7 Simple Ways to Lower Stress
Stress is a common feature of our fast-paced lives. It can result from challenging situations in work and home environments and with friends and family members. Ordinarily, these situations might range from financial uncertainties to job interviews and important presentations or major shifts in familial dynamics, like marriage, divorce, or a child moving away from home. Relieving the stress caused by these types of situations might be as simple as dancing to a favorite song or spending some time with your pet.
As of 2020, there’s a new stressor on the block. And while it may not impact everyone in the same way, it’s certainly a cause for widespread concern. Given the unpredictable nature of COVID-19, the increased threat it poses to older populations and those with chronic health conditions, and the social interaction-limiting restrictions imposed by state and local governments in an effort to contain the virus and “flatten the curve,” there are a lot of reasons why you might be feeling more anxious than usual right now.
Old Reflexes, New Threats
Stress, as a natural reaction to a perceived threat, is a good thing. The body responds to a stimulus or stressor by entering “fight or flight” mode. Adrenaline is released as heart rate increases and muscles constrict, preparing you to react quickly and decisively to mitigate the threat. Because modern-day stressors don’t usually take the form of a wild animal or hostile tribesman, however, they’re often not quickly or easily dealt with and require more complex responses than running or fighting.
If stress persists and the body remains on high alert, the continual release of hormones can wreak havoc on cells and suppress the immune system. Depending on whether stress excites you or overwhelms you, you may “become angry, agitated, overly emotional, or keyed up,” or “depressed, withdrawn, or spaced out.”1 Serious health conditions can develop, including depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s Disease.3,4
The stress caused by everyday life circumstances might manifest as physical ailments like headaches, back pain, heart palpitations, difficulty concentrating, indigestion, and irritability. As the COVID-19 situation progresses, people have reported stress responses and symptoms such as:
- Fear and worry about their own health and the health of their loved ones
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Worsening of mental health conditions
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs2
These responses, while understandable, are detrimental to overall health and immunity. They may increase susceptibility to COVID-19 or other viruses and bacteria. But worrying about the effects of stress does little to help reduce them, and the strategies you usually rely on to instill a sense of calm and restore your ability to think clearly and breathe deeply may also prove unsuccessful in these unprecedented circumstances. Interventions that require physical proximity to other people, like therapy sessions, support group meetings, and exercise classes, aren’t readily available at this time.
Don’t Despair: Experts to the Rescue
Even while you’re sheltering in place and staying home, there are ways you can reduce stress and find gratitude and enjoyment in this socially-distanced season. Here’s what the experts say about stress relief during a global pandemic.
1. Stick to a routine.
The sudden loss of scheduling mainstays like work and social engagements can create the temptation to let old habits fall by the wayside. However, sticking as closely as possible to your usual routine will help you maintain a sense of normalcy and purpose. It will also make transitioning back to regular life (or whatever the new post-quarantine “normal” will look like) that much smoother when the time comes. Another suggestion: keep your life and your space organized. Don’t mix business and pleasure—establish clear “zones” in your house for work, leisure, meals, and sleep. While working in bed or eating a meal on the couch might seem fun, crossing boundaries can confuse your routine and contribute to mental chaos.
2. Get some exercise.
Your gym might be closed, but you can attend a variety of exercise classes from the comfort of your own home through Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms. Many gyms and trainers are offering classes for free, and you can easily find minimal-equipment workout suggestions online or on Instagram. Most counties permit walking and running outside, so you can boost the benefits of your stress-busting activity with some fresh air and a change of scenery. Plus, vitamin D is essential for immunity and research suggests that it may lower the mortality rate of COVID-19.5
3. Take a deep breath.
Meditation has long been hailed as the holy grail of stress-relief practices, but you don’t have to spend hours emptying your mind to experience the soothing effects of deep breathing and mindfulness. One of the quickest ways to lower stress levels is to breathe in slowly through your nose, hold the breath briefly, and then breathe out through your mouth, repeating several times. Deep breathing interrupts the stress response and fixes your focus on the present moment, which helps to reduce concern about the future by shifting your attention away from it. Another helpful strategy is evaluating your news sources and limiting your consumption of news-related content. Even if it’s from credible sources, a constant intake of alarming information will likely raise your anxiety and fear levels.
4. Connect with loved ones.
Social distancing doesn’t have to mean complete social isolation. Zoom and FaceTime make it easy to catch up with loved ones from afar, and even enjoy activities like cooking, crafting, watching movies, and playing games together. (Don’t hold back the laughter!) Schedule time with the people closest to you to keep your relationships healthy and flourishing, and consider writing letters to friends with whom you haven’t spoken in a while. Be careful of conference call burnout, though, and don’t be afraid to say “no” if you need a screen break. If you’re quarantined with other people, be intentional about spending time with them too. Physical proximity doesn’t automatically breed relational closeness.
5. Make a plan.
Knowing what steps you would take if you or someone in your family started experiencing concerning symptoms can help you feel less frantic about the unknown. Keep a list of healthcare providers’ phone numbers and telehealth lines handy, and stock up on care essentials. Make sure you know what the signs of COVID-19 are to avoid unnecessary paranoia. Do what you can to minimize the spread of germs and to prevent contaminated objects from entering your home or living space. To infuse dreary quarantine days with a sense of optimism, plan a future vacation or celebration and work on a project or skill that will not only provide enjoyment now, but also prove useful in the future. Learn a language, take a class, or pick up an instrument!
6. Implement a new practice or ritual.
Approaches to quarantine are as varied as the people experiencing it, but mindsets generally fall into one of two camps: “I feel trapped” or “I feel liberated.” Reframing your view of this situation can transform it from an inconvenience to be endured into a unique opportunity to focus on yourself. Use this time well: accomplish a long-avoided task, reorganize that closet, or start a self-care practice. Schedule a window of time every day to do something you’ve always said you’d do if you just had more time, whether that’s taking a daily walk, meditating, journaling, working on a project, or learning a new skill. Making progress and keeping a commitment to yourself can help prevent a sense of stagnancy from setting in.
7. Give your brain a boost.
You’ve probably already got a supplement lineup, but does it include one designed to manage stress and support mental health? Natural supplements that encourage healthy brain function provide necessary nutrients and can help to boost your mood and keep you feeling calm even in the face of uncertainty. U.S. Doctors’ Clinical offers BrainPower Advanced to reduce fatigue and stimulate blood flow to the brain, and Serezec Plus to enhance serotonin levels and improve energy.* A nourished nervous system can better regulate hormone levels to lower stress levels and give you the clarity you need to navigate the unknown.
It’s Okay to Need Help
It’s hard not to feel out of control right now, but mitigating stress is possible. The threat of COVID-19 will subside and social interaction restrictions will lift—but the effects of stress, if left unchecked, may not be so temporary. Chronic stress “increases blood sugar and can make diabetes worse. It can create high blood pressure and cause insomnia. It can also make people become anxious, worried, depressed, or frustrated,” says health psychologist Dr. Ann Webster.6 That’s why it’s so important to start implementing stress-lowering strategies as soon as possible, before long-term conditions set in or existing health concerns become exacerbated. If you’re struggling to feel motivated, or you’re already overwhelmed, ask a trusted loved one for help. They can check in on you, hold you accountable, and even participate with you in activities that will distract you from the current situation and bring you joy.
Stress-relief measures don’t just reduce the negative effects of stress and the risk of chronic disease. They benefit your nervous system, boost your immunity, improve the health of your heart and lungs, and raise your self-esteem. Healthy habits like regular exercise can increase your confidence and your serotonin levels. Spending time talking and laughing with loved ones deepens your connections and your sense of worth. Meditation and journaling impart serenity and create space for reflection. Natural supplements for brain health keep your mood balanced and your memory optimal.
Start trying strategies to lower stress today, and who knows—you just might come out of quarantine healthier than you went into it!
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.