In the current times of the world pandemic of COVID-19, the question of "do you feel stressed?" has shifted to "how do you cope with stress?"
Think back to before the lockdowns and restrictions. Although it may be challenging, I encourage you to reflect on your experience of stress, for at least this moment, in the role of an observer. In the role of the observer, set the intention to not cast any judgement on how you or others respond to or handle the stressors and worries. Instead, gently approach the reflection with compassion and acceptance for what currently is. If you find the exercise of self-compassion or reflection to be triggering for you, it is important to be kind to yourself and take a step back from the exercise. Especially so during these times of physical/social distancing, it is important to reach out to others, in whatever way you safely can, for support, such as a clinical counsellor or a medical professional.
Likely, the stressors of your everyday life have been magnified and added to by our current shared experience of the virus. Although stress has a way of making us feel isolated it is important to know that even though we may physically distanced, you are not alone in your experience of stress!
Health Canada data recently revealed that roughly 11 million Canadians may experience high levels of stress, with two million more of us at risk for traumatic stress as a result of the pandemic. And this month, an IPSOS poll investigating the mental health of Canadians found that 66 per cent of women and 51 per cent of men claim their mental health has been negatively affected by COVID-19. - Jennifer Moss, CBC News
Below are common somatic (physical), emotional and behavioural symptoms associated with experiencing excessive stress, taken from MedicineNet (see the link in the references section for additional symptoms and signs):
sleep disturbances or change in sleeping habits (insomnia or sleeping to much)
headache, gastrointestinal problems
changes in eating habits including overeating or undereating (leading to weight gain or loss)
loss of enthusiasm or energy
mood changes, like irritability and depression
Although waves of stress are common for anyone and everyone, it important to consider that each person experiences stress differently. What is overwhelming for one person may be perceived as manageable by someone else.
The reaction of feeling stressed, worried, or exhausted is actually normal although you may feel alone or confused about the experience. In an article on Psychology Today, Melissa Shepard presented five signs to be aware of to know if what you are experiencing is stress or something more, such as a mental health concern:
thoughts of death or suicide
when your symptoms interfere with your life
lasting changes in your appetite
difficulty with sleep
you start to cope in harmful ways
Even though stress may be an uncomfortable experience, stress triggers our fight-flight response to raise red flags to our mind and body to keep us safe. However, chronic stress can take a toll on our health including our immune system. When the body feels stressed there is an increase in bodily inflammation which is associated with lower immunity.
Stepping back into the role of the observer, what are the red flags that signal to you when you are feeling stressed? By being self-aware of the red flags of how we naturally react to stress then we have the opportunity to manage the stress and maintain or boost our immune system and overall health.
Speaking with a mind-body informed counsellor is one helpful way to learn tools to manage varying levels of stress. As each person will experience stress uniquely, a one-on-one counsellor provides an opportunity to focus on what may work best for you.
One self-help tool that may be beneficial to practice is mindfulness. There is evidence which supports the calming effect of mindfulness on the mind, spirit, and body including reducing inflammation and increasing immunity. Two common paths of mindfulness include physical practices such as yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, walking, art, etc., or inward practices such as deep breathing or meditation.
Below are some examples of breathwork practices that may be calming for you. Even just one mindful practice has shown in studies of the positive effects on the mind-body to manage stress! Find what healing breath and mindfulness practice works for you!