April is stress awareness month, and right now, there are plenty of people who are stressed out trying to cope with change in an uncertain world, worried about families, finances, and toilet roll!
Whoever came up with the phrase 'social distancing' is not helping either. Yes, we need to distance ourselves from others physically, but it has never been the case where we need to distance or isolate ourselves from one another socially.
How many of us know that social connection is meaningful? Social connection improves physical health and psychological wellbeing. Social connection strengthens our immune system: research by Steve Cole (not related!) shows that genes impacted by social connection also code for immune function and inflammation. It also helps us recover from disease faster, and people who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression.
Technology has a huge role to play, and if you've read my posts in the past, you'll know I'm not a massive advocate of social media. However, people are now using social media for what it was designed for – connecting with others, which has to be a more positive thing.
Psychologically, if we tell our brains we are 'self-isolating' and 'socially-distancing', we are likely to feel more stressed, lonely and paranoid about connecting with other people. So, I urge you to think of unique and creative ways to stay socially connected to others, while instead practising physical distancing.
We can still chat to our friends and family via video calling, and even smile and say Hi to people in the street (from a safe distance), or talk to our neighbours over the garden fence. In fact, for all our sanity, I really think we should be connecting with each other now more than ever.
What happens when we are under all this stress?
So, we know that too much stress and social distancing harms your immune system, as well as having an effect on our overall health, mental health and wellbeing.
If we remain under stress, our' Fight, flight or freeze' responses can go into overdrive, which puts extra pressure on our heart and other organs. We can begin to struggle to think clearly and feel drained because our body is in constant 'attack' mode.
Our sleep may also be disturbed due to anxiety and worries during the night, or from being wired on caffeine to us keep going. We will often crave sugar during times of stress, an overload of sugar causes spikes of insulin which plays havoc with our hormones. We can increase in weight and feel irritable, sit around in our PJ's all day, and take it out on those we love.
Ways to cope with daily stress
While we are limited in what we can do outdoors at the minute, there are lots of ways to counteract the effects of stress, and it starts with having a regular (daily) practise of relaxation. Relaxation is easier than it sounds; between 5-10 minutes of counting your breaths or listening to soothing music will help to lower your heart rate, improve your sleep and support you in managing stress.
A short walk to get fresh air is a fantastic way of helping yourself to relax and de-stress. Of course, an hour-long walk or more would be amazing, but starting small is fine, even 10 minutes will help. Gardening or being outdoors, in general, has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve wellbeing.
The key is to find something soothing that you enjoy and can commit to a daily practice. If you're so stressed that you don't have the time or energy to devote to self-care, that's when you need replenishment the most! Prioritising self-care is a decision that only you can make, and changing habitual behaviour can take some effort. Your reward is feeling better, less stress, less tired and more in control.
Sadly, we could probably work (if you're working from home), do housework or other chores for 24 hours a day and the list would never end. It's time to say enough and put your wellbeing at the top of the priority list.
My advice, as someone who's also experienced chronic stress, life is stressful, yes, but this pandemic has given us the gift of time, the chance to slow down and create healthy habits that we didn't have time for before.
Taking a break in a tub of warm aromatic bubbles or calling a friend for a chat can help you feel like you're escaping a stressful reality and taking a mental and emotional vacation. Practising self-care, gratitude, and social interaction can make you start to feel good about yourself and your life, and can contribute to long-term feelings of wellbeing.
Taking regular time out to relax and get out into nature can make such a difference to our health, happiness and wellbeing.
You deserve it, you are amazing and are totally worth taking care of.