Stress in the time of COVID-19

By Patrick Maynard, PhD

During these extremely stressful times, all of us need to be sensitive to how we’re experiencing and handling that stress. To do so, we need to be aware of what stress is, what the signs of stress are, what simple steps you can take when feeling stressed, and explore some practical advice for preventing it. 

What is Stress?

Stress is the feeling of being under abnormal pressure. Right now, we are ALL are experiencing abnormal pressure to some degree. Stress can have a cumulative effect, with each stressor building on top of one another. 

During stressful times, you may feel threatened or upset, and your body might trigger a stress response that includes physical symptoms, changes in the way you behave, and intense emotions. 

How can I identify the signs of stress?

People experience stress all the time. It’s normal. However, even though it is normal to experience stress, it is important to tackle it as soon as possible before it starts affecting your life, health, and mental wellbeing. Here are some of the common signs and symptoms to keep an eye out for in yourself and others:

  • feelings of constant worry or anxiety 
  • feelings of being overwhelmed 
  • difficulty concentrating 
  • mood swings or changes in your mood 
  • irritability or having a short temper 
  • difficulty relaxing 
  • depression 
  • low self-esteem 
  • eating more or less than usual 
  • changes in your sleeping habits 
  • using alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs to relax 
  • aches and pains, particularly muscle tension 
  • diarrhea and constipation 
  • feelings of nausea or dizziness 
  • loss of sex drive 

Strategies for coping with stress

Healthy Eating

Practicing healthy eating can reduce the risks of diet-related diseases. Food can affect our mood. Healthy eating can improve it. You can protect your feeling of wellbeing by ensuring that your diet provided adequate amounts of brain nutrients such as essential vitamins and minerals, as well as water — lots and lots of water! 

Be aware of smoking and drinking alcohol 

Watch out for smoking or alcoholic drinks! Even though they may seem to reduce tension initially, this is misleading as they often make problems worse. 

Exercise 

Try and integrate physical activity into your lifestyle as it can be very useful in relieving stress. Even just going out and getting some fresh air and getting some light physical exercise like going for a walk can really help.  

Take time out 

Find time to relax. During stressful times like these, it is crucial to strike a balance between responsibility to others and responsibility to yourself. You can’t help others if you’re not feeling well! Tell yourself that it’s okay to prioritize self-care. 

Be mindful 

Mindfulness is a mind-body approach to life that helps us to relate differently to experiences. It involves paying attention to our thoughts and feelings in a way that increases our ability to manage stressful situations and make wise choices. I started working on this several years ago. At first, I couldn’t even focus on this for more than a couple minutes at a time. I kept working on it though, and the results have been significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate, better sleep, and better energy throughout the day. 

Try to practice mindfulness regularly. You can practice meditation anywhere at any time. I have the Headspace app on my phone and iPad and can pull-up a five- or ten-minute meditation while at my desk at work, at home, or even in the bathroom — wherever you can find a couple of minutes of quiet space! Research shows that it can reduce the effects of stress, anxiety, and related problems such as insomnia, poor concentration, and low moods. A couple of years ago, I found myself waking up at 2 a.m., hyperventilating, and unable to return to sleep. I used the Sleepcasts and Nighttime SOS components in Headspace, and they helped me learn to calm myself and relax back into sleep. And speaking of sleep…

Get some restful sleep 

Are you finding you are struggling to sleep? Sleeplessness is a common problem when you’re stressed. Can you change your environment to help improve your sleep? I found that I was sensitive to light, especially all of those blue and red blinking lights from devices. I now wear a sleep mask. Another common intrusion to sleep is sound. My spouse now wears earplugs, and my arm is no longer black-and-blue from being punched for snoring. Another sleep environment adjustment is temperature – cooler is better for sleeping! 

Don’t be too hard on yourself 

Try to keep things in perspective. Remember that having a bad day — or this whole crazy COVID-19 experience — is a universal human experience. When your inner critic or an outer critic finds faults, try to find truth. Sometimes, you may need to find different friends or acquaintances if they are draining you of your spirit, instead of adding to it! If you stumble or feel you have failed, don’t beat yourself up. Get back up and keep on, keeping on. Act as if you were your own best friend. Be kind and supportive. Take a few minutes each day to appreciate yourself. 

We’re all in this together, Boundless family. Stressful times bring out the worst and best in people. I’s times like these when you’ll see the true nature of people. In times of high stress in my life, I’ve often been genuinely amazed (and blessed) to experience people that I never expected, step up and help. Boundless is a family of doers and helpers. We will get through this by helping each other. Don’t be shy or humble about accepting help from others! 

Take care of yourselves and each other.  

Patrick Maynard, PhD is the president and CEO of Boundless.

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