If there were a ‘Word of the Year’ for 2020, it would likely be “anxiety.”
For over nine months now, Americans have been grieving the loss of their everyday lifestyle – birthday parties with friends, meetings in person, business and personal travel, and lunch with colleagues. They have struggled with learning new technologies and work-at-home routines, while losing sleep over job security, social unrest, and a tumultuous economy. Paired with the fear of catching COVID-19, it’s no wonder that 83% of Americans feel that America’s future is a significant source of stress, as reported by the American Psychological Association.
Are you chronically stressed?
How can you tell if your stress levels are too high? Healthline offers a list of 11 symptoms, including acne, headaches, chronic pain, frequent illness, irritability (ask your co-workers!), depression, and digestive issues. Even though you might not have all these symptoms, it is worthwhile to identify physical clues and act before stress wears your body out.
Six ways to manage and reduce your stress
The best way to handle the effects of long-term stress is to strengthen your mind and your body. Here are six approaches to relieving stress and anxiety.
- Be intentional about caring for your mental wellness. Putting off the signs and symptoms because you feel it might make you appear weak to your colleagues plays into the stigma that prevents people from getting help. The way up and out is to acknowledge you are struggling and decide to address it. To some extent, you have control over your thoughts and feelings. For example, go on a news diet. Skip coffee with “Karen.” Practice letting go and focus on the positive and uplifting. If you are a spiritual person, make time for prayer or meditation. These practices have proven physiological benefits and will help you put life in perspective.
- Exercise is a fantastic stressbuster and health booster. Working out is the best way to dissipate the stress chemicals we’ve built up over the day. It lowers blood pressure, boosts our immune system, and, best of all, pumps up our endorphins – those feel-good chemicals that can supply the stress relief we need. Make a daily goal to walk at least 10,000 steps or spend an hour doing a sport you enjoy.
- For mental fitness, skip the news and try yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises instead. Studies show that these practices produce benefits to parts of the body that control stress like the pituitary and adrenal glands. Yoga stimulates relaxation, oxygenation, and lymphatic strengthening and detoxification. Deep breathing and meditation can reduce anxiety, promote mindfulness, and put us in a better place to tackle problems and relate to others.
- Food is medicine! Chronic stress depletes nutrients, so balance your diet with lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, and clean protein. Supplements like probiotics can help with digestive imbalances, and some herbal treatments like St. John’s wort, Siberian ginseng, and Kava kava are known to produce calming or antidepressant effects. Check with your doctor before taking any supplement.
- Be present with the ones you love. Cuddling children, strolling with a partner, playing with a pet, or social distancing with friends all lead us to feel connected and less lonely. By focusing on others, we direct our attention to them instead of negative thoughts that cause us to feel stressed.
- Finally, if stress and anxiety become overwhelming, it’s time to see your doctor. When handling simple tasks become difficult and work performance suffers or if you are drinking too much alcohol or experiencing sleep difficulties, make an appointment. If you have irrational fears or obsessions, are engaging in self-destructive or dangerous behavior, or contemplating suicide, seek help immediately or call 911.
Many companies have a workplace wellness program. Help is free and confidential. Most offer support for stress, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Counselors may also be able to help you set up a program to reach activity and health goals meant to reduce anxiety and increase wellness.
Recognizing that we are all more vulnerable to the effects of stress during this pandemic should help us be more supportive of ourselves and others as we strengthen our bodies, our minds, and grow in resilience.