- Anne Nisenzon, PhD
Coping through COVID-19, Part Three: Stress Management
Updated: Feb 6, 2021
A lot has changed in the last 6 weeks, forcing us to adjust and adapt very quickly to a new normal. So many changes in a short amount of time can lead to a lot of stress on the mind and body. Purposefully taking steps to manage stress day by day can help you stay ahead of the game and keep you afloat, no matter how things shift in the future.
1) Create a routine using time-based activities
We all had some sort of routine pre-pandemic—perhaps it was saying hi to the same co-workers, watching the game on weekends, setting up playdates for the kids, or browsing flight deals to plan for your next trip. A lot of those routines have changed in the blink of an eye, leaving us feeling unsettled, bored, lonely, or stressed. Even if you were not really a scheduler before the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping a routine now can help instill a little predictability in what often feels like a groundless world. It’s also a good idea to break down activities into time-based units to shake things up and keep from getting bored or zombie-like—cue the “Are you still watching?” Netflix screen!
Set up certain anchor points daily that address your overall emotional and physical well-being, such as sitting down for lunch, taking a walk (or physical activity indoors if the weather isn’t cooperating), reading something other than the news, or calling a loved one. Variety and consistency are both important in staving off boredom and giving you something to look forward to when it feels like life has been put on hold.
2) Prioritize and protect non-screen time
Pulling away from screens may have been a major challenge for some of us before the pandemic as well! However, with so many of us turning to screens as a way to connect, work, learn or entertain ourselves, screen fatigue can contribute to physical and mental stress. It also can wreak havoc on our sleep quantity and quality, covered in the first blog in this series (read here). Intentionally taking sustained breaks from screen time can help us readjust more quickly and reconnect to the present moment. While staying in the present moment may sound like a terrible idea right now, it really is key to calming the mind and the body.
Mindful awareness of the present moment can be achieved by focusing in on your breath for 10 minutes. Gently direct your attention back to your breath every time it wanders away-- your mind will do that, there’s no way around it! You can also practice mindfulness of sound just by stepping outside and listening to nature or the city for 10 minutes. If you need a guide, there are plenty of great mindful breathing practices on YouTube or on apps such as Headspace or Mindfulness Coach. Just remember to turn your screen away from you as you practice :)
3) Accept what you cannot change right now
So much of our stress and frustration arises from wanting things to be back to normal. Our minds constantly want to fight the changes we’ve been through in the past 6 weeks because they can be scary and overwhelming. But where does the mental battle get us? More frustrated and stressed!
Acceptance of our current situation doesn’t mean that you love it, nor does it mean that you are “giving in” to the pandemic. It just means you are saving your mental and emotional energy for things that you still CAN do instead of wasting it on trying to fix things you cannot change. Acceptance could look like learning new skills for your business rather than losing sleep over the economy. Acceptance could look like checking out interactive gym classes online rather than staying inactive until your gym opens up. Of course, acceptance is easier said than done, and may come with a few meltdowns along the way. Making the choice to regroup each time, acknowledge and accept the changes, and refocus on what is within your control helps you let go of unnecessary stress.