For many of us, we’ve been mostly at home for the past couple of months. For those of us who continue to work we face new challenges every day. As some areas of the country begin to slowly open up, others are taking more time to put next steps in place. The truth is that we will likely be dealing with COVID-19 for some time, possibly a year or longer.
The experience of living during a global pandemic, sheltering in place and trying to maintain work and income through it all is incredibly stressful. I see how COVID-19 is affecting my patients on a daily basis. There is stress related to income and finances, stress about being on the front lines, stress about racial inequality, stress about stores reopening, stress about childcare, stress about exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus), stress about not seeing loved ones and the list goes on. Overall, there is a lot of worry about the future.
While I think feeling stress is completely valid during this time of so many challenges and uncertainties, it is also a clear opportunity to work on managing stress, even in simple ways. Improving stress management skills supports the immune system, overall wellness and they are skills that you can always use regardless of the state of the world. I promise this isn’t the last time you’ll face stress in your life, so why not take charge of how your body responds.
Here are some suggestions to get you started.
If you are having a hard time right now, acknowledge that this is really stressful. It only makes sense to feel how you are feeling. Lots of people are experiencing strong emotions and that is okay. Actually being present for your feelings, opposed to stuffing them down with online shopping, emotional or stress eating, or over exercise is a much more constructive way of handling this human experience. Allowing yourself to feel is a kind and compassionate way to treat yourself.
If you aren’t as productive or creative as you normally are, let go of some of these expectations. Often times, stressful times aren’t the time to try to do more. While you’ll see many messages about writing a book, taking a course and learning a new language during all of your new “free time,” you don’t have to do any of these things. And you certainly don’t have to feel any guilt about not doing them.
This is a time to sustain, nourish, protect and care. For some of us, we simply need to survive. It is okay to let go of the rest.
The body likes routine. Creating a daily rhythm supports your circadian rhythm, sleep, eating patterns, hormone balance and mental health. When under stress, routine helps your body to feel safe as it knows what to expect throughout the day.
If you are at home, set a regular bedtime and get up around the same time each day, prioritizing your sleep. Don’t forget to shower and make your bed. I promise you’ll feel better if you do these two things!
Set regular work hours and a schedule to keep kids occupied. This might become more challenging as online school ends and summer vacation begins, but worth devoting some time to a family calendar. It doesn’t need to be overly strict or full, just enough to bring some structure to your days.
As things change, stress rises and routines are disrupted, it is very common to let go of health habits and revert back to old habits.
I’ve seen a rise in comfort eating with my patients as there have been many challenges in maintaining nutrition. Perhaps you were used to going to the gym regularly and working out at home isn’t going so well. Or, you can’t even find a minute alone to do your daily meditation.
Before moving on to establishing new health habits (which is totally fine to do if you have the bandwidth) work on reestablishing or maintaining the ones you already have (or recently had) in place. This could be as simple as committing to your supplement routine, eating vegetables every day or getting outside for a walk. If you have been working on blood sugar, hormone balance or managing your autoimmune disease, reducing stress and continuing with your treatment protocol is supportive.
As a side note, and speaking of supplements, the adrenal glands and stress response system in your body loves vitamin C and B vitamins. Adaptogenic herbs are incredibly supportive during periods of increased stress.
As the weather shifts and we move into summer, there are less excuses for getting outdoors. Use your time outdoors for exercise, sunlight exposure and being in nature. All of these reasons to be outside contribute to reduced stress, improved mental health and strengthen the immune system.
This tip is for those of you that are feeling cramped and claustrophobic in your living space. Perhaps you are an introvert used to a lot of alone time or simply need a break from the demands of everyone else around.
Try finding a corner of your space that is all for you, let your family know and invite them to do the same. Remove clutter from your area and fill it with things that relax you. Perhaps a comfy pillow for meditation, a yoga mat for stretching or some plants. When you need to breathe or step away, you’ll have a place to go.
I realize this tip isn’t for everyone and those living alone or away from family during this time might be starting to feel the effects of loneliness and isolation, which contribute to stress. For those that need more connection, do a social distance hike, utilize video calls, online meet ups or reach out to me so I can support you with resources.
I know this time is filled with new worries and challenges, but a little awareness, compassion and commitment go a long way. Like I said, you don’t need to take on big projects or start meditating for hours every day. Instead, what are the little pieces that calm your nervous system and help you to feel centered?
I’ll leave you with one final tip: look for the silver linings. I know for myself, through the shutdown, changes with my practice and many things being up in the air, I’ve had some incredibly beautiful, joyful moments with my children and family. My gratitude for this helps me to manage my stress.
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