Coping with stress during the Covid-19 outbreak

Stress needs no official introduction but with International Stress Awareness Day around the corner on 6th November 2020, it is the perfect time for a refresher course in coping with stress in the present climate. In its most basic sense, stress is a reaction. It is our natural visceral response to anything we consider to be a threat, regardless of whether it really is one.

We are no strangers to stress, but it certainly doesn’t feel like a friend. It can manifest physically in a range of ways from aches and pains, fatigue and nausea to gastrointestinal problems, chest pain or even frequent colds and infections. But stress has to it as large a psychological component as it does a physical one. This includes feeling easily irritable and moody or withdrawing from others or feeling overwhelmed. There may also be a decline in concentration, a whirl of worrying thoughts and bouts of forgetfulness. Although it does so in different ways for different people, stress affects everyone.

In an evolutionary sense, a threat could be perceived as different things that hinder our survival like a venomous snake or other wild predator. But in modern society, a threat in everyday living means very different things. Today, a threat can look like a work deadline, a mountain of responsibilities, a missed appointment or a miffed friend. Sometimes, a threat is the piling up of many small things that altogether feel insurmountable. Sometimes, stress chokes. People often imagine stress to be just a mountain of pressure, but sometimes it may even look like the complete incapability to move forward at all. This translates into procrastination, lack of energy or lack of motivation. This constitutes the lesser known yet equally paralysing “freeze” option of the “fight-or-flight” response of stress.

One of the most common things that stress does is push people into overdrive where there is no time to breathe, but just keep running. It’s the difference between a 100 meter dash and a marathon. The act feels like the same – running – but the underlying mechanics are entirely different. Stress is perfect for the 100 meter dash: It gives you the pump of adrenalin you need to rush to the finish line. The same rule absolutely does not apply for a marathon, because your body and mind does not naturally have enough reserves to keep you sprinting from start to finish. So what do you have to do?

Pace yourself.

This is the real key to addressing stress. In the current climate, there will be few 100 meter dashes, but our entire lifestyle is a marathon. With the recent advent of the pandemic, there is a lot to be stressed and anxious about like keeping ourselves and our family safe and worrying about our jobs and a million other things but with physically way fewer outlets to relieve this stress. But this much is clear: Prolonged stress is harmful for health. While surviving the pandemic, here are some key ways to survive the stress as well:

  • Identify your threats. Are you worried for your health, your job, your relationships? Gain awareness on the things you are worried will go wrong or harm you in some way.
  • Find the triggers. The threats are underlying, but notice the signs that point to them and start stressing you out. Do you already start the day being stressed? Or is it once you start checking your mails or making your to-do list? Or when you try to do many things at once?
  • Press the pause button. It’s important to know how to take a few steps away from what you’re doing and relax at regular intervals using music or exercise or hobbies or silence, but relax and take it easy so you can come back recharged.
  • Prioritise. Do tasks one thing at a time. Take the day one step at a time. Start small and build up to the big things or address the most urgent things first. Do it your way. The most urgent thing may be something else, but the most important thing will almost always be to take care of yourself first.

Action that comes from awareness will help relieve a great deal of the stress and anxiety you may feel in daily living. Your natural stress response can be your friend and will help you do some of the heavy lifting (or sprinting), but you need to know how to reclaim your space and pace yourself for the long run.