Stress is and will always be part of our lives. But, as we enter another month of masks, stay-at-home orders, social unrest and uncertainty, our stress and anxiety levels being pushed to the max. According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Stress in America Report 2020, 46% of parents with children under age 18 report their stress levels related to the coronavirus pandemic are high and 83% of Americans believe the future of our nation is causing them a significant source of stress.
Living this way is not only unsustainable, but it is also very bad for our mental and physical well-being. Research shows that when we properly manage our stress levels, we can prevent some really bad health issues, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and depression. So, if you are going a little stir crazy, here are a few tips to help relieve some of this newfound stress and get some peace of mind.
1. Practice Mindfulness
While you and your family are stuck at home crawling all over each other, it may feel as if you have suddenly been transported into that trash compacter scene from Star Wars. Just to reassure you, the walls are not actually moving in on you and those feelings of suffocation are in your head. Practicing mindfulness can help clear out some of those anxieties and other brain clutter that adds extra stress to your life.
Experts believe that a good time to try a relaxation technique is right after lunch. This is our rest and digest mode and it is the opposite of fight or flight. If possible, let your co-workers and family members know that you need 10 to 15 minutes for quiet reflection. If you need help calming your system, try a simple exercise of closing your eyes and breathing in for four seconds, holding your breath for seven seconds and then exhaling for eight seconds. Repeat this five times in a row and you’ll start to notice a sense of calm blanketing you.
If you need some guidance on how to practice mindfulness, a few apps to check out are Calm, Smiling Mind, Mind Free and Headspace. Plus, if you are unemployed because of the pandemic, you can sign up for a Headspace subscription free for one year.
2. Make More Connections
Even before we had social distancing due to the global pandemic, social isolation and loneliness was becoming a national epidemic. According to a 2018 survey from AARP, one out of every three adults over the age of 45 is lonely. While the current situation of stay-at-home orders hasn’t exacerbated the loneliness problem yet, the ties between social relationships and happiness are inextricably linked, and maintaining positive connections with others is associated with positive health outcomes. No matter if your connections are personal, professional, or both, strong relationships keep us happy.
While you can’t physically reach out and touch someone right now, you can stay connected through technology. Try using FaceTime or Skype to call a loved one, a coworker or an old friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Talking to someone you trust and love will calm your fears and increase your happiness. Research shows that tight connections to other people is also good for our physical health because it helps lower those cortisol levels that lead to stress while boosting the immune system.
If you need someone or a group to reach out to for support, self-care social media app Lyf offers its platform as a place to connect and share thoughts and experiences with other users, access to licensed psychologists 24-hours a day to answer any questions you may have about how you are feeling, or to just to vent your frustrations. If you are a frontline worker, Lyf is offering free, 60-minute support sessions with mental health experts during the COVID-19 crisis to help deal with issues of anxiety, fear, helplessness and anger.
3. Keep Your Body Moving
Exercise is vital for physical health, but it is also important for maintaining mental health. So, being physically active not only keeps you healthier but happier too. In a study recently published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, researchers found a correlation between the frequent physical activity and happiness in people who exercised at least 5 days a week between 30 and 75 minutes.
According to the APA, regular exercise helps the brain deal with stress and can be a great mood-booster to fight off the effects of anxiety and depression. In fact, some studies claim that 20 minutes of exercise a day can improve your mood for up to 12 hours.
Even though you can’t visit the gym or a yoga class right now, there are still plenty of ways to stay fit even if you are stuck in the home. Virtual classes are readily available online or on apps and treadmills are a great substitute for outdoor running.
4. Eat a Healthy Diet
Stress can have a huge impact on your eating habits by throwing off your metabolism and making you more susceptible to emotional eating. Health officials from the Cleveland Clinic advise to keep plenty of healthy snacks around to prevent overeating foods that aren’t good for you and to give the body maintain proper nutrition to help fight off stress. Healthy foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, will also stabilize your blood sugar which will keep your emotions in check too.
Healthy food and comfort food don’t have to be mutually exclusive, according to Chef Gerard Viverito. Instead of filling up your cart with junk food, he offers a few sustainable solutions that are pleasing to the palette. If meat prices are too high in your area, Gerard recommends eating more fish as well as becoming more familiar with how to prepare it. If you want to control snack attacks, try fiber-rich foods from the ground that fill you up faster. If you stuck at home and looking for family-fun activities, Gerard suggests making food fun by planting “a garden with kid-approved brain foods such as strawberries, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach and broccoli.”
Now, the Bright Side
As we continue to navigate these troubled and stressful times, it’s important to keep a positive mindset as much as we can. Positivity will put is in a better position to fight off the negative effects of stress and anxiety.