Rather aptly it seems, April is Stress Awareness month. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us are facing an incredible stressful and uncertain time. In this blog, we’ll take a look at what stress is, some ideas on ways to cope, and a personal account from lockdown.
What is Stress?
Defining it: Stress is a normal biological reaction to a potential dangerous situation. In a stressful situation your brain floods your body with adrenaline and cortisol thus getting your heart beating faster and sending blood to muscles and important organs.
Adrenaline is commonly known as the flight or flight hormone. It can be very helpful in the moment heightening our awareness and aiding us to focus on immediate needs. In other words this is our body’s way of preparing us to face danger, and increase our chances of survival. Stress can also be a positive or appropriate reaction to a situation, for example, when it helps us avoid an accident or meet a deadline. However, prolonged exposure to negative stress can have implications for both our physical and mental health, such as lowered immunity or anxiety and depression.
What are the symptoms of stress?
Headaches and dizziness
Chest pain/ fast heart rate
Struggling to make decisions
Feeling over whelmed
Changes in behaviour
Changes in sleep pattern
Drinking or smoking more
Avoiding certain people or places
Change sin eating
Significant life changes can lead to stress such as, moving house, planning a wedding, starting a family, work pressures or relationship difficulties, financial or health problems.
If stress is affecting your life there are things you can try that might help. It is not possible to eliminate stress completely but we can learn to manage it without avoiding it.
Things you can try
- Try talking about your feelings to a friend or family member. Remember although we are socially distancing, there is no need to emotionally distance ourselves. We are very lucky to live in an era where picking up the phone, video calling and connecting via text are accessible- try to reach out.
- Get exercising! Physical activity helps to reduce the body’s stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. Exercise is also a way of setting time aside for yourself, and is even more important now that many of us are spending a lot of time indoors.
- Think of activities you have always enjoyed in the past but are not doing now. e.g reading , listening to music, cooking, going for walks, or yoga
- Think about what you can and can’t control. Focus your energy on what you can control and do your best to accept what is outside of your control
- Use calming breathing exercises- you can look these up online or download apps like Headspace
- Spend time in nature. Try sitting in the garden or on a balcony if you are able to. If not, open a window and focus on what you can see and hear- the wind in the trees, the bright yellow of Spring daffodils.
- Listen to free mental health wellbeing audio guides (NHS apps library)
- Don’t try to do everything at once, and instead set small achievable tasks using SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely)
- Remember that you at not alone. It can feel very lonely while we are self-isolating, but try to remember, we are going through this as a country and as a community.
- Stress will affect all of us at some point in our lives, but support is out there.
Breathing Exercise for Stress
This calming breathing technique for stress, anxiety and panic takes just a few minutes and can be done anywhere.
You will get the most benefit from this exercise when done regularly, as part of your daily routine. Firstly, find somewhere comfortable. This can be standing up, sitting in a chair that supports your back, or lying on a bed or yoga mat on the floor. If you can, loosen any clothes that may restrict your breathing.
If you’re lying down, place your arms a little bit away from your sides, with the palms up. Let your legs be straight, or bend your knees so your feet are flat on the floor. If you’re sitting, place your arms on the chair arms. If you’re sitting or standing, place both feet flat on the ground. Whatever position you’re in, place your feet roughly hip-width apart.
- Let your breath flow as deep down into your belly as is comfortable, without forcing it.
- Try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Breathe in gently and regularly. Some people find it helpful to count steadily from 1 to 5. You may not be able to reach 5 at first.
- Then, without pausing or holding your breath, let it flow out gently, counting from 1 to 5 again, if you find this helpful.
- Keep doing this for 3 to 5 minutes.
- After, reflect on how you feel, both physically and mentally. Does your chest feel less tight, or is your thinking mind a bit quieter? Try to take this feeling into the rest of your day.
If you are struggling to cope and things you are trying are not helping please call your GP. If you are unable to talk to a GP right away, Samaritans are always available to listen, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year- call 116 123 or visit https://www.samaritans.org
There are also many counsellors and therapists who will offers sessions over skype or telephone during this difficult time. To find someone in your area try the Counselling Directory (https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk)
Covid-19 a Personal Account from Lockdown
Saturday evening 4pm . I put on my training gear to go out for my one daily exercise and to pick up medication for my son on route. As I run towards the High Street people are being very mindful of each other , crossing over the road or stepping away in order to keep a social distance . People smile and some say Hi but it is a very strange feeling. The High Street is quiet with shops closed. Some people are wearing masks and gloves which now seem normal.
As I am heading back towards my home on a pavement with houses either side of the road. I notice a couple with a toddler up ahead of me . They stop and walk onto a driveway where there is an older couple standing waiting , looking out their living room window . The Mum lifts her baby up towards the window and I am assuming the couple inside are the Grandparents, who wave and smile out to the little one. I have stopped running as I am suddenly overwhelmed by emotion and find myself crying. This is an unusual reaction for me but I miss my Grandchildren so much.
I think of all the families who are separated at this time but also of how I am not alone . This is not just happening to me or even just to my community but it is happening all over the world. Covid-19 is affecting all of our lives.
We have had to adjust and manage how we normally live our lives. If some good can come out of a terrible situation maybe we can learn that we can cope , we can manage but also that there is so much help out there. Support has been amazing within communities- notes put in doors with offers of help if you are self-isolating people signing up to volunteer and help others. Covid-19 will go and we will slowly get back to seeing our families, friends work colleagues as we did before . If we are to learn anything from this situation please let it be that support and help is always out there, you just need to allow yourself to access it.
I decided to walk the rest of my way home with my thoughts. Remembering that the sun will rise up every morning and the moon and starts will come out every night as normal . And I will get to cuddle my Grandchildren very soon . In the mean time I will use video links to keep in touch.
Written by Marie, Westmeria counsellor