Managing Stress in Times of Uncertainty

Stress is our body’s natural human response to change, and negative stress arises when these changes are perceived as a threat to our well-being. Stress can also commonly arise in times of vast uncertainty, similar to what we are currently experiencing in the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people are feeling a great deal of uncertainty about many things including the security and status of their jobs, the changes in theirs or their children’s academic environments, the ambiguity of future plans (weddings, graduation ceremonies, etc.), and just in our day-to-day lives. It can be difficult to navigate through these times when concrete answers are hard to come by, and we are bombarded with mixed messages all around us in the media. For many individuals stress is at an all-time high, which is completely understandable and normal under these circumstances. So how, with so much improbability and new challenges added to our already busy and demanding lives can we find some sense of calm? 

To begin, one simple way to restore some certainty in our lives is to look at the things we do have some control over. One of these things is our daily routines, which for many people have become quite disrupted due to the pandemic. This has led to heightened levels of stress and anxiety because we may feel like we are spinning out of control and find it difficult to get things back on track. It can be helpful to take the time to sit with yourself, or your partner, or even as a family to look at ways in which you can create some form of routine that feels safe and manageable. This may look like ensuring you are awake at the same time each morning and establishing a personal morning routine to begin the day. In doing so, this can help build a sense of stability in our lives, even as the situation in the outside world may feel less than stable, and hopefully provide some relief each day (even if only for a moment).

Another area that may be a potential stressor in many people’s lives is the amount of media and news they are exposing themselves to during this time. For many the constant stream of news and updates relating to the pandemic has become quite overwhelming. If this is something that is causing feelings of stress or even despair it may be helpful to check in on how often we expose ourselves to the media, and what sources we choose to trust. It can be helpful to choose one or two trusted sources, and limit ourselves to checking in once or twice daily. Overloading our minds with too much information about the pandemic and related issues can focus our thoughts more on worries and concerns, making it much more difficult to escape a negative headspace.

Additionally, in times of great stress it is natural for our minds to focus on the negative thoughts that are circulating, and although examining and working through these thoughts can be helpful, too much time and attention on them makes it hard to relax and be present. A way to help bring ourselves out of this headspace is positive journaling. Positive journaling can include taking a few minutes each day, by possibly building it into our morning or nighttime routines, to jot down a few positive events or moments from the day or things we are grateful for. This helps us to acknowledge that although times may be stressful and more difficult then normal, there are still positive things occurring in our lives, and things to be grateful for. If this helps, even for a moment, to bring our attention away from anxiety-provoking thoughts, then it is a good place to start. 

Another simple, yet very effective strategy in managing stress is grounding ourselves through our breath. Taking even 5 minutes at some point throughout our day to stop and be present with our breath can help to relax both our body and our mind. What is best about this strategy is that our breath is always with us – we don’t need any fancy tools or accessories! Our mind and body are intricately connected, so if we can work to calm our body and the physiological signs of stress through the power of our breath, our mind will often follow suit and begin to relax as well. This breathing practice also allows us to practice being still and focus on the present moment, to give our minds a break from getting too caught up in thinking about what the future holds.

Lastly, it is important that we tune in and listen to ourselves. It is helpful to check in to what our minds and bodies are telling us and pay attention to any warning signs that may be signaling that we may require some extra help. If we are experiencing overwhelming levels of stress and anxiety and are finding it very difficult to cope, it’s important to be aware of what professional resources are available. This may be a time to seek psychotherapy: to learn skills and strategies to manage your personal experience and symptoms of anxiety and stress. It may also include checking in with your family or Naturopathic Doctor as needed, as well as becoming familiar with local crisis services and mental health hotlines. Finally, it is important to remember that there is no single way to get through these very challenging times, everyone is in a unique situation, and building your own personal plan to manage stress and find some peace can be vital.

Written by: Marcia Cuviello, MSc., RP



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