The threat of coronavirus combined with a complete change to the way we live our daily lives means stress levels are running high for most people.
April is stress awareness month but is it possible to stay calm and shrug off anxiety during a national emergency? As everyone is urged to stay at home as much as possible, we come up with seven tips to lower your stress levels from the comfort of your living room.
You’ve probably seen posts on social media about people using the lockdown to learn a new skill, give their home a makeover or fulfil a personal dream like writing a novel or starting a business. While these are all wonderful and worthwhile things to do, it is important to cut yourself some slack. Lower your expectations and concentrate on getting through this difficult time. Focus on the essential things you have to do and don’t put pressure on yourself to be productive. Remember that people can be very selective about what they share on social media so try not to compare yourself to others, just concentrate on keeping yourself and your family safe and happy.
Exercise plays an important part in combatting stress. Getting your body moving boosts your body’s production of endorphins which naturally lift your mood and have a calming effect. Under the current regulations, you are allowed to leave the house once a day to walk, run or cycle in your local area but if you’d rather stay indoors, there are plenty of ways to get your fitness fix at home. YouTube is full of free workouts you can do in your own living room, including PE with Joe Wicks which has attracted millions of viewers since he began online PE lessons for kids and their parents at the start of lockdown. There are also a range of fitness apps you can download on your smartphone which act as a personal trainer with exercises tailored to you. You can even get active without getting off your La-Z-Boy sofa or recliner with these easy armchair exercises.
It’s important to stay informed about what is going on but, for some people, constantly checking the headlines can fuel their anxiety. Try to limit the number of times you check the news and distract yourself with things that have nothing to do with coronavirus. Watching a feelgood film, laughing at your favourite programme or reaching for a book can offer some valuable escapism. Listening to music can lift your mood and reduce feelings of stress and worry. Classical music is a particularly good choice if you are experiencing panicky feelings as it will lower your heart rate and help you regulate your breathing.
You might not be allowed to meet up with anyone outside your own household but social connections are vital for our mental wellbeing. Take advantage of technology to have conversations with your friends and family whether it is over the phone, email or instant messaging. Video calling and apps like Skype and Zoom allow you to have face-to-face interactions, which means you can still make eye contact and communicate using body language. And don’t worry if you haven’t got much to talk about, you could eat a meal, drink a coffee or watch a TV programme together – the important thing is that you’re communicating with each other so you feel less isolated and alone.
Mindfulness is a great way of handling feelings of stress and concentrating on the here and now. There are specific mindfulness apps you could download or you could spend a few minutes simply paying attention to your breathing each day. Gardening, colouring, cooking, completing a jigsaw and going for a walk are all simple activities which encourage mindfulness. Concentrate on what you are doing in the moment – what you see, feel, smell and hear. Dismiss any thoughts which pop up about anything other than the task you are doing. Briefly acknowledge them and then let them go and return to what you are doing.
For many people, lockdown has removed any sort of formal structure or routine from their lives. But, while it may be tempting to ignore time altogether, having a lack of routine can actually add to your stress levels. Try to get up and go to bed at the same sort of time each day and have mealtimes at set times. Create some sort of routine which you stick to, even if it is fairly flexible. Arrange to do things like call a friend or stream a favourite show at a particular time so you have something to look forward to. Make an effort to wash and get dressed as you would if you were going to work or leaving the house even if you’ll be alone in your home all day. Maintaining some sense of normality will help you feel more in control of your life.
In times of crisis and trauma, it is easy to dwell on the things we have lost. It is important to acknowledge losses but make an effort to think about the positive things in your life too. What do you have which you can be grateful for? Are there any unexpected advantages from being forced to slow down and stay at home? Could this be the ideal opportunity to press the reset button and work out what is most important to your happiness? Make a note of all the things you wish you could do or places you want to visit but can’t due to lockdown restrictions and aim to work your way through the list once things have returned to some sort of normal. Remember, this current crisis will not last forever so take it one day at a time and try to take joy in the simple things in life.