbeing. Fear, stress, loss, and pain, for example:
Fear of catching Covid-19 and passing it on to others with the threat it posed on our lives.
Stress of trying to stick to the rules and carry on as normal despite the global upheaval.
Loss of loved ones dying suddenly at a time when household mixing was restricted and funerals couldn’t be conducted as usual.
Pain of dealing with Covid and the potential long-term implications that could have on our health.
All of these had implications on public health and, as such, a UK study conducted in 2021 by the Stress Management Society and Huawei AppGalley found that:
The study also reported that the three main causes of concern for respondents were due to feelings of disconnection, uncertainty, and worry about a loss of control.
Many of these stressors remain today – even as restrictions ease across the county in this new phase of the pandemic. Some feel cautious about mixing with others for fear of spreading the virus to vulnerable groups, others believe the threat of a new variant is still too high to abandon masks and self-isolation measures, and many more are facing the challenges brought by Long Covid and its disruptive impact on their previous routines. The important thing to remember is that all these feelings are valid and that having a stress response to the past two years of change is normal. But there are techniques we can apply to regain a sense of control over them.
How do we manage daily stressors in the age of Covid?
These simple changes make it possible to manage the stressors impacting your life since the Covid-19 outbreak. They are known as the 4Ss: Sleep, Space, Simplify and Self.
A regular sleeping pattern is proven to have a positive effect on our physical and mental wellbeing. When other aspects of our lives have been disrupted, it helps to maintain a habit of getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep. This not only allows your body to recover and recharge but your mind is able to process subconscious thoughts and memories during your sleep cycle, leaving you to feel freshly rested the next morning. Try setting yourself a goal of going to bed and waking up at set times this week (even if you have nowhere to be the next day!) and see how it makes you feel.
Open air and light activity are great stimulants for good health. This is because Vitamin D from the Sun releases dopamine (a reward chemical) in our bodies, while getting the heart rate up produces feel-good endorphins for our brain. So, take 15 minutes out of your day to go outdoors and breathe in your surroundings for a quick mood boost.
Space also means personal space. It’s important to make time in your schedule to sit still and relax. That could involve reading a book, listening to music or meditating. These will help your mind to unwind and realign itself over the course of the week. Commit to twenty minutes of uninterrupted me-time this week to begin to prioritise your wellbeing.
Overstimulation in today’s modern world can have a negative effect on our cognitive abilities. Throughout the pandemic we have tuned into a constant stream of news, statistics and scandals all which easily become overwhelming. So switch off alerts from news sites, turn your phone on silent and try to walk away from technology. Instead, focus on things you can control by making a list of daily, achievable goals to compartmentalise your week. This might include little things like washing the dishes and making dinner but will provide you with a sense of achievement as you tick each one off the list.
Looking after yourself physically is the best way to manage stress mentally. Ensure your diet is balanced with fruit, vegetables, and healthy fibres to keep your body in check. This is because excess sugar, alcohol, caffeine or additives can exacerbate stress levels in our bodies leaving us to feel worse after consuming them. Pay attention to the foods you fuel your body with and notice how they impact your mood throughout the day.
Mindfulness and breathing techniques can also help to regulate your mood. These are relaxation techniques that encourage focus via your mind and body during relaxation, allowing you to zone-out of the stresses in your day. Short periods of meditation like this can also help to improve sleep, concentration and digestion too!
The key to these Stress Management Techniques is to be patient with yourself. As with any change in routine, it will take time and persistence to make the habits stick. Start with slow and short-term goals to begin, then gradually build it up as you feel more comfortable. The road to stress recovery in the age of Covid-19 is not a quick one, but rather a journey towards understanding yourself and the tools and strategies that work for you.