The month of April was Stress Awareness Month. Ironically, with the current global situation it seems fairly appropriate.
Stress is the body’s reaction to change and comes in two forms: eustress which is good stress, and distress which is negative stress. While some stress can be good for us and feel exciting, like going on a roller coaster, negative stress can feel unpleasant. It can put us under pressure, cause us to feel anxious and leave us feeling unable to cope.
Negative stress manifests itself in a myriad of ways and is damaging to our physical health as well as our mental health. With everything that’s going on at the moment, it’s only natural you might be suffering from higher levels of stress than usual.
Physically, stress can contribute to a variety of health conditions, including insomnia, heart disease, obesity, chest pain and diabetes. Mentally, stress is linked to depression and anxiety. It can also cause emotional symptoms of feeling overwhelmed and becoming easily agitated – especially if it’s affecting our sleep too.
Stress affects everyone in different ways and our stress factors will also differ. But according to the Mental Health Foundation, in the last year 74% of adults in the UK have felt stressed to the point they feel like they can’t cope.
In the current climate, with the global pandemic happening and so many people isolated and alone, people are experiencing higher levels of stress than usual. There’s so much uncertainty and the world is experiencing something it hasn’t experienced before.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, your stress factors may have included feeling overwhelmed by your inbox, working to tight deadlines, lack of time to do things, or working in a job you didn’t like. Mid-pandemic it’s likely your stress factors are different. You might be concerned about you or your loved ones contracting COVID-19, how you will cope financially, being isolated away from family and friends or still having to go to work during the crisis.
Not only do we all differ in what causes us stress, but how we deal with it – or our stress behaviour – differs too. Some people will overeat, some might become agitated or experience extreme tiredness, others will exercise or use meditation as a coping mechanism.
There is no right or wrong way to feel when each day brings a new meaning to the word normal. Everyone will have different triggers and each day will bring different feelings. It’s learning how to recognise your stress triggers and finding ways to deal with them. Obviously, choosing a healthier way to deal with stress, like exercising, is more beneficial than smoking or excessive alcohol consumption.
Ways of Coping with Stress
During this time, one of the best things you can do is talk. Whether that’s to family, friends or a counsellor. Many therapists are continuing to offer support but are now offering telephone or video consultations instead of in-person sessions. If you’re isolated or live alone and don’t have anyone to speak with, you can now self-refer yourself for a check-in and chat call, (if you fit certain criteria) through the NHS support website. A volunteer will give you a call at a convenient time, to check-in and see how you’re doing and listen to any concerns you might have. I’m signed up as a check-in and chat volunteer. Because I’m training to become a counsellor, I wanted to put my skills to good use and offer support to people.
Eating right and staying hydrated can impact the way you feel. Limit sugary foods and make sure you’re eating enough fruit and vegetables – the more colourful your food, the better. If you feel thirsty, you’re already on your way to becoming dehydrated. As a rough guide, try and drink at least 2 litres of water per day. If you track your food, you should be aiming to drink 1ml of water for every calorie you consume. So, if you eat 2200 calories a day, you should be aiming to drink 2.2 litres of water each day.
Limiting your caffeine and alcohol intake can also help to reduce stress, as can getting a good night’s sleep. With everything that’s going on at the moment, you might also feel better if you limit the amount of news you watch and restrict your social media usage. I let Ian drip feed bits of news to me throughout the day, but I also have boundaries in place as to how much he tells me and when. So, first thing in the morning is off limits, as is the hour before we go to bed. My social media usage has also dropped, as I find myself becoming more engaged in activities that nourish me and bring meaning and joy into my days.
In January, I republished a blog post I’d written several years ago called What is Self-Care? – which seems particularly relevant at the moment. Everyone deals with stress and anxiety differently, but as long as what you do helps with your mental well-being – it’s all good.
Examples of self-care to help with stress include:
- Exercising regularly
- Being creative e.g. writing, drawing, making something
- Taking your dog for a walk
- Having a lie in
- Binging on Netflix
- Listening to your favourite music
- Getting enough sleep
- Eating healthily
- Taking a break from the news and social media
- Talking to family/friends/neighbours/counsellor (if necessary)
My morning walks with Ian have become my favourite part of the day. Getting outside for an hour and making the most of my outdoor exercise, leaves me feeling positive about the day ahead. Other activities I’m finding particularly therapeutic, include writing, drawing, lino-printing and gardening. These are the activities I can get lost in, that bring me into the present moment.
Perhaps now more than ever, people need to know it’s okay to be okay, but also, it’s okay, not to be okay. This is a situation that the world has never seen before, and there is no right or wrong way to deal with the stress you feel.
Everyone will find their own way of coping, as they adapt to the current situation.
Remember to check-in with your family, friends and neighbours to make sure they’re okay too. If you find yourself needing a little extra support, please don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. You might just need a friend to listen while you put a voice to your concerns. But if you want to talk to someone who’s qualified to listen, please visit the charity Mind for general advice, or the BACP or Counselling Directory to find a counsellor in your area.
As always, I’m happy to offer support where possible.