Coping in Stressful Times

The pandemic, world events, politics, and of course deaths, relationship difficulties, and many other things can cause us a little (or a lot!) of anxiety and stressed, overwhelming feelings. We can try to ignore these feelings, but then something just pushes us over the edge – an argument, a computer freeze, a traffic jam, a baby who won’t stop crying – and our “fight or flight” response kicks in.

Continual stress-response, either overtly expressed (fight) or kept under wraps, (flight) not only damages our bodies and our health, it makes the thinking part of our brain less available to us. In other words….

Your stress response can make you stupid!!

But the good news is that we can learn to manage our response to stress. Here are some ideas to help you if you’re having a tough time:

Think about what your basic needs are:  Are you hungry? Thirsty? Hot? Cold? Tired? Need a hug? Need to express some feelings to a friend? Need to remove yourself from a bad situation by leaving the room? These are basic needs, and it is important to honor them.

Learn to identify what you’re feeling. Take time to stop, inhale a few deep breaths, and check in with your mind and your senses.

Learn to express the feeling. Try to share your feeling by seeking out and maintaining ties with others to help you “emotionally problem solve.” This is the cornerstone of programs like 12-Step, therapy groups, or individual therapy. Ask for help when you need it.

Organize and manage your time – How evenly balanced are the pieces of your life – work, play, creativity, solitude? Sometimes we have to reprioritize our goals or values – if we’re mildly and transiently stressed, we might not need as much pleasure time and can be more productive. If we’re greatly stressed, then it becomes imperative that we take time out to recharge our batteries.

Learn when to LET GO! – If you’re feeling tired, take a 20-minute rest. You’ll be amazed at how much more you can do and how much better you’ll feel after even a short rest or meditation (closing your eyes and just focusing on your breathing). And sometimes it’s better not to read or listen to the News, until you’re more able to handle it.

Exercise regularly/ Sleep adequately – Exercise blows the stress out of your muscles and doesn’t allow it to reside there. And when we don’t get enough sleep, we can’t cope as well. Caffeine and alcohol disturb sleep patterns so try to keep those minimal.

Get some physical attention – kisses, hugs, affection, or even a professional massage can work wonders.

Visualize, imagine and picture in your mind how you can manage a stressful situation more successfully. Be aware that problems can often become an opportunity for growth and change. Remember that you can’t always control the outcome.

Increase meaning in your life. – Make something, sew, paint, plant, learn something new – something that you take time and pleasure in doing – even if it’s for 15 minutes a day.

Acknowledge yourself and your own value. At work, try to create beauty, even if it’s in a small space. Art, flowers, something decorative, can soothe your mind.

Gaining control over stress takes practice. If you try these suggestions, you may find you have more energy, and feel better about yourself and other people.