This modern culture of busyness is no stranger to the effects of chronic stress. However, in 2020, stress has taken on new meaning. In fact, due to COVID-19, the median stress level for most Americans is currently 5.9, a 10-point increase from 2019, reports the American Psychological Association.
Based on the APA’s survey of more than 3,000 U.S. adults, 71 percent are stressed over the disruption in their children’s routines, 67 percent are stressed over the government’s response, and 70 percent are stressed over the economic impact on their jobs. In addition, people of color are more likely to experience stress over contracting the virus or accessing healthcare and other basic needs.
“At best, chronic stress is uncomfortable and draining. [But] at worst, it can cause life-threatening conditions or even sudden death,” the wellness experts at HealthMarkets point out. Elevated, prolonged stress can result in issues such as headaches, asthma, heart disease, hypertension, digestive imbalance, Type 2 diabetes or depression, HealthMarkets continues. So if your stress is at an unhealthy level, here are some ways to regain control before it overwhelms you.
Organize Your Personal Environment
There is a direct link between household clutter and over-production of the stress hormone cortisol in the body, warns The New York Times. So to help manage your internal stress, first make sure the external space around you is both clean and organized. Remove the stacks of mail off your counter. Wash the accumulated dishes in your sink. Clear the desk in your home office. Make your bed in the morning. Overhaul the mess in your closet. Downsize the amount of items you own. Whether you embrace the minimalist trend or you strive to de-clutter more often, an orderly space will calm the senses.
Find an Exercise that You Enjoy Doing
A fitness regimen does more than just tone your muscles and sustain a healthy weight—research shows that exercise can be a powerful stress reliever too. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise will protect the body’s cardiovascular, immune and digestive systems from the weakening effects of stress. In addition, the endorphin release can improve your mood, sleep habits, energy, resilience and mental clarity. To optimize these benefits and increase your motivation, choose an exercise that you find enjoyable such as rock climbing, dancing, swimming, cycling, hiking or joining a local sports team, for instance.
Cultivate a Daily Mindfulness Practice
Based on a 2019 study in Health Psychology Journal, those who practice mindfulness with a focus on non-judgmental acceptance of the present are less anxious or stressed overall. In other words, this form of mindfulness teaches you to notice your own thoughts, emotions, beliefs and sensations in real-time without criticizing them. This acceptance then leads to decompression. Mindfulness techniques to include in your self-care routine are meditation, yoga, breathwork, intuitive eating, body scans, nature walks, journaling, therapy, creative or artistic outlets, and hobbies such as knitting that build repetition.
Form Healthy Relationship Boundaries
Relationships can be sources of love, comfort, warmth and safety, but without boundaries, they can also be mentally or emotionally draining. On the other hand, “Clear boundaries [will reduce] anger, stress, anxiety, conflicts and misunderstandings. Discovering your boundaries and learning others’ will increase your connection to them, making you more sensitive to their needs and theirs to yours,” notes author and psychotherapist Dr. Andrea Brandt. So be sparing with your time commitments, maintain realistic expectations, and do not be afraid to honestly communicate when your answer is “no.”
In the midst of these uncertain and difficult circumstances, what strategies help you take control of stress? Have you tried these coping mechanisms, or can you think of other stress management techniques to use? Share in the comment section below.