This article also gives FREE access to the guided meditations which accompany my book "The Leader's Guide to Mindfulness"
We’re probably all a little more anxious than usual right now. Even if we are not in the front line risking our own lives every day to help others, our routine has changed and we are unsure when – or if – it will return. We may be concerned about falling sick, we are likely to concerned about our cost of living. While stress is a part of life – it’s not usually at this level for this length of time, and it’s essential we learn to manage it.
What is stress?
Stress is best defined as an emotional and physical state resulting in a physiological reaction where the body is prepared to fight or fly. The release of adrenaline, palpitations, and increased sweating which may be experienced is often unpleasant and lasts until the perceived threat has passed, or until the body is no longer able to sustain this state and falls into exhaustion. Unfortunately, stress can cause further behavioural problems such as a lack of sleep and inability to focus and changes in our eating habits – often over or under eating.
However, stressors are often temporary and if they are removed prior to exhaustion, recovery is often swift, and if we listen to our body’s response and can identify stress triggers enabling us to make small changes to manage our response to stress…at the time of writing, this one looks set to stay for a while longer.
Here are some simple tips to build resilience and manage stress.
1. Remember what makes you happy and engage in it if you can
Just because you have responsibilities and priorities doesn’t mean you cannot find the enjoyment in life at the same time. Perhaps if you have not engaged in a hobby for a while, try it again and see if you can incorporate it into your life – remember you were always more holistic than the role you play, so revisit you once in a while. Saying that, recognise also that your priorities were once longed for desires – that great job, that lovely family – embrace that passion by taking a moment, right now to think of all the bits you love about having that responsibility.
2. Practice saying no
If you cannot say “no” directly, then work out and practice some statements which can buy you time such as “I’ll tell you a x o’clock.” If you say “yes” to everything, if we have spread ourselves too thinly not only does the quality of our work suffer, but we may begin to resent the people we originally wanted to help. It is not your job to “rescue” others, and if you don’t do it, they will find a way to make whatever it is work if they want it enough! One thing we have right now is time away from interaction, so use it to practice self-assertiveness.
3. Try mindful deep breathing
Meditation or simply focused deep breathing (in for a count of 4 through the nose, hold for 2, and out through the mouth for a count of 6) is recommended to build up internal resilience – with the very act of deep breathing promoting positive physiological changes in times of stress. (And no, you don't need to get into yoga poses!) Free guided meditations to support you can be found here:
However, if you have limited time to mediate – or simply do not enjoy it:
4. Find a moment to be informally mindful
Mindful practice does not always need to be formal - informal moments of being present can be just as conducive to good mental health and wellbeing eg:
- When out in the garden listen to birdsong or take a moment to feel the warmth of the sun
- When having a drink take a moment to appreciate the sensation as it quenches your thirst, or while eating take a moment to savour the taste – and see if you can recognise the multitude of flavours
- Treat yourself, just because (but be aware of your finances!) - As a sub point, conduct a financial awareness audit – do you know how much you are spending? If so, you can make changes, or be pleased that when you treat yourself, there was a fund to do so
- Wear something that is uniquely expressive of you (even if it is not obviously displayed)
Make your stress response work for you
a) Listen to your body
No-one can ever be more of an expert on our bodies than ourselves, and yet we so often ignore the signs when it is struggling. Becoming more aware of what triggers any of the stress responses mentioned can help us avoid them – or deal with them before they begin to get worrisome – in future situations.
b) Look after your body physically
With stress being a physiological response, physical care can be just as important as emotional and mental support for building resilience to stress. Eating sensibly, sleeping well and simple things such as taking breaks can help our bodies function better, after all, we often ask a lot of them so we would do well to look after them.
c) Make tiny changes to your routine
Now is a good time to try out doing things in a different way. If working remotely suits you, make a note to ask if this can be incorporated when things begin to resume; if certain people cause you to feel uncomfortable, the amount of time you need to see them (right now) is reduced, perhaps take the step of minimising your contact on social media too (it’s possible to “unfollow” people without them knowing.). If your job was what was causing unpleasant feelings, use this time to consider what the alternative options are.
Being aware of what your body is saying comes first, doing something about it is an important next step.
Audrey is a chartered psychologist and author. Learn more at www.draudreyt.com or follow her on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook @draudreyt