Coping With Stress

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With everything happening in the world today – a pandemic, economic hardships, racial tension, and civil unrest – people are understandably anxious.  How can they remain calm amid a stressful world?  Dr. Marc Browning of Linden Oaks Behavioral Health has several tips for coping with stress.

 Take Care of Yourself

This means everything from good hygiene to staying physically fit to eating healthy and getting a good night’s sleep.  It’s hard to care for others, such as your children or the elderly, if you don’t take care of yourself first.  The first step to taking care of yourself is to follow a routine.  Create a daily schedule to have some structure to your day, which allows you to plan ahead.  Eat well and keep yourself hydrated throughout the day and get plenty of sleep, striving for 8 to 10 hours per night.

During the day, get or stay active.  Go for a brisk walk or jog, take an online fitness class, take your dog for a walk, use at-home workout equipment or improve your fundamental skills of your favorite sport.

Create a self-care kit.  Gather several self-soothe items in a bag or box to have handy when needed, such as word searches, inspirational quotes, favorite smelling lotion, pictures of loved ones, favorite candy, art supplies or much-loved lyrics.  It can be helpful to have items that connect to all five of your senses.

Maintain Social Connection

“We thrive in community.  We are meant to be with other people,” says Browning.  “So it’s vitally important that we stay connected.”

You can bond with family and friends by talking to them on the phone, engage in group video chats or write letters.   The latest technology, such as Face Time and other applications, makes it much easier to engage with others while keeping a distance.

Limit Research, News Exposure, and Even Conversations Related to Stressful Topics

Browning says it’s important for our mental and emotional well-being to be careful of how much information we consume when it comes to stressful topics such as the COVID-19 pandemic.  Sources such as the Centers for Disease Control are reliable and can offer just enough to keep us informed, which is important.  However, he cautions not to take in too much or to talk about it so much that it continues to exacerbate our fears and anxieties.  Some say consumption should be limited to no more than 30 minutes per day.

Helping Others Can Help Yourself

We have the capability of serving others with our own skills, knowledge, abilities, and talents.  By imparting such onto other people who may be in need, it gives us a sense of purpose and has the tendency to lift up both ourselves and others at the same time.  This can mean volunteering at an animal shelter or non-profit, tutoring or mentoring youth, making a donation, or doing a small act of kindness for a neighbor.  There are lots of ways to give back to your community, which can reduce our own stress.

Reaching Out for Professional Help

Even with these mechanisms for coping with stress, sometimes we exhaust ourselves to the point of frustration behind what we can handle on our own.  That’s when it might be time to seek professional help.  Here are some telltale signs that it might be time to contact a therapist:

  • Unable to concentrate due to increase in worry or racing thoughts
  • Consistent, intense physical sensations, such stomach aches or headaches
  • Lack of desire to engage in hobbies you once enjoyed
  • Not keeping up with self-care activities, such as showering or brushing your teeth
  • Seeking reassurance from your support system
  • Finding yourself repeating behaviors to calm unwanted thoughts, such as counting or checking
  • Sleeping difficulties, including difficulty falling or staying asleep, feeling fatigued throughout the day, or sleeping too much
  • Lack of appetite or overeating
  • Constant fidgeting or difficulties sitting still
  • Feeling isolated, lonely and disconnected
  • Feeling more irritable or edgy