7 Steps for Coping With Pandemic Stress

During the current pandemic due to Covid-19 we usually hear references about the Center for Disease Control (CDC) related to the statistics of how many new cases of the virus develop in certain areas and guidelines about hand washing, wearing masks and social distancing.

However, the CDC has also issued an advisory entitled

“Pandemics Can Be Stressful”

These are some of the stress consequences listed related to an infectious disease outbreak, isolation, loneliness, and uncertainty*:

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, your financial situation or job, or loss of support services you rely on.
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns.
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
  • Worsening of chronic health problems.
  • Worsening of mental health conditions.
  • Increased use of tobacco and/or alcohol and other substances.

There can be healthy ways to cope with stress which we can explore in more detail.

But first let’s explore two specific types of stress that can occur.

The first is “distress” which is the one we are most familiar with

Distress is associated with negative feelings and emotions you find undesirable and can lead to a reduced level of performance and sometimes complete emotional shutdown or depression.

Scientific studies have shown that ongoing negative stress can adversely impact your health in a variety of ways ranging from high blood pressure, heart disease, a weaker immune system, headaches, inability to sleep, obesity and diabetes. 

Financial problems, working on the wrong job or pursuing a career you do not like, unfulfilling relationships are examples of common causes of ongoing stress. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) is known to linger for years after child abuse or military assignments to war zones.

Pandemic Stress would certainly fit into the distress category.

The other less commonly known version of stress is eustress which is defined as a healthy mental response to stress that is considered positive and serves a useful purpose such as the increased sensitivity associated with athletics or other performance related activities. 

Excitement that you experience at a theme park or a dramatic play such as the Phantom of the Opera that keeps you on the edge of your seat are examples of stressors that you have decided to accept as beneficial or enjoyable. 

The stress associated with achieving a major goal such as climbing a mountain or making it successfully down a black (diamond ski run creates a sense of achievement and wellbeing despite the anxiety you might experience.

These are all examples of “eustress” or good stress.

So, how can the same brain sometimes enjoy stress and other times malfunction because of stress? 

This is where your perception and mental conditioning play a major role.

We all can encounter things that have the potential to stress us out, including the pandemic but we do not have to let circumstances get the best of us!

So, we have the capability to direct the stress related energy down a positive path or down a negative one instead

One of the keys is to take time to de-stress and do something proactive to reduce it.

This could range from setting aside a regular time or maybe just a few minutes of meditation or deep breathing several times per day to give your body a recovery break. 

Here are 7 steps you might want to consider as ways to eliminate or prevent negative stress and direct that energy down a positive path”

  1. Take a break from the news and anxiety provoking stories daily.  Do not get overly involved emotionally with those things that you have no control over.
  2. Exercise in a way that you enjoy such as swimming, jogging, biking, or walking briskly.  If you spend most of your work hours indoors, getting outside and enjoying fresh air and the sounds of birds, wind blowing through the trees, and smelling the flowers and vegetation can provide a relaxing experience
  3. Yoga is an excellent way to generate a state of relaxation which can be a great distress reliever as well as a eustress enhancer.
  4. Allocate regular time to listening to pleasant sounds, tones, and music.  The right musical experience can lower your blood pressure and put your mind at ease.
  5. Just as the right sounds can be relaxing, so can quiet. Silent meditation in a totally dark environment can take your mind to a place in your subconscious zone that gives it a chance to reset.
  6. Daydream.  Children do this all the time and have a lot of fun in the process.  Use your imagination to experience the vacation you want to have or other enjoyable experiences.  You will be surprised to find that your body can respond in a way as if you were there
  7. Laugh.  Either get a joke book to read or watch comedy shows or as a last resort, get someone to tickle you.  It’s hard not to become upbeat and forget about stress if you are laughing

So, here is your challenge. 

Are you going to focus on increasing your capacity for eustress or distress? 

Eustress will contribute to your health and distress will do the opposite.

During this pandemic consider setting up a daily program of eustress related activities so that you will have a reserve of relaxation in place to buffer you from those unavoidable stressful situations that always have a way of showing up. 

But when they do, you will be ahead of the game and can pass through them with much less distress and a smile.

To learn more about the CDC’s guidelines for Coping with Pandemic Stress, here is the link https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html

*Excerpt from CDC information at the link above.

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