Stress, the perception that the resources we have to cope don’t meet the demand placed on us, is a huge contributor to our overall health and wellbeing. In 2018 the Mental Health Foundation identified that 74% of people have felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope. As we enter Stress Awareness Month, in the context of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, we identify top tips on how to manage stress levels.
While we do need a certain level of stress in our lives, Our Professional Head of Emotional Wellbeing, Brendan Street, explains that if we face continuous challenge without relief, and a degree of certainty, stress can build up and become negative. This can lead to a condition called distress – an unhelpful stress reaction.
The impact of a global pandemic on stress
Brendan, comments: “Given the global COVID-19 situation a certain level of anxiety is understandable, anxiety prepares us for big challenges in our lives. However, the situation with COVID-19 is constantly developing and the information about the virus remains incomplete. It’s often difficult to keep up and know, ‘What is it I need to know, what should I be thinking and what should I do?”. As a result, stress and distress can become contagious.
“Uncertainty can be mentally incredibly challenging to deal with. We like to think that we have control over the events of our lives. Holding our nerve when faced with the fear of the unknown can be extremely difficult. Preparation can turn to over thinking, can turn to stress and worry. We see that the demands placed on us far outweigh the resources we feel we have to cope.
“One thing seems certain at present, there will be more uncertainty to come, and with it increasing levels of worry and anxiety. A global pandemic takes us into unchartered territory, we cannot flick though our manuals of past experience to ascertain how best to act.”
While we don’t know what to expect, we start to imagine what might happen and try to be as prepared as possible. Our bodies respond by flooding us with chemicals to help us deal with the threat activating a powerful fight or flight response. This leaves us feeling vulnerable and further hijacks the rational thinking/problem solving part of the brain, which makes effective planning much more difficult.
This is impacting on us all. As a society, we don’t have a frame of reference for the global pandemic. In addition, anxiety is just as contagious as a virus. We are social animals and it is important for us to pick up on how others are feeling. Like meerkats, if one member of our group notices danger, it’s helps the group if others feel it too. Anxiety is conductive. It seeks to travel from one person, to the next.
Top tips for stress management
How then can we remain calm and grounded in the face of unparalleled circumstances? Dr Phil Hammond has outlined that we need to make sure we get our daily CLANGERS and, with many of us now working from home feeling isolated from others, this has never been so important.
- Connect – We are naturally sociable. We like to be with others. Find ways to connect each day using technology.
- Learn – Psychological research has revealed that learning new skills is good for mental health. It provides you with a purpose, confidence and improves self-esteem. Find something new to learn regularly.
- (be) Active – Make sure you get your five portions of fun a day for your mind and body. At present you’ll need to be creative. An assault course in your garden, a race with the dogs in the corridors of you flats, marching between the bathroom and the kitchen whilst balancing a book on your head.
- Notice – Take time each day to take a moment and be present. What can you hear, see, feel, smell?
- Give back – Doing good does you good. Do something for someone else.
- Eat well – Have a balanced diet. There is increasing evidence that gut health is linked to mental health.
- Relax – Take the time to check your thoughts each day. Are your thoughts helpful or unhelpful? If they are unhelpful…what strategies do you have to manage unhelpful thinking?
- Sleep – a good night’s sleep has multiple impacts on physical and mental health. Half the population in the UK have poor quality sleep and feel more tired, stressed, less energised and more anxious as a result. Try to practice good sleep habits
Many people are experiencing symptoms of distress and anxiety, particularly as the Covid-19 continues to change on a daily basis. The key to managing stress is to try and ensure that as we experience an increase in our stress levels we counter balance this by also increasing our use of helpful coping strategies. People who continue to show signs of distress should be guided towards further emotional support.
We offer a number of online resources and therapies to provide people with the tools to improve their emotional wellbeing. For more information visit here.
Last updated Friday 17 April 2020