Top tips for dealing with stress during the COVID-19 outbreak

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The global coronavirus outbreak and subsequent UK government prescribed lockdown have coincided, this April, with national stress awareness month. Seren Global Media’s Senior PR Account manager, Grant Nicholas, looks at some of the ways we can help deal with stress during these extraordinary times.

In case you didn’t know, April is national stress awareness month – and what a month it has turned out to be! Stress is one of the biggest issues in modern society, even under normal circumstances, and these are certainly far from normal circumstances. With all our lives changing dramatically over recent weeks, it’s more important than ever that feelings of stress and anxiety are managed and mitigated as far as possible.

The entire world is in the midst of a very uncertain situation and people are having to adjust to a constantly changing landscape, where even the most mundane of daily acts – like shopping, exercising and working – are fraught with uncertainty. The potential for anxiety and stress, therefore, lurks around every corner and the need for some sort of stability is understandably something many people are currently craving.

Even the ways many people cope with stress have been taken away. The gym, the pub, the cinema, live music and sporting events, even socialising and sharing your troubles intimately with friends and family have become virtually impossible if not forbidden.

I for one am really missing swimming a few times a week and the feeling of calm it gives me, along with the social aspects of seeing familiar, friendly faces and enjoying a light-hearted conversation. The routine of travelling to the pool, even when I might not feel like it, and knowing how much better I will feel after the exercise, all usually help me to find perspective about any troubles I might have, and allow me to marshal my thoughts and sleep better as a result.

But, even if your usual coping mechanisms have been temporarily taken away (it’s good to remember it is only temporary), there are still many things you can do to help manage your stress levels and ensure your mental and physical health remain strong at a time when you need both more than ever. Remember, prolonged stress suppresses your immune system and that’s something we really need to be firing on all cylinders at the moment! So, what can be done?

Find a new routine and take control

Working practices will almost certainly have changed for you. Whether you are working from home, working in a key industry, on the front line, or have found that work has temporarily dried up to the point you are not working at all, it’s important to find a new routine you can adjust to and maintain. This will not only keep your mind occupied; it will also allow you to take back control of the situation by not letting you dwell for too long on the things you’re missing and the bad news that is currently surrounding us. It might even be a good idea to limit the time you spend following the news and social media. It’s a very understandable human trait that when we are in an unfamiliar circumstance, we want to gain as much knowledge and information about our situation as possible. But, constantly listening to the worst possible news is not good for our mental health and it’s very easy to lose perspective. It’s also unlikely that the news will change from morning to evening, so, by all means, keep up to speed with what’s going on in the world just do it for a limited period each day.

Prioritise your health and exercise

We may be in ‘lockdown’ but we are still allowed – even encouraged – to get outside and exercise. Aerobic exercise is amazing for your head as well as your heart. Exercise releases lots of feel-good hormones and reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It has the unique ability to energise and relax you, and you’ll also know you are doing everything you can to get your body in good shape to combat the hated virus (should you get infected), which in itself should relieve some anxiety. By exercising outside in the daylight you’ll also be naturally raising your vitamin D levels – essential for strengthening your immune system, so, make your designated daily exercise time count!

Get a good night’s sleep

Lack of sleep leads to an increase in stress hormones. Stress hormones lead to a lack of sleep. It’s a vicious circle. The brain chemicals released during deep sleep are the same ones that tell the body to stop producing stress hormones, so it’s vital to try to get a full night’s sleep if you can. Easier said than done, hey! To help with this, it’s best to increase the amount of natural light you get during the day and reduce the amount of blue light exposure you get in the evening – so, stay off the computer, tablet or phone! Try to avoid caffeine and other stimulants late in the day, and though drinking alcohol before bed may make you feel relaxed, it can lead to a disrupted night’s sleep. Try to stick to a sleep routine with regular sleep and waking times and make sure that you give yourself time to relax and clear your mind in the evenings. Avoid watching exciting films or the news too late if you have problems getting off to sleep, and instead read a book or listen to relaxation tapes. Many people have different ways to unwind, including a bath or yoga, so find what works best for you.

Stay hydrated

At least one and a half litres a day should do the trick. Make sure you drink small amounts regularly – not all in one go – so, you never get to the point of being completely dehydrated. You not only lose water during the day but at night too, so make sure you don’t go to bed thirsty if you want to avoid sleep disruptions, dry mouth and leg cramps.

Eat well

Eating healthily can help us minimise stress and bad eating habits can often come about as a result of stress. It’s important to make sure we give our bodies the nutrients it needs, that way, we’ll avoid craving sugary and starchy foods which can actually increase anxiety levels. Try to stick to regular mealtimes (3 a day) to regulate blood sugar and include at least five portions of fruit and vegetables if possible.

Adopt a positive mindset

Again, easier said than done. Try not to worry about things you have no control over. Spend time doing things you enjoy and avoid people and situations which you know can bring you down. Again, try to avoid listening to too much bad news and instead look at the good things you have going on in your life. The mind is very powerful, and it’s very easy to convince yourself that everything it terrible; but, if you continue to believe this and extrapolate on to what might occur in the worst possible scenario, then changing this catastrophic mindset can be very difficult. Instead, enjoy the simple things again and talk to friends, family or a professional counselling service to get a better perspective.

Manage your time

A good routine will help with this and breaking your day into manageable tasks always helps mitigate unwelcome stress. Plan out what needs to be done and try to stick to it, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t manage to accomplish everything, we’re all doing the best we can in difficult circumstances, so be kind to yourself in this regard.

Finally, it’s important to remember that we all suffer from stress at some time and although occasional pressure can help bring out the best in us, prolonged exposure to stress can be extremely damaging to our health, and lead to us underperforming in every aspect of our lives. Take the time to look after yourself and try to help others when you see that they are struggling – lots of people are at the moment. As well as the ways to combat stress listed above, there are many wonderful organisations and online resources which can help you. So, get online, get searching and get some advice.

Online resources to help deal with stress include:

www.rethink.org

www.mind.org.uk

www.anxietyuk.org.uk

www.stress.org.uk

www.samaritans.org