Our daily lives have been upended by this rapidly-evolving crisis, creating great uncertainty and stress, but self-care can help ease our anxiety.
These are stressful and surreal times living through a global pandemic.
Life as we know it has been deeply altered, and the situation is evolving at superluminal speeds.
We’re stocking up on toiletries and canned/frozen foods, avoiding public places and each other, lining up to take drive-thru health tests, watching businesses close, teleworking en masse if possible, homeschooling, and witnessing countries go on lockdown.
And now sheltering in place in the US. Who would’ve envisioned that fictional contagion films could become our reality?
It feels similar to a hurricane catastrophe (although as things swiftly develop, a wartime analogy might be more fitting). But I was visiting my parents in Florida during Irma’s arrival in 2017, and the lead-up was a similarly dreadful, anxiety-inducing experience.
Obsessively watching all the live news updates and the daily spaghetti-string predictions shift closer and closer certainly didn’t help.
However, unlike a natural disaster, we cannot physically see a viral threat, we cannot well predict when or where it will make full landfall, we cannot determine when it will move out of the area, and we don’t know when it will be safe to engage in normal daily activities again.
So many unknowns may make us feel overwhelmed and/or powerless and, in turn, anxious.
For this reason, self-care is beneficial to help us cope with both scenarios.
Stress Management Tips
You have likely visited its website, but if not, the CDC provides very comprehensive information. As the old cliché goes, information is power, and this information can allay some of our fears of the unknown.
Plus, it’s always good to be informed and prepared!
In addition to its great guidance and action steps, the CDC provides fantastic stress management reminders that benefit not only ourselves, but also those in our lives.
- Take breaks from consuming news stories on all mediums, including social media.
- Take care of your body. Be aware of your breathing and take deep breaths, stretch, and/or meditate.
- Try to eat healthy, balanced meals; exercise regularly; get plenty of sleep; and avoid excessive alcohol and all drugs.
- Carve out time to relax. Try to do some activities you enjoy, even board games.
- Connect with others. Talk with close friends over the phone about your worries and how you’re feeling.
Not explicitly mentioned in the above list, but essential, is: #6 laughter.
Per the doctor’s orders, it’s good to watch some fun comedies or videos of cats doing the darndest things. Even enjoying hilarious memes—totally recommendable!
In fact, the mental and physical health benefits of laughter are super serious.
- Stimulates our organs. The physical act of laughing increases our intake of oxygen to stimulate our lungs, heart, and muscles. It also causes our brain to release additional endorphins.
- Supports our stress response. A hearty laugh revs up and then relaxes our stress response. Simultaneously, it increases and subsequently decreases our heart rate and blood pressure, leaving us feeling nice and chill.
- Eases tension. Laughter stimulates circulation and supports muscle relaxation, reducing physical symptoms caused by stress.
Don’t run off to Twitter or YouTube just yet. It gets even better!
In the long-run, laughter can do stellar things, like:
- Improve the immune system (huge bonus right now)! Negative thinking creates chemical reactions that add stress to our system, thereby decreasing immunity. Conversely, positive thinking releases stress and illness-fighting neuropeptides.
- Alleviate pain. Laughter stimulates the production of natural painkillers in our body.
- Increase contentment. Laughter makes it easier to manage difficult situations, and connects us with others (perhaps more virtually these days).
- Improve our mood. Laughter diminishes anxiety and depression and makes us feel happier.
Now, we have proof from the experts that laughter is one of the best and most inexpensive medicines around (was there ever any doubt)!
Spirit of Solidarity
I don’t mean to make light of the COVID-19 crisis. It is worrisome—creating financial hardship for many individuals, families, and businesses, and claiming lives. And extraordinary front-line workers are risking their very lives every single day.
Any small way that we can reduce our anxiety and manage stress is always advantageous, especially if we have little ones who are depending on us.
I have noticed though that people are more patient and there’s a sense of solidarity.
At a Trader Joe’s in Washington, DC, an employee recently reassured us shoppers that even though the shelves and freezers were picked clean, plenty of food was waiting in back.
With surging demand and under-staffing as many workers rightly self-quarantined, it was hard to keep pace. And in a town full of normally rushed people, customers were understanding and thanked him for his work.
Individuals putting in grueling hours and working with the public, whether at grocery stores, hospitals, gas stations, and beyond, are remarkable.
There is a lot of fear of the unknown, but we all need each other now.
So, the more that we are mindful to practice self-care for the sake of our own mental and physical health, the better we can be of service to others.
We are literally all in this together!
Have you had an opportunity to practice self-care? Do you have some good stress management recommendations?