The COVID-19 pandemic has added many new challenges to our lives, both at work and home. Right now we are faced with constant change and uncertainty. Here are some practical tips on how to manage your stress during these challenging times.
Managing Stress is a Balancing Act
At times pressure can be a good thing. It can improve our performance and help us achieve our goals. On the flip side, too much pressure can leave us feeling stressed and overwhelmed. This can negatively impact our performance, as well as our ability to cope, our relationships and in the long term, our health. Think of it as a balancing act. The secret to success lies in learning to recognise your early warning signs and taking steps to manage your stress before you tip into overwhelm!
Recognise your stress signals
We all are exposed to some level of stress, whether it is workplace stress or home life stress. Identifying and acknowledging your personal stress indicators will help you to intervene early and manage your stress. We all experience stress in different ways; some of us through physical manifestations and others through internal tension or conflicts. Pay attention to your stress signals – they may be physical or emotional. Watch out for changes in your thinking styles or behaviour. For example, your natural way of thinking may shift from optimistic to negative; or you may find yourself changing from being a social butterfly to withdrawn from social interaction. Common stress signals that occur in the body are constant fatigue or feeling tired and burned out; noticeable change in appetite; irregular heart palpitations; social withdrawal; difficulty concentrating; headaches and muscle pains; increased intake of alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine. Stress signals create unhealthy tendencies in your body.
Utilise Healthy coping mechanisms
There are things you can do to actively reduce your stress levels when you notice that your stress alarm bells have been activated. Some stress relief mechanisms are considered healthy and others are not. For example, regular exercise is considered a healthy way to relieve stress. Whereas other activities that can provide short-term relief can lead to long-term problems such as alcohol, drug dependence or gambling. Maintaining healthy habits during this pandemic will be key to coping with the additional stressors.
Physical exercise is scientifically proven to benefit the body. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins. When endorphins are released, they play a role in the control of stress hormones such as the pituitary gland. To be in optimal health, you should strive to exercise for 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week.
Gyms and health spas remain closed or open to only a small percentage of the public at a time. However, there are many free resources available such as YouTube provide a wide variety of equipment free exercises at no cost. Practical ways to stay active are to avoid sitting for a prolonged period of time, stretch regularly, and, if you live in an apartment building, utilise the stairs.
Practice good sleep hygiene
The mindset that we have to constantly “hustle” and “grind” is quickly becoming done away with. The mind and body both need adequate time to shut down and rest daily. Health studies recommend 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. To avoid distractions, it is best not to sleep in the same area where you work. Take heed to the following instructions to get a peaceful night’s sleep. Avoid backlit devices such as mobile phones, television, and laptops for at least 2 hours before you go to sleep. Reading is a better option. Finally, take a warm shower 1 hour before going to sleep
Taking care of your body by getting necessary daily rest helps your body better adapt to handling high stress levels.
Eat a healthy diet
We’ve been taught since childhood to eat our fruits and vegetables. However, many Australians do not eat the recommended portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Follow these tips to incorporate healthy eating back into your diet. Increase your daily intake of water and green vegetables. In order to maintain proper hydration levels, you should aim for at least 2L of water per day. Limit soft drink and other sources of refined sugar intake, as well as caffeine within 3 hours of your bedtime.
Feeding your body healthy nutrients will not only result in you feeling better but could help to improve your productivity at work.
Failure to take breaks throughout the day can lead to constant burn out and fatigue. In order for your mind to operate at its best, it’s important to take frequent breaks throughout the day. Spend your designated break times to go into nature by gardening or walking.
Challenge negative thinking
Our thoughts determine our feelings, which in turn impact how we respond to situations. If we think more about what we ‘say’ to ourselves – and reframe these thoughts – we can build our resilience and capacity to view situations in a more realistic and rational way. While we can’t choose what happens to us, we can learn to choose how we respond. Shift your mindset by asking these questions: “What is within my control?”; “What can I do about this?”; and “How else can I perceive this situation?”
If you find yourself needing professional support, speak with your social support network or set a virtual therapy appointment. Telehealth provides access to bulk-billed psychological services. If you’re not sure whether a service is available under your employment benefits, access your company Employee Assistance Program.
Make time for relationships
Now more than ever is the time to reconcile broken relationships that have been weighing heavy on your mind and heart. This is also the time to nurture the relationships that mean the most to you, but, due to workplace stress and other obligations, not able to dedicate the time you would like towards the relationship. Make the phone call or send the text message to check on those around you.
This time of uncertainty does not have to result in our mental health becoming unstable. Take the time that this pandemic has afforded us to take control of our stress levels, body, mind, and mental welfare.