If you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed right now, you are not alone. The current situation with the Covid-19 pandemic is challenging for many reasons. Unfortunately, people who have been experiencing stress are more likely to get sick with viral infections than people who haven’t been feeling stressed. It’s more important than ever to keep your stress levels under control, but how do you do that in a crisis? In this article, we are going to discuss the body’s physiological response to stress and suggest some strategies you can use to find calm.
Your Body’s Stress Response
When something stresses you out–whether it’s your daily commute, a news story, or an earthquake, your body reacts by sending you into fight or flight mode. A part of your brain called the hypothalamus tells your endocrine system to release adrenaline and cortisol. These are known as your “stress hormones.”
This fight or flight response is healthy and useful in the short term. Your heart rate and breathing speed up so that you’ll have more oxygen in your bloodstream, your blood sugar rises to give you more energy, and your immune system gets a boost. After a stressful event has passed, your body is supposed to return to normal functioning.
When a stress response lasts days, weeks, or months, it takes a toll on our health. Our heart and digestive system are put under strain, our muscles are tight and sore, and we become more likely to develop conditions like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. You also become more likely to suffer from depression and other mental health problems. As mentioned above, your immune system will also suffer.
A long term stressful scenario, like the Coronavirus pandemic, puts all of us at risk for stress-related problems. Here are five things you can do to hack your brain and get some relief:
Get the Right Amount of Information
We are always inundated with information, and whenever a crisis hits the news cycle becomes truly exhausting. It’s important to have updates on what is going on, but it’s also important not to overwhelm yourself or consume misleading information. Choose non-politicized news sources like the CDC or WHO and make it a point to only check in once or twice a day.
Try not to hear only the bad news. There is reason to hope that the pandemic can be mitigated, and there are also people who are doing their best to help others in this challenging time. If you pay attention to these points, as well as to the more dire headlines, you will have a more realistic picture of the situation and feel less panicked.
Look for the Silver Lining
Having your kids home from school might be causing you to have to rearrange your schedule, but it’s also an excellent opportunity to spend quality time with them. If you or your spouse are working from home or not working during the pandemic, focusing on the time you get to spend together instead of stewing over financial worries will help your brain calm down.
Try to see your time at home as the ideal opportunity to work on things that you don’t otherwise have time to do. You could dig into your spring cleaning or finally finish that blanket you’ve been knitting. If you usually spend all day at work, working from home might give you more freedom to live a healthy lifestyle that includes more exercise and better food choices.
Take a Time Out
Don’t spend all day ruminating on the pandemic or other stressful things in your life. For the sake of your physical and mental health, you need to take some time to tune out the stress. Watch a movie, go for a walk, work on a hobby, play with your kids. You don’t need to feel guilty for taking a break from it all. In any long term emergency or survival situation, keeping yourself calm and healthy is in and of itself a survival skill. You can’t make good decisions if you are exhausted and strung out. If you are a parent, this is also a good opportunity to demonstrate healthy coping skills to your kids.
Social distancing doesn’t have to equal isolation. Humans are social creatures by nature, and feelings of loneliness can increase our stress levels and take a toll on our health. There have never been more ways to stay in contact with people. You can make phone calls or use skype or facetime to keep in touch with friends and family. Share your fears and frustrations with others and return the favor by lending a listening ear and comforting your loved ones. Don’t spend all your social time talking about the pandemic and the stock market. Try to have some lighter conversations that allow everyone involved to escape for a while and destress.
Practice Active Relaxation
Activities that call on you to actively control your breathing and calm your thoughts can be beneficial during stressful situations. There are a multitude of videos online that can help you meditate or guide you through a yoga routine. Working out can also be helpful if you are feeling stressed, but make sure to do a regimen that is appropriate for your fitness level so that you don’t further overtax yourself.
It can be hard to sleep or relax if your muscles are tight. If yoga and meditation haven’t fully relaxed your muscles, try self-massaging with some scented massage oil. Chiropractic care can also be helpful ( if this is an option in your area right now). A warm bath or shower and aromatherapy can also be useful for relaxing body and mind.