In her speech to the nation yesterday, Queen Elizabeth said, “That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet, good-humored resolve, and of fellow feeling still characterize this country.”
Can that be said of us as a nation? I’m not sure. What I am sure of, however, is how each of us can stay mentally healthy and make a difference in our community during this epic upheaval that continues to impact our health, finances, and employment.
What You Can Do to Cope with Stress
It is important to remember that life still goes and that there are a number of ways to cope with stress. As humans, we have a tremendous capacity to flourish despite what some may call life-altering situations. Here are a few suggestions from Laura Dreer, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Practice Mindfulness. Mindfulness means being fully present in the moment. It is easy for us to get caught up in things that have happened in the past or in the future while missing out on living in the present. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.
Help Someone Else. This is a great way to feel more empowered about the impact of your day-to-day life. Virtually reach out to struggling co-workers or others in the community with support and encouragement, and check (again, virtually) on any elderly or vulnerable members of your community and offer to assist them through grocery shopping or picking up their medications.
Read a book. Whether you choose to read a positive book, a murder mystery or even a manual, reading still has proven health benefits. According to Scholastic, regular reading can decrease your stress levels by up to 68 percent and can lengthen your life by up to two years!
Stay socially connected. It is very important to stay socially connected throughout this pandemic, especially when social distancing is recommended and businesses, schools, entertainment, social, and sports are halted. According to Dr. Dreer, “Stress and loneliness can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to illnesses. There are many ways to continue to engage socially and during outbreaks, and it may take some creativity.” Play games with your family, eat a meal together, cook with family, do a puzzle.
Spend time with a pet. There is much to be said about the comfort of a pet during times of stress. Pets can have a calming effect on us, allow us to relax, breath slower and lower our heart rate. And, pets do not have to be just dogs or cats to have a beneficial impact. Even watching a fish has been found to positively impact mental health and lower stress and blood pressure.
Limit your sources and amount of news intake. “Constantly listening to news and/or cable talk shows will only add to one’s anxiety in times of an outbreak or disaster,” Dreer said. “While it’s important to stay updated, limiting updates to once a day will help you stay more in the moment and lower your stress levels. This is particularly important for parents with young children and to be mindful of keeping the news to a minimum.” Streamline your incoming news by picking a few reputable sources rather than relying on potentially unreliable social media. You can also get good information from sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UAB, World Health Organization, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Start or End Your Day with Gratitude. Take time each day to remember all the things you are grateful for in life – your family, your friends, your neighbors. When you express your gratitude, you are actually giving something very special back to the other person as well as giving something precious to yourself. Now is a great time to start a gratitude journal.
Bottom Line: Meaningful experiences reduce our stress level by releasing feel-good hormones like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. Add a little humor to your day and remember, we’re all in this together!
Pandemic books to read while social-distancing:
The Broken Earth Trilogy, by N. K. Jemisin
Polio: An American Story, David Oshinksy
Influenza: The Hundred-Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History, by Jeremy Brown
Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It, by Gina Kolata