Don’t Stress Me Out! Living Your Best Life in Times of Crisis

Stress reliefSometimes the stress of COVID seems like it’s too much to bear. With our world turned completely upside down, it’s natural for stress levels to be high. How we manage our anxiety is a key factor in emerging from this crisis intact and ready to move forward instead of regressing. Here are some tips for keeping ourselves in check during this difficult time.

Limit Your Information

In this age of “at our fingertips” information, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and get sucked into stories and news reports. Although being informed is important to knowing how to safely navigate through the COVID pandemic, we also need to be aware of the effects too much information can have on our stress levels and anxiety. If this is the case, try to limit your intake of news to 30 minutes a day, and pick a single source. Be wary of panic-driven social media sites too as they can draw you in emotionally. Some people even find it helpful to take a hiatus from social media sites altogether.

Stay Connected

As we are forced to stay home and cancel vacations, play dates, and social gatherings, it is easy to feel very isolated. Humans are an interactive species – we crave social interaction and being in touch with others improves our mood and helps us feel grounded. Reaching out to others is important, whether via telephone, email, or video platforms. We are lucky in some ways that the technology allows us this connection to others, although just getting out for a walk or sitting on our front doorstep and seeing others can ease feelings of isolation as well. Check in with elderly friends and family who are at higher risk for isolation and loneliness to make sure that they are doing okay. However important this may all be, make sure that your connections are healthy ones. Boundaries, even now, are important to maintain to support your mental health. Feel free to mute or “unfollow” certain acquaintances if their comments generate stress or anxiety – you owe it to yourself not to absorb other people’s worries.

Coping Skills: Avoiding Burn-Out

This is all about self-care. First, the basics still stand true – eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep is essential to keeping us healthy mentally and physically. This is even more important during the current global crisis. Also, remember that we should only put effort into that which we can control and let go of that which we can’t. Preserve your energy. Sometimes this means simplifying your routine. For example, avoid multitasking and instead work on solving one problem at a time. Sometimes this also means setting more realistic expectations both for you and your family. Don’t strive for “perfect”. Messy is okay right now. We are all doing our best and our efforts should be met with kindness and compassion.

Mindfulness and Meditation

 Sometimes we get a little tired of hearing about how Mindfulness can help us. Just ask my son, who gives me the side-eye every time I bring it up! Over the past several years, Mindfulness has become a common teaching in our schools, workplaces, and therapy sessions. Enough already, right? Wrong. There is a reason why Mindfulness stays front and center with coping with stress and anxiety… because it works! And it doesn’t have to be complicated either. Think of it as a mindset more than anything. Mindfulness is simply paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment — and here’s the important part — WITHOUT JUDGMENT. It gives us space to feel and then think rationally without falling into our “fight or flight” primitive brain survival tactics. We are generally happier and more successful as we tap into our true potential that is not weighed down by fear. Here are some simple ways to invite Mindfulness into our daily lives:

  • Muscle squeezing – sit quietly and squeeze various muscle groups, starting at your feet and working your way up. Focus on what it feels like.
  • Blowing bubbles (great with kids too) – this also promotes deep breathing which can help dissipate anxiety. Count the bubbles, describe their shape, and guess how long they’ll remain in the air before they pop.
  • Coloring – look at colors and patterns deeply. Let other things around you fall away.
  • Meditation – practice sitting quietly and sharpening your focus on something, such as your breathing. If your mind wanders, kindly allow your focus to return to your breath.

Make Plans

The pandemic has taken away a lot of the plans we made before, although we can still control new plans moving forward. These plans may look different, but that’s okay. Plans may be something as simple as putting together a dinner menu for the week. Maybe it means going for a picnic, scheduling a board game night (even virtually as my son frequently does with his friends), or building something in your backyard. These activities are particularly helpful in providing structure to our lives which have very little right now, especially with kids. Planning can even involve finding your place in the bigger picture – what do you want your role to be during this challenging time in our history? How can you make a difference?

In summary, be kind to yourself and others and reach out for help when you need it. You don’t have to pretend that it’s easy either. We need each other to get through this, but you may be surprised how much strength you find inside yourself as well.

*Healing in Kindness, Acting for Change*

Cecily Dvorak Havert, MD

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