If there was ever a question about whether a universal difficult season existed, 2020 has proven that it does. Given the significant challenges of COVID-19 and the fallout that seems to have affected virtually everything in our lives, it’s no wonder that many of us are stretched thin, and consistently stressed.
Of course, that constant stress has negative effects on our health. Among them are muscle tension, headaches, stomach upset, irritability, sleep disruption, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. Chronic stress also can lead to high blood pressure, increased risk of heart attack, a weaker immune system, and more.
Although we cannot control many external factors, we can control our response to them. Pandemic or not, there are ways to manage stress in difficult seasons. Put some — or all — of these into practice to benefit.
Manage Stress by Taking Care of Your Body
- Exercise. Research shows the value of exercise as a healthy way to release stress, increase energy, and improve mood. Choose any activity you enjoy — yoga, swimming, running, or high-intensity workouts — just move your body consistently, week after week, month after month. Creating a routine around exercise not only helps your physical health, it can also improve your mental health.
- Rest. Equally important to managing stress is rest, so try to go to bed earlier despite how busy you feel. Or fit in catnaps when possible. When you invest in giving your body adequate sleep, you’ll be more productive in the long run.
- Eat a healthy diet. Choose nutritious options like fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and plenty of water to function at your best. Limit consumption of high-fat, high-sugar, and processed foods, along with soda, juice, and alcohol.
Manage Stress by Nurturing Your Mental Health
- Center yourself. Try regular meditation, restorative yoga, breathing exercises, progressive relaxation, or prayer to control your mind and foster serenity. Practicing mindful meditation as part of your daily routine — even if just for 5 minutes a day — can help to build your resilience to the stresses of everyday life.
- Enlist support. Seek assistance from family, friends, neighbors, or your church if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Or work with a professional counselor or support group for guidance and community.
- Resist isolation. With limited social opportunities during the pandemic, feelings of isolation can add stress. Join events — even virtual ones — to socialize and build connections with others. Proactively reach out to friends and family, and arrange socially-distanced, in-person visits and activities.
Manage Stress by Controlling Your Schedule
- Limit commitments. It’s always important to manage your schedule so that you aren’t overextended. It can be hard to say no, especially when you feel you have more to give, or you’re hustling to get ahead in your career. But sometimes, saying no to new commitments — or new opportunities — is the best way to reduce burdens, preserve healthy margins, and avoid burnout.
- Prioritize leisure. Although vacations during a pandemic might not look as you imagined, be sure to incorporate days off and pursue activities or hobbies that you enjoy. Consider using a vacation day as a mental health day to read a book, paint, garden, or even catch up on a favorite TV show. However you choose to spend the day, allow yourself to rest and recharge.
Manage Stress by Changing Your Perspective
- Go outside. Whether it's your backyard or the local park, a simple change of scenery and some fresh air can refresh and reinvigorate you. Dress for the conditions and take a walk, eat a meal outside, lie in a hammock, or ride your bike. Rain or shine, take in the sights, sounds, and smells around you.
- Practice gratitude. Certainly, everyone has challenges. But acknowledging what you can be grateful for fosters a more positive, and healthier, mindset. Recognize and appreciate something good in each day.
Stress in life is a given. Taking steps to manage it, especially during difficult seasons, will enhance your wellness.