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Stress in a Pandemic

Stressed man

Tips for managing stress during a pandemic

After many months of living with coronavirus and its pervasive effects, to say that we’re living in stressful times feels rather like saying “cheese tastes good” to a cheese lover such as myself. It’s pretty much like stating the obvious.

I find it hard to imagine somebody somewhere who hasn’t experienced some level of stress at some point as a result of the coronavirus. For some, it’s been very much an up-and-down situation with high levels of stress seesawing with periods of calm, while others are living with a kind of low level, ongoing rumbling of stress which has become so familiar that it almost goes unrecognised. And then there’s everything in between and round about.

In the middle of a pandemic, it’s natural to think that there’s not much we can do about it if we’re stressed. However, while your present circumstances may mean it’s not possible to completely eliminate stress right now, there are still things you can do to help you feel calmer and build your resilience.

Calming the fight or flight response

For example, one of the first things I suggest to clients to reduce their stress is to calm the body’s fight or flight response. The fight or flight response is responsible for those unpleasant symptoms associated with stress such as tight muscles, faster breathing rate, digestive problems and headaches. Calming practices which can help include listening to relaxation audios, mindfulness, spending time in nature, mindful yoga and art-based activities. Exercise* can also be very helpful at calming the fight or flight response as it helps to disperse stress hormones although be aware: excessive exercise can have the opposite effect and has actually been linked to increased stress.

Addressing unmet emotional needs

Another helpful way to reduce or manage stress levels is to address any unmet emotional needs. When our emotional needs are not met to the degree that we need them to be, we can experience emotional wellbeing issues such as stress, anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, coronavirus doesn’t have much regard for our emotional needs and many of us feel the stress associated with the loss of control over our lives, financial insecurity, health concerns, diminished human contact, and the struggle to find a sense of achievement or purpose in a changed, changing and uncertain world.

While we have to recognise that it may not be possible at the moment to make all the changes we would like or need, even small changes can make a difference. For example, setting small goals for ourselves can give us a sense of purpose and something to achieve, and focusing on what you can control or change is more helpful than dwelling on what you can’t. So although we can’t eliminate coronavirus right now, much as we would like to, we can still take steps to keep as well as we possibly can by eating healthily, exercising* and getting good quality, regular sleep.

Acceptance as a stress management technique

Acknowledging that a situation can’t be controlled, and accepting that things are as they are, is also a helpful stress management technique. When we try to resist the reality of our circumstances and fight against something we can’t change, it actually just increases and prolongs our stress. Accepting a situation doesn’t mean that we’re happy with it and it’s not about passive resignation or detachment. Instead, acceptance is an approach that recognises how we feel about a situation while also helping us to cope more effectively with it.

Winter Wellbeing Plan – being proactive

With winter approaching, which is often a difficult time for many and perhaps particularly so this year, one of my top tips is to be proactive about managing stress. Rather than leaving it to chance, taking action now to limit our stress risk or to reduce its possible effects makes sense.

To help you plan for the winter, I’ve created a Winter Wellbeing Plan template with lots of suggestions for things to think about as you create your own plan. If you’d like a copy of the Winter Wellbeing Plan template, simply sign up to my newsletter and you’ll receive a link to download the template for free.

* Consult your GP before undertaking any new form of exercise

© Michelle Drapeau, 2020

If stress is causing you a problem and you’d like some 1:1 support, please contact me about Shine For Wellbeing™, my 1:1 programme of mindfulness-based therapeutic coaching.

Photo by Peggy_Marco on Pixabay