We are in unprecedented times. Our sense of normality has shifted. We are having to adopt unfamiliar routines and live by new rules while we navigate through this difficult time on a global scale.
The fear and stress triggered by a situation like this are to be expected. For many people, it’s the not knowing and uncertainty that can be difficult to overcome. Every day we live with concerns about catching the virus, spreading the virus, financial and job security. Parents are trying to keep children occupied at home, keep them informed and safe but without scaring them. We don’t know when things will return to normal. It’s a lot to deal with. So, to help you find a way of easing this fear and stress, here are my top tips.
5 ways to reduce or relieve your stress levels
1). Give your body a boost
Anxiety reduces our immune function and increases inflammation in the body. In Saul McLeod’s article for ‘Simply Psychology’, he shared findings about the impacts of stress on our immune system. In the article he spoke about research undertaken by Kiecolt-Glaser (et al) who found that ‘immune responses were especially weak in those who reported feeling most lonely, as well as those who were experiencing other stressful life events.’ Now more than ever, we must take care of ourselves not just emotionally, but physically. Giving your immune system a daily boost can really help your body in times of anxiety. You can do this by increasing your intake of foods that are rich in vitamins and adding in supplements where needed. The BBC Goodfood site gives a great range of immune-friendly recipes if you need a little inspiration. Another great way to support your immune system is by adding medicinal mushrooms to your meals. Often used in Chinese medicine to improve strength, longevity and the body’s natural immune response; an antibacterial and anti-fungal mushroom has been shown to have a strong immune enhancing function. You can find some lovely recipe ideas using medicinal mushrooms here.
Even though we need to stay at home for the majority of our day, there are many things we can do to keep active and also improve our mental well-being. If you haven’t tried breathing exercises or meditation, I highly recommend it. Taking time out of your day, every day, to include a calming breathing or meditation technique will help relieve your fears and anxieties.
By focusing purely on your breathing, your mind will be diverted from external worries. It takes practice, but over time you will really feel the benefits. The NHS shared a simple breathing technique that you can try.
If you would like to practice meditation, there are a number of apps you can download with some free resources, including HeadSpace. Alternatively, for completely free material, YouTube is brilliant. I recommend ‘The Honest Guys’ channel; they have a wide range of different guided meditations to use. All you have to do is sit back, listen to their instructions and let your body and mind relax.
Physical exercise is also a great stress buster as it uses up unnecessary adrenalin. With some creative thinking, you can have some great workouts at home. Your stairs can be your very own step-machine, cans of beans can be hand weights while exercising or you could just have a family dance-off in the living room. Or, if you feel you need some guidance, YouTube is again a great place to find workout tutorials for all abilities – and all for free.
3). Control the controllable
If you haven’t heard of the Circle of Influence and Control, then this is a really positive way to help you focus your mind only on the things you can control in life. Created by Stephen Covey, it is a really simple model to follow.
Here’s how to create your own circle. On a large sheet of paper, draw a big circle. This is the Circle of Concern; the things you need to sort out or do in your life, or things you keep thinking and worrying about, whether you think you can control them or not. Write all your concerns onto separate sticky notes. When you’ve written them all out, draw another smaller circle in the middle of the first circle, this is the Circle of Control. Look through all your sticky notes and place them in the right circle; things you can control and things you can’t control.
If you were creating a circle based on Covid-19, concerns that you can’t control could be: the government response to the pandemic, how many people will contract the virus, when will this all be over etc.
Areas that are within your control could be: how you choose to spend the day ahead, what you will do to keep active and how you will implement government guidelines into your life.
Once you have placed all your sticky notes, you will be able to see clearly what is in your power to control and, what areas you should aim to release from your thoughts. It doesn’t mean those things aren’t important or relevant. It just means you can’t control them. Put your completed circle up somewhere visible so you will see it often. It will help you to focus your mind primarily on the things that you can control. You can find detailed instructions about how to use this technique on the thensomehow.com website.
4). Limit social media
With social media updates being added 24/7, it can be overwhelming to see the constant personal opinions, news and speculation that are flooding our timelines. Whilst it’s important to keep up to date with the latest developments, you should stick to official and well-respected sources. Try to limit your exposure to social media, especially at night, and focus instead on activities to enhance your mood rather than spending hours scrolling through your feeds. If you are spending a lot of time alone and feel that social media connects you to the outside world, then focus your online time to the feeds of close family and friends. This may also apply to constantly watching what other people are doing during this period. Where possible, look at the positives. You can always learn and get ideas from other people about their new and interesting routines. They may also work for you – so try them or a version of them. On the flip side, don’t feel pressurised to “keep up” with what other people are doing. Everyone is different and we all have the freedom to make our own choices within our circle of control, and you should do what works for you.
5). Reframe it
For many people, the current requirement to stay at home feels completely at odds with their normal life. Those of you who are used to going out regularly to work, socialise or exercise may be finding the current way of living really difficult. If you’re not able to do the things that you usually like to do, then try to reframe the situation. What does this time enable you to do that you wouldn’t do normally? Perhaps it is spending more quality time with your family, without the distractions of normal life. Or maybe it’s a great time for you to finally watch that boxset or read the book that you’ve been trying to get around to for months.
If you are a highly sociable person, while physical distancing may be necessary, it doesn’t mean you have to stop connecting socially. With so many great ways to connect remotely like Zoom, Skype or the House Party app, you can have online parties, book clubs, wine tasting events or games nights. This is the perfect time to get creative with how you connect!
Whatever you’re feeling at the moment, be kind to yourself. Whatever you’re feeling, someone else will be too. Your thoughts and feelings may feel alien to your usual way of thinking. Acknowledge those feelings, write things down and introduce new things to your life that will help you to relieve anxiety.
If you think you’d like support to help manage your stress / anxiety, please contact me.