With all the changes and uncertainty since the beginning of the pandemic, as well as large changes in day to day life, work, socializing, and parenting; it is absolutely normal to feel stressed. In times like these of sudden and prolonged stress, we often feel an impact on our mental and physical health. In fact, the toll that prolonged stress takes on our body is well documented in medical research. Likely due to the activation of stress hormones like cortisol and our sympathetic nervous system firing for longer periods, you may have noticed a myriad of physiological and emotional symptoms. Over the past few weeks you may have felt tired and weary, unexpectedly sad and down, or restless and tense. Given that we know sudden changes with lots of uncertainty (like a global pandemic) increase everyone’s stress, here are some ways to remain grounded and connected, while alleviating some mental and physical stress:
1) Restore Healthy Relationships and Community
Restoring healthy relationships and community can uplift our mental health and physical well-being. Reaching out to these supportive relationships during COVID-19 can be helpful in creating a sense of safety. A sense of security has a calming effect on our central nervous system because we feel less alone. As your therapists, we encourage our clients to reach out to supportive friends, family, or community. If you feel like you don’t have people to reach out to, we recommend joining a group that interests you or exploring options with your therapist.
Writing down thoughts or giving words to our experiences gives us the power to reflect on ourselves. Language helps us understand our experiences and find a sense of meaning. In therapy, it is amazing to see how these “aha” moments can sometimes cause clients to feel physically and emotionally “lighter”. We also recommend journaling as an opportunity to identify negative feelings and engage in positive self-talk.
3) Body Regulation
We have the ability to regulate our own bodies through simple actions and increased awareness. This could mean focusing our awareness on our breathing. Taking a big breath in, a big breath out, and repeating. Another way is to explore the other senses, for example: a fragrance you like or walking. We can counteract stress through these basic physical activities, which have been known to release positive hormones (like endorphins).
4) Create a Safe Environment
Along with relationships, language and body regulation techniques; having access to a safe environment can be helpful for coping with stress. As therapists we believe that having a comfortable place you can go to, either mentally or physically, is very important. Below are some questions to help us understand what a safe environment could mean for you.
To start, where in the world do you feel most peaceful and at ease?
If you’re willing, can you picture that place where you feel most at ease?
With that image in your mind, what is it about that place that makes you feel most safe?
Are there ways you could incorporate these elements into your life more often?
When we are feeling stressed it is important to have a safe environment we can go to; whether real (your home, a friend’s home) or imagined (a favourite memory, future vacation).
With these four ways to restore wellbeing, our hope is that you are more easily able to cope with stress. We also want you to have some real-life applicable strategies to improve coping strategies for stress. Whatever the stress you are going through, know that you are not alone and we are here to help.
Principles Adapted From: “The Body Keeps the Score in the Healing of Trauma” written by Bessel Van der Kolk MD (2015).