Managing stress in the new normal
Whilst stress is very much a part of many of our lives, in the ‘new normal’, we are all experiencing a new kind of stress. We cannot and will not eliminate all our anxieties and worries at the current time. This is unrealistic and furthermore, we wouldn’t want to.
However, the unique situation in which we find ourselves means that feeling a little stressed is very natural and is something we probably need in order to adapt to our new lives once this is all over.
Two types of stress
Our body responds to stressors differently depending on whether the stressor is new (acute stress), or whether the stressor has been around for a longer time (chronic stress).
Also known as the fight-or-flight response, acute stress is our body’s immediate reaction to a perceived threat, challenge or scare. Mild acute stress can actually be beneficial – it can spur us into action, motivating and energising us. We have all seen a great deal of this over the last year. Without a little stress, many of us wouldn’t have been encouraged into the heroic efforts of turning our homes into survival zones or learning the finer points of online technology to stay in touch with the outside world.
However, living in a way which gives us a very limited range of options in terms of how we communicate, socialise, work and play can create a great deal of anxiety in our minds and bodies. We are just not wired to be living like this. Problems occur when stressors pile up and stick around. This persistent or chronic stress can lead to health problems, such as headaches and insomnia and have an impact on our immune system. And we do not want that! Especially at this time.
Managing our stress response
The following offers some guidance on how to manage our stress response.
Acknowledge and accept
If we feel that our stress levels are rising or that we are likely to start feeling very stressed very soon, the first step is to just acknowledge this. This is the key starting point in taking control of our stress response. Just mindfully accepting that the current situation we are in (which has nothing to do with anything we have done and therefore is completely outside of our control) is causing us a stressful reaction.
Once this is accepted and validated, we can think about ways of preventing it from becoming a problem.
Listen to your body and mind
Learning to really listen kindly and gently to what our bodies are telling us is an important step in creating an inner dialogue with ourselves. This in itself will start to work as a preventative step towards becoming too stressed – towards reaching the stress levels that can make us ill.
Creating a habit of checking in with our emotions in order to avoid overlooking our stress is also key. This is something we should aim to build into our day. For example, a couple of times a day, for five or ten minutes, you could just sit peacefully, mindfully, non-judgmentally and listen to what your body is ‘saying’. You could build this into mindfulness, meditation or yoga practices and use the plethora of online materials to guide you.
Anticipate what is to come
In order to gain a sense of control we must mentally plan for what is coming our way. We all know our lives are going to be very different when lockdown eases up and it is not helpful to pretend otherwise. So, think ahead and try to become accustomed to how your body and mind are going to change over the coming months and when you think your stress levels will peak. So that when they do, you will be ready.
When the chemistry of fear is dominant, stress hormones such as Adrenaline, Cortisol, Norepinephrine are released and we may find our sensory experience overwhelms us – heart pounding, sweating, tense muscles, shallow and faster breathing – stopping us being able to reflect or take stock of what is happening to us.
Anticipating when our stress response inhibits this kind of self-reflection will help us to take control of our situation.
Stay in touch with friends and family
We won’t be able to come through this alone and trying to is only going to raise our stress to unhealthy levels. There is no need to. The online world offers a myriad of platforms to stay in touch with those closest to us. And don’t forget the phone! Just having a chat with those who know you best and talking through what is happening and how you are feeling will help your stress response to stay healthy and fit for purpose. Make it part of your routine to Zoom or call people. They will need you as much as you need them.