Stress and anxiety are at all-time highs as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic and associated quarantine. People are struggling to find a new rhythm to life amidst the ever-changing conditions, and are wrestling with finances as financial markets have plummeted. It’s easy to get caught in a downward spiral as we mentally extend the scenario well into the future.
Stress is part of life, and no one is exempt from it. We all deal with it at various times, and it comes in many forms. Even in the absence of a pandemic, daily life can be stressful as we balance our many responsibilities each day, deal with fears, and worry about the future.
We are living in a unique scenario right now. Not only are additional stressors being layered on, but the usual distractions and go-to stress coping mechanisms currently are not options. Parties are forbidden. Book clubs have been halted. Bars have their doors deadbolted. Casinos are closed. Stadiums are empty. Concert music has been paused.
It’s the perfect storm for stress and anxiety to skyrocket.
Many people are feeling stranded, with no healthy coping mechanisms in their backpack. The good news is that there are healthy ways to get a handle on stress, worry, and anxiety. This article will show you how.
Check in with yourself regularly throughout the day
The first step to getting a grip on stress and anxiety is becoming aware of how you feel. Check in with yourself several times throughout the day, and ask yourself the following questions:
How am I feeling physically?
How am I feeling mentally?
How am I feeling emotionally?
How am I feeling spiritually?
Then ask yourself what you need.
Do I need to nourish my body by eating something healthy?
Do I need to clear my mind and meditate?
Do I need to take a short walk?
Do I need to reconnect with myself by sitting in stillness?
Do I need to connect with a friend?
Do I need to release anything?
Do I need to say no to something?
Some of the aforementioned questions may sound basic, but becoming acutely aware of how you feel is a foundational step in the journey to managing stress and anxiety.
Focus on what you can control
Often we find ourselves worrying about things that are outside of our control. It is important to quickly recognize when our attention, energy, and associated emotions are being wrapped up in uncontrollable things, and move to a place of acceptance. Accept the situation as it is, and respond by focusing on what is in your realm to manage.
For example, the current quarantine imposes many inconveniences, limitations, and uncertainties. Rather than focusing on those, accept the situation and focus on how you can fill your time in fun and productive ways. Find the silver lining and enjoy a slower pace, create moments of connection and celebrate the many blessings.
Identify current coping mechanisms
Many of the current go-to activities to deal with stress may in fact be making the problem worse. They’re a short-term, quick fix attempt to ease our stress and anxiety, but we may not even realize that the behavior is just masking the real underlying issues. Many people are resorting to drugs or alcohol because it is convenient and more accessible.
In the book SOAR, I bring awareness to some of these behaviors:
“Loving yourself also includes making lifestyle choices that support your overall physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Engaging in activities like excessively drinking alcohol, smoking, recreational drugs, gambling or other addictive behaviors on an excessive and consistent basis is not congruent with a holistic lifestyle and will make it more difficult for you to achieve the peace, harmony and balance that comes with connecting to your Higher Self.”
Ask yourself if it fuels your mind, body, and spirit
This is where you have the opportunity to get really honest with yourself. For each of your go-to coping mechanisms, look in the mirror and ask yourself if it is the best way to cope with your stress. Ask yourself how it promotes your overall well-being.
Go easy on yourself and remember to apply healthy doses of self-forgiveness, self-compassion, and patience. The goal here is not to beat yourself up over it. The goal is to bring awareness and start to make the shift towards healthier ways of dealing with stress.
Establish healthy ways to deal with stress
There are so many healthy options for managing stress and anxiety. In my book SOAR, I discuss the importance of following a holistic lifestyle—a lifestyle that prioritizes nourishing your mind, body, and spirit.
“Holisticism is a multi-faceted endeavor that takes a mind/body/spirit approach to self-care. It’s very much a proactive and preventative way of living and focuses on keeping all aspects of your being in optimal operating condition. Remember, it’s about making mindful decisions about what you consume, which not only includes food, but also encompasses thoughts, people you spend time with and activities.”
The benefits of exercise are numerous, and stress management is right up there at the top of the list. Incorporate some type of movement into your day, such as walking, running, your favorite sporting drills, or any other type of activity that gets you up and moving.
Rest, relax, and recover
SOAR tells you why you should take a break:
“While exercise is crucial to staying healthy, it also places stress on the body. You must counterbalance this effect by building in adequate time for your body to recharge and rejuvenate. Make sleep a priority and create a space that is conducive to quality rest. Getting adequate sleep is important because it provides the opportunity for the body to rebuild tissues, rebalance hormones, regulate appetite, reduce risk of certain diseases and optimize athletic performance as well as many other advantages. Soft music, candles, oil diffusers and meditation can all play a part in relaxing your mind and body so it can recharge adequately.”
SOAR makes a case for meditation:
“Like anything else, learning the art of meditation takes practice and must be met with self-compassion as you explore this new territory. Start small, and continually raise the bar over time as you become more comfortable with it. You’ll know when the time is right to graduate yourself to the next level. Start off aiming to meditate for 10 seconds, then 20, and keep gradually increasing the time. The idea is to become an observer of your thoughts and to do so without judgement. Don’t try to categorize or judge or analyze them. Instead, simply watch them float in and float out. Your entire mind and body will start to relax and you will open yourself up to the flow of Universal Energy as you connect with your Higher Self.”
SOAR explains how journaling can help you:
“No prerequisites are required for journaling, no creative writing class is necessary and you don’t have to have aspirations of being the next Ernest Hemingway to start writing. Spend a few moments each day writing down what you’re grateful for, what you want to accomplish that day, values you want to work on or anything else that comes to mind.”
SOAR shows you how your breath can help calm you:
“Breathing sounds like it’s simple and assumed. Obviously, we’re all breathing. But in this context it’s about carving out moments to take deep, intentional breaths to recenter yourself. Pay attention to the depth of your breath when you are rushed or frustrated or stressed. You will notice that the physiological response to your mental state is the taking of very shallow, rapid breaths. Our bodies naturally tense up when we are not at ease and we block the flow of Universal Energy when we are in this state. I find that it is always helpful to consciously carve out a few moments to take a few deep, intentional breaths, particularly when I am starting to feel stressed.”
In SOAR, I share a personal reflection on yoga and a brief introduction:
“The process of embracing yoga and incorporating it into my weekly routine has been more enriching and transformative than I ever could have imagined. Yoga forces practitioners to focus on their breath and stay present in the moment. All that matters is what’s happening on your mat. There is no judgement, and you learn to accept wherever you are, knowing that’s exactly where you’re meant to be.”
Talk with someone
It always helps to talk about your fears and stressors with people you trust. Having someone listen and validate your feelings is such a powerful gesture. If you feel you need more support than casual conversations, consider reaching out to a therapist, as they are well equipped to help you cope with your stress.
Stay true to yourself. Maintain boundaries. Say no without guilt. Keep commitments reasonable. Be assertive. Disconnect from relationships and activities that are not in your best interest. Do what you need to do to live a life that feels authentic to you.
Remember, the goal is not to totally eliminate stress, as it’s part of life. Keep making choices that nourish your mind, body, and spirit, and over time you’ll start to experience less stress and more calmness, ease, and peace.