Ways to Manage Your Stress
We’re all struggling to cope with the reality of the coronavirus outbreak and its myriad of effects on our daily lives. If you’re struggling with stress, please know you are not alone and it is perfectly normal to feel stressed in such an extreme situation. In fact, a certain amount of stress is actually useful in getting us geared up for the changes and challenges we will no doubt be facing during this trying time. However, if you feel debilitated or anxious, you’ll greatly benefit from seeking relief in the following stress management techniques. Choose the ones that best apply to you, and remember to be kind and gentle with yourself as you put these actions into practice.
Why do we need to manage stress?
As mentioned above, some stress is completely normal and sometimes beneficial in preparing us for dealing with changes. However, being overstressed actually depletes your body’s natural energy levels and can affect many areas of your health, including your adrenal and immune systems, which are highly interconnected. The reason is that during a time of stress, your adrenal glands release a chemical called Cortisol which has a function of raising your blood sugar levels. In response, your pancreas releases insulin to combat the sudden surge of sugar. With chronic stress, your adrenal system runs on overdrive, which depletes its function and crashes your metabolism and the immune system along with it.
So how can we effectively manage stress?
Here is a list of effective stress management techniques, which range from immediate to long-term. Use one or multiple to address your specific needs.
- Practice Gratitude: You can practice being grateful nearly anywhere at any time. But we recommend starting your day by listing all the positive things you are grateful to have at the start of your day. Gratitude shifts your focus from worry to all the things that help you cope with those worries. You’ll be surprised what this simple practice can do for you, not only during time of stress, but in your daily life going forward. Try keeping a gratitude journal to write down your thoughts daily. Studies consistently show that people who practice gratitude enjoy better mental health, quality of life, and lowered stress levels.
- Breathing Exercises: Simply focusing on your breathing can immediately lower you anxiety and stress levels. In just a few minutes, breathing techniques can calm your body and mind. While there are many different techniques you can choose from, here are a couple simple strategies:
- Inhale through your nose and watch as your belly fills with air as you count slowly to three. Hold your breath for one second, then slowly exhale back through your nose as you count to three.
- Breathe in through your nose and imagine that you're inhaling calm and peaceful air. Now imagine that same air spreading through your body. With every exhale imagine that you're releasing stress and tension.
- Meditation: We’re listing meditation under immediate stress relief, but it has plenty of long lasting stress management benefits too. As with breathing exercise, there are many different forms of meditation. These can range from lengthy to short mindfulness practices. While may people feel intimidated to try meditation, all you need to do to meditate is sit still with your thoughts and let them come and go without judgment or resistance. Or to practice mindfulness, simply pay close attention to what you see, hear, taste, touch and smell. You may also try coming up with a mantra that soothes you and brings you into a space of mindfulness when you repeat it.
- Progressive muscle relaxation: This practice involves relaxing all the muscles in your body, group by group.3 To practice, you can start with a few deep breaths. Then, practice tightening and relaxing each muscle group, starting with your forehead and moving down to your toes. With practice, you'll learn to recognize tension and tightness in your muscles and you'll be able to relax more easily. Each time you practice, however, you should experience a feeling of relaxation sweeping through your body.
- Guided Imagery: Guided imagery is basically the equivalent to taking a vacation in your mind. What it is, is imaging yourself in a "happy place" of your choosing – this can be any place (real or imaginary) where you feel calm and happy. It could be a beach, near a brook, the forest, or a childhood hiding spot. Simply close your eyes and talk yourself through a peaceful scene. Think about everything your senses are experiencing and give into feeling as if you're really physically there. Then, once you’ve calmed and soothed your mind, open your eyes and return to your present reality.
- Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy offers genuine benefits for stress relief. Depending on the scent you choose, it can help you to feel more energized, relaxed, or focused on your present moment. Certain scents actually alter brain wave activity and decrease stress hormones in the body. You can enjoy aromatherapy in candles, body products or essential oils.
- Create Art: Many of us lose touch with our innate creativity when we enter adulthood, but it’s easy to reconnect to it, given the opportunity. You’ll be surprised how much stress relief you can feel just by creating something – anything. If you’re not into drawing or painting, try an adult coloring book, as they’re also proven to be very effective stress relievers. Research demonstrates that coloring can have a meditative effect and are great at relieving anxiety.
- Stay away from alcohol: It might be tempting to turn to an alcoholic drink to take the edge off of your stress, but this may actually backfire. Alcohol has been proven to have a number of negative effects on your mental health and also does damage to your body – which you need in the best shape to fight off any viral attacks.
- Exercise: Giving your body plenty of physical activity releases stress and also boosts your energy level and immune system along with it. If you have exercise equipment in your home, great! If you do not, don’t worry – there are plenty of exercises you can do in the comfort of your home without any additional equipment. You can also get creative and use things like gallon of milk to function as a weight! Some of the best exercises for relieving stress are yoga as well as any cardio activity. This doesn’t have to be lengthy or particularly intense – just enough to get your heart rate up and your blood flowing.
- Eat a balanced diet: While we’re not trying to tell you how to live your life. After all, which one of us isn’t comforted by the idea of carb binging while stuck at home during a pandemic? If ever there was a time for comfort food, now would be it, right? Well, here comes the burst bubble: comfort food only satiates your body’s craving for simple carbohydrates and sugar and that’s due to the combination of cortisol and insulin that are released by our body during highly stressful times. All this intake does, though, is cause another temporary spike in blood sugar levels, followed by more release of insulin by your pancreas. Needless to say, this cycle doesn’t end very well.
- Try adding these foods: A good workaround to your comfort food cravings is consuming more fruits and whole foods with natural antioxidants, which actually deliver important nutrients and fiber along with carbs and fructose. Other foods that are especially beneficial for mental health and brain function are foods high in Omega 3, such as oily fish, nuts, and seeds. Eating a balanced diet has a long-term effect on your mental health and is helpful in coping with outside stressors.
- Get outdoors (when possible): This is a tough one, because depending on your geographic location you may or may not do this safely while avoiding contact with COVID-19. On the other hand, if you are blessed with a balcony, a yard or an open space to safely go to, getting out in the sun and nature can have incredible effects on your stress. Even opening up and sitting by a window (which you should be doing daily anyway) is a way to breathe in fresh air and hopefully get some sunshine in the process – hello, Vitamin D!
We hope you find these tips helpful in decreasing your stress, even temporarily. In addition to these, remember to reach out to loved ones during this difficult time and lean on them for support. While this is certainly a less-than-ideal situation to be in, we’re much more resilient to stress when we feel a sense of belonging and community. So pick up the phone, laptop or tablet and connect with the people you feel most drawn to for support. We’re physically isolated, but we do not have to go through this experience feeling alone. Be kind to those around you as well as yourself. From all of us here at WML, we wish you to stay safe, healthy and informed.