It can be natural to feel stressed even amid pandemic circumstances. Formerly isolating from friends, co-workers, and even family, worrying about getting sick or losing a job, considering social unrest, and navigating an economic recession are all active agents of stress that many had to battle throughout last year and into the new.
We have been suddenly and openly launched into unknown territory. By April 2020, 2.6 billion people went into lockdown with 81% of the global workforce fully or partially shut down. Zoom participants went from 10 million to 200 million active users at the start of the outbreak. Burnout and stress became a global reality rather than meaningful engagement. Virtual experiences are commonplace and understandable along with many not having respite from demands and responsibilities.
As part of a biological survival system, stress allows us to meet any challenges and demands within our environment. Various neurochemical and neuro-electrical reactions allow us to assess our surroundings, motivate us to meet goals, sharpen our ability to attend, and very briefly boost our immune system. Usually a stress-based response allows us to experience these benefits within a matter of hours and days, not weeks and months. Stress responses that become more long-term negatively impact our body’s ability to handle viral infections and adapt to immune system needs.
Set your mind.
Rather than responding with anxiety to the day’s circumstances, it will be helpful to create space from emotion and thought to practice mindfulness. Setting our minds right each morning will establish a healthy reset for the day’s occurrences. Upon arising from slumber, it may be tempting to pull out the phone, scroll through an endless ocean of news notifications, and swim through social media feeds. Try these steps to calibrate your mind and add focus at the start of your day:
You decide what your first thoughts for the day will be. Choose well. In the event of feeling anxious and unfocused for the day, take eight minutes to refocus and practice breathing and observing your thoughts without evaluation. Bring your thoughts back to the present moment and awareness of the breath when negative thoughts redirect your attention. When in practice and you get distracted, refocus back to the next breath since there is no right or wrong in this.
Practice healthy lifestyle habits.
Refer to the previous reflection on sleep hygiene here. Self-care with healthy sleep hygiene and consistent bed-time routines are crucial during times of high-stress activity. Great sleep is an integral part of maneuvering through stress. You can listen to this interview with Dr. Matthew Walker, a sleep expert and Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. The brain thrives on consistency and regularity. Going to bed each night and waking up at the same time every morning will keep a healthy circadian rhythm in check. During times of high stress, our bodies crave starches, sugar, and salt. Eating a diet with color can ward off these cravings. Many dark and leafy vegetables will provide the energy needs for our immune system. Drinking half of your body weight in fluid ounces of water will also help to flush out toxins from the body.
Social isolation has been known to lead to feelings of loneliness. This ultimately has negative repercussions on both our mental and physical health. In a pandemic season of separation from community, former mandate for shelter-in-place, and a healthcare request for social distancing, we want to gravitate toward our social tribe for solace and comfort. Use this season as an opportunity to check in with those that are on your personal list of contacts to call and connect with. Praise them. Pursue connection through empathy. Thank them for how much they mean to you and how they made a difference. Listen well. Remain curious about how they are currently. Be creative - sing and make music together. Italy is a prime example of how people came together to sing on the rooftops and balconies in these times of social distancing. People coordinated efforts to chant, hum, and croon through windows and across rooftops in appointed times. Being open and vulnerable while pursuing connection with others will be important in high-stress situations.
Emotional resilience becomes strengthened in the face of disappointments and hindrances when we pursue purpose. You are the one that decides what story you tell yourself. An orientation beyond ourselves makes us more emotionally agile, and you can read more here.
Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, indicated that the main drive and motivation for man is not found in neither power nor pleasure but in purpose and meaning. He wrote, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, only by lack of meaning and purpose.” Frankl observed from his experiences in concentration camps that those that had a future-orientation toward a meaning to be fulfilled were the ones most likely to survive.
Notice those that are living and leading with purpose in these turbulent times. Observe their lives as a teachable moment and receive inspiration to overcome your own personal and stressful season.
Challenges and difficulties during this pandemic have been uninterrupted. We can build resilience. Known as the building block that separates unsuccessful from successful people, resilience can lower depression levels, improve work-life satisfaction and engagement, and positively crystallize the path forward with overcoming setbacks and maneuvering through obstacles.