It is in human nature to desire predictability and stability in our surroundings. A pandemic, however, is a strong reminder that there is so much in life we can’t foresee or control. As a result, we may experience changes in mood, energy levels or sleep patterns. How much is normal? and what can we do to regulate our stress?
Below is a list of some common emotional ailments during these times: -Sadness, emotional instability, confusion, irritability, anger, uneasiness, clinginess, suicidal thoughts -Reduced concentration, efficiency, and productivity -Social withdrawal and isolation -Feelings of grief (over loss of daily routines or perceived sense of safety or freedom) -Interpersonal problems (e.g. lies, defensiveness, communication concerns) -Tension (e.g. jaw clenching, teeth grinding) -Body pain (e.g. headaches, muscle spasms) -Reduced energy (e.g. tiredness, weakness, fatigue) -Sleeping problems (e.g. insomnia, nightmares)
If you have been noticing any of these symptoms, it is possible that you’re experiencing a normal stress response to abnormal times. The first important step to manage these symptoms is simply to recognize that they exist. When you pay attention to your stress levels, you can notice a pattern that will show your threshold of stress tolerance. While this may change over time, it is helpful to pay attention to trends of what makes your stress better or worse to be able to build emotional boundaries. A way of connecting to your threshold of stress tolerance is constantly checking in with your emotions to avoid overlooking your stress. This can be done through journaling, meditation or talking to a loved one. Another important strategy is to limit your consumption of news. You can do this by limiting your information to credible sources, setting a time for when you can check the news, and limiting the amount of updates you explore with people in your life. Self-care is the active process of acknowledging and tending to your own needs, and it is essential in building boundaries that help honor your stress tolerance. Besides the obvious self-care measures such as eating healthy foods, staying active, and getting good rest. When we are stressed, we require a specific form of intervention self-care: coping. Our coping mechanisms are methods that we use to regulate stress. Therefore, if you pay attention to the symptoms that show when you are stressed, you may find clues into the right coping mechanisms for you. Let’s say you realize you’re showing signs of irritability, insomnia, and jaw clenching. From this awareness, you may deduce that you may need plenty of rest. Then, you may tailor your self-care routine to include journaling, stretching, or sleeping in order to meet this need. Another way to find your stress coping skills work is simply by reflecting on your past. Think about another time that you were stressed, what helped to ground you at that time? What didn’t? Where was your threshold breaking point? Lastly, it is important in times of great global panic to remember that nothing lasts forever. As part of your meditation practice or as part of a mindful activity, picture yourself 5 or 10 years from now looking back at these times. This activity allows you to see the bigger picture instead of giving in to helplessness. There have been tough times in the past when you didn’t think you’d make it, but you did. This situation is no different. You may not have much control over this pandemic, but how you keep yourself mentally safe is something you can control. If, however, you feel your mental situation is out of your control please contact a mental health professional. I offer a free 30 minute consultation. You can find more information on how to book a Skype session on my website. People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms. Additional information can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.