I think it’s fair to say that many of us at the moment feel, or have felt moments of uncertainty, stress and/or anxiety, and this is perfectly normal. Our bodies are geared to click in and out of stress responses (info here ), just like in labour and birth, these hormones play a massive role (info here)..
But, put very simply, there’s our normal stress response (fight or flight…) and an acute onset/chronic stress.
Currently, research is showing that our frontliners, are experiencing this second type of stress, as are some of their family members. Community members are not exempt from experiencing acute chronic stress, so it’s important that we know ways in which we can help to reduce and manage our anxiety levels.
The seriousness of this form of stress is that it increases anxiety, fatigue, disturbs sleep, and reduces immune function, increases avoidance, brings up feelings of worthlessness/guilt and has long term health risks.
So how is this acute chronic stress managed or reduced?
Dr. Luana Marques, Associate Professor in Psychology, speaks to this in the Harvard Medical School’s webinar on Coping with Stress during Covid-19 (this is a free webinar that you can listen to online).
She spoke about the common three-pronged approach; eating healthily, getting sleep and exercise, but also had a few tips and tricks that may be helpful if you ever feel like you’re beginning to spin out. To paraphrase, these are:
- It’s important to not let our brains become future oriented…anxiety breeds thinking about the future, and how this may affect us…our loved ones…our careers etc. What is more beneficial to our anxiety levels is if you are ever beginning to feel yourself spiral about “what if” “I wonder what will….” bring yourself back to what you are doing in this moment to cease control in your day (this may be implementing a routine, with some wiggle room for flexibility).
- If you feel you are a person susceptible to having “monkey brain” where you can’t shut down your brain and switch off those thoughts that seem to exacerbate your anxiety levels, keep a journal. Write it down. By writing what you are thinking, you shift your brain from firing within the emotional region and begin to trigger a more practical area of your brain…helping to slow down and reduce the emotional noise cluttering your thoughts.
- Reduce alcohol and caffeine – I’m not a big drinker by any means, but have found I have definitely increased my alcohol intake in the past few weeks (kids and husband within ear shot 24/7 perhaps?), which according to Dr. Marques “keeps us spinning”. Reducing your alcohol content, and limiting caffeine intake (none after 3pm) may help to improve sleep (a big immune improver, as well as stress reducer).
- Come back to what anchors you? Is it exercise? Is it family? Social events? Spirituality? Whatever it is that helps ground you in your sense of self – do it, once a day! Whether that’s calling loved ones, burpees in the backyard, yoga in your living room, whether you feel like it or not, do it! Your body will thank you for it!
- Check your fear. Fear drives anxiety in a pandemic, because what we fear is an invisible threat and that for many of us is a scary thing. The best thing you can do is acknowledge that fear. Our brains love the status quo…we love balance, and when we are overwhelmed with uncertainty, anxiety skyrockets. Dr. Marques spoke of a “bandaid approach” to reducing those overwhelming emotions associated with fear and when you’re in a funk that you can’t seem to shake…grab an icecube – hold it and let it begin to sting…leave it there for a few seconds and focus on the stinging. This exercise helps to bring your strong emotions down, as you’re focusing on the physical pain and not your emotions anymore.
It’s also important to remember that we’re resilient at our core; and the best way to improve our resilience mentally is through physical and mental exercise…so write down those thoughts, dance around with your kids in the living room (we’re doing Cosmic Yoga Kids which is awesome), implement a daily routine and whatever anchors you in your sense of self, embrace it every single day.
If you’re not feeling like you’re coping, it’s important to seek help, here are some places that can help. You’re never alone.
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
If you need urgent medical help please call 000
The PANDA National Helpline is available Mon-Fri 9am-7:30pm 1300 726 306
For 24 hour crisis support please call Lifeline 13 11 14