Managing stress as we enter a second lockdown
Here in England we find ourselves facing a second, month-long, lockdown. This will impact us all in different ways, but for many of us the thought of having to stay home for another four weeks is stressful. This week’s International Stress Awareness Week focuses on stress management and associated mental health issues. To further highlight this important area of mental health we explore what stress is, offering tips on how to manage and cope with it more effectively. ‘Stress’ can take many forms including worry, anger, irritability, panic and disrupt our sleep patterns and can have a detrimental impact upon our mental health.
COVID-19 also poses yet further threat to the livelihoods of many, increasing our stress levels as some of us face financial and employment uncertainty, hugely impacting on our wellbeing.
What is stress?
Feelings of stress are generated by the body’s natural response to perceived threat and danger. A certain amount of stress is therefore beneficial as it propels us into action when needed, protecting us from life-threatening situations.
At a neural level a primitive part of our brain called the amygdala reacts fast and instinctively, overpowering the measured, thinking part of our brain in the frontal lobes. This fight or flight response in the nervous system also triggers the release of powerful hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine which further primes us to act.
Our body also reacts with an increase in blood pressure, muscle tension, the release of sweat and a heightened level of alertness.
If our bodies are repeatedly in fight or flight mode and exposed to chronic levels of stress we become susceptible to damaging long term health conditions. These include high blood pressure and heart disease. Our immune systems can become weakened making us more vulnerable to illness. It can worsen and contribute towards respiratory conditions and digestive disorders. Continued exposure to stress, such as enduring this pandemic, can also impact our psychological health, leading to increased levels of anxiety and depression. It is, therefore, extremely important that we look at ways we can help ourselves to manage stress levels. Although this may be extra challenging to introduce whilst we face the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic we are likely to need it now more than ever.
Here we share some tips and ideas you may find useful to reduce stress levels and improve your mental well-being.
- GET MOVING – physical exercise not only reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones but boosts mood by stimulating the production of endorphins. The new lockdown measures still allow us to exercise outside with one other person from outside of our household bubble. The form of exercise does not even have to be too strenuous, a 20 minute walk will still help to bring down stress levels and restore some calm. The muscle tension caused by stress can lead to back, neck pain and headaches so finding some simple stretching exercises will also be beneficial.
- GUIDED BREATHING – learning some breathing techniques which slow down your heart rate provides a calming, restorative means to combat stress and promote relaxation. Try the following FIVE Finger Breathing exercise.
Hold out your hand “like a star,” take your index finger from the opposite hand and begin to trace along the hand that is fanned out. Breath in through the nose as you trace UP the outside of your thumb, then breath out through the mouth as you traceDOWN the inside of his thumb. Breath in as you trace UP your index finger, exhale as you trace DOWN the inside of your index finger…and so on and so forth.
- KEEP TALKING AND KEEP CONNECTED – The new lockdown measures may mean we need to once again restrict our physical contact with others but we can still keep connected using technology. Talking with friends or family and sharing what is on your mind can really help to lift the weight of your stress and possibly reframe your thinking aroundparticular problems.
Seek professional help from a mental health expert if your symptoms become overwhelming and you are worried about the impact of stress on your wellbeing. You can access appropriate support via your GP or through an Employee Assistance Programme at work.
- MUSIC FOR MENTAL WELLBEING – We know that listening to music is a healthy way to release the “happy” hormone, dopamine. If it is not possible to listen to music whilst at work then try to take time out to listen to your favourite tunes at home. Get a double stress busting boost by introducing music to your exercise.
- ACCEPTANCE – COVID-19 will add to our feeling of not having much control over our lives at the moment. If we try to accept there are some things we can’t change then it can free our minds to focus on what we can have influence over. For instance, our ways of working may mean we are more isolated but that doesn’t stop us from organising a virtual lunch break with colleagues to catch up.
At Working Mindset our Managing your Mental Health during the Coronavirus Crisis workshop covers the topic of stress and gives additional practical solutions on how to help staff and individuals combat the damaging effects.