It’s very stressful
I know I’ve written about anxiety before. In particular, in February last year, when the reality was, we had no idea what was coming our way. And then again, in January of this year, as we went back into lockdown and things felt pretty bleak.
A lot has happened since then, and many of us have found the past few months very difficult. Now, as the days lengthen and the lockdown restrictions are gradually lifted, we’re faced with a new set of challenges.
Don’t get me wrong. I am excited about the idea of being able to meet up with loved ones once more, maybe even travel in the not-too-distant future. In fact, I still find it hard to believe that these things that we once took for granted have now become a cause for celebration. But I also recognise that as we move into the next phase of this pandemic, it represents another change to our habits and lifestyles, and change can be inherently difficult and very stressful.
How do you feel about it?
Back in January, I invited you to reflect on how you were feeling and how you were coping with life in a pandemic. And it’s worth taking time to do this again. Many of us have been at home in some form of isolation from friends and family for the best part of a year. How do you feel about reconnecting with people and coming into contact with others? For many, the thought of this is very stressful, on top of continued concerns about the effectiveness of the vaccine, the increasing infections numbers in Europe, financial concerns or the dread of going back into lockdown.
Recognising the signs
Stress is a part of normal human reaction to situations. It enables the body to recognise a challenging situation and respond accordingly. Think of the caveman confronted with a sabre tooth tiger, or perhaps for a more modern example, think of that vital work project when you had to pull an all-nigher to get it over the line. In those situations, stress was your friend, giving you that boost of energy, strength and determination that the moment demanded by releasing adrenaline and cortisol. But when you face continuous challenges with no respite or relaxation, it’s then that stress starts to create a problem. And that certainly sounds like life in a pandemic.
The symptoms of unhelpful levels of stress are many and include (but aren’t limited to) mental and physical symptoms such as:
· Heart pounding or racing
· Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
· Muscle tension (esp. in neck and shoulders)
· Feeling sick or having butterflies
· Constipation, IBS or diarrhoea
· Excessive sweating
· Loss of weight or gaining weight
· Feeling tired or overwhelmed
· High blood pressure
· Feeling irritable, impatient or short-tempered
· Feeling depressed or low
· Not being able to concentrate or remember stuff
· Lost self-confidence
· Drinking, smoking or eating too much
Wow! That’s quite a list. High levels of stress can also have serious health consequences but I’m not going to list them, because that might just stress you out even more! What I am going to do is ask you to just go through the list and think about whether any of that sounds familiar.
It’s normal to be stressed
OK, so some of the above resonates. But the good news is that that is absolutely normal and it’s OK to feel anxious, stressed and very nervous about the situation. Not everybody is excited about the easing of lockdown. But it’s also important to recognise and accept that you feel stressed and anxious in order that you can take a few simple steps to help yourself de-stress.
Coping with stress
I touched some of the best ways of dealing with anxiety in my January blog, and these apply equally well to stress:
Thinking, talking or writing about how you feel
It can really help just to acknowledge that you feel stressed. You might want to talk someone (a friend or a professional), just say you feel stressed out loud or write it in journal. It’s really helpful to acknowledge how you feel, and recognise it for what it is: just a physical / mental but normal reaction to a difficult situation.
Taking a little time out doesn’t have to be a big thing that interrupts your already busy (and stressful day). Five minutes can be enough. Try and include some breathing exercises (perhaps box breathing - breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, breathe out for 5 seconds, repeat). Sit outside in the sunshine for five minutes with a coffee and listen to the sounds of nature.
Take a moment to acknowledge and admire the blossom or walk round your garden looking for signs of spring. I find walking barefoot helps, so you could try that. I know one lady who likes to hug trees. It’s a personal thing but try and find that little thing that brings you a momentary sense of calm.
If you can’t get outside, what about creating a favourite cosy corner of your house, where you can light a candle, have five minutes with a herbal tea or a book, of just tend a house plant. In my experience, it’s these little moments that tend to have the most impact on our wellbeing.
Exercise is a great way of coping with stress. It doesn’t have to be vigorous. A walk can do wonders, and if you know me, you know I swear by Pilates, yoga and Qigong exercises. I have also recently learned about barre classes and hopefully will give those a go soon. The five Yin organs Qigong exercises are simple, quiet exercises that can be done anywhere and don’t take long. Doing them always leaves me with a sense of calm and focus.
Again, if you know me, you know I’m a big fan of acupuncture. Well, it would be strange if I wasn’t. There are lots of reasons to recommend acupuncture for the release of stress. But an acupuncture session does represent an often rare chance to sit/lie down quietly and relax. And while you relax, acupuncture works at a deeper level, addressing any physical and emotional imbalances, allowing your body’s natural energies to flow effectively and bringing you an increased sense of harmony and wellbeing.
I can offer 30 minutes Zoom acupressure sessions. Sometimes all that is needed is one session, but a regular appointment is a great way to manage the anxiety and stresses ahead. You can book a session here. We can also discuss exercises and other lifestyle changes that may help you keep your stress levels under control.