Stress in the time of Covid-19
This year with the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has proved especially stressful. DDRC Healthcare & Derriford Hospital ED nurse Morgan offers advice at this time:
Stress is a natural reaction and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. At appropriate times for short periods it can be motivating and help us to perform well in high pressured situations. However, when stress becomes overwhelming it has a negative effect both mentally and physically.
During this unprecedented time as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, people may feel more stressed due to anxiety, uncertainty and having to deal with the changes and restrictions imposed on our day to day lives. Yet, of course, life goes on. You may already have stressors such as financial problems, work related, family or relationships, health or bereavement that haven’t gone away or that have potentially been exacerbated by the current crisis.
Stress can have negative effects cognitively, physically, emotionally and behaviourally and prolonged stress contributes to high blood pressure, heart disease, negatively affects the immune system and can affect how pain is perceived. Therefore if you are feeling stressed, it is important to try to address it.
When you are feeling stressed you may feel like you don’t have the time or energy to compete all the tasks you have on your to-do list, so taking time to do some self-care may seem like an impossible task. However when you are stressed you can feel demotivated, fatigued, have poor judgement and concentration, suffer from ‘brain fog’ or not being able to prioritise tasks. So putting yourself first and taking a little time out can actually make you more efficient and mean you actually achieve more.
Ways to combat stress:
Be active – You don’t have to go outside to be active. I personally am trying to make the most of the one permitted period of outdoor exercise a day running, walking or cycling daily. But there are lots of ways to keep active at home from yoga apps, body weight workouts, circuits or even some hill reps on the stairs. Someone I know is climbing the equivalent to the height of Everest on their stairs during isolation, be creative! If you are less mobile that doesn’t mean you can’t be active, I am sure many of you have heard of Captain Tom Moore and his incredible fundraising for the NHS by doing 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday! There are also moderate exercises you can do from the comfort of your own chair.
Sleep – It’s not always possible to get 8 hours sleep a night but aiming for 8 hours sleep 3-4 nights a week is a good place to start. Having a routine throughout the day, but particularly before bed, helps with this. Having a set bedtime for example, eating a few hours before bed, having a bath or sitting and reading a book before you go to bed. If you feel like you have lots to do and are struggling to switch off write a to-do list for the next day to help organise your thoughts and then try not to think about it again until the morning. Don’t take your gadgets to bed – it’s really tempting to send that last email, or check social media or a message from bed but the light emitted from these can affect your ability to drift off, research suggests you should try not to use them during the hour before bed. As well as ensuring you are active throughout the day some stretches or yoga before bed can be beneficial. NHS.uk/conditions/insomnia has some further information and ideas including a sleep self assessment quiz .
Eat well – I normally enjoy a food shop, probably because I love food, but I have found shopping trips recently hard work, not knowing what will be available, the queues, trying to keep your distance. My best tip is to plan ahead, have a list but be ready to adjust if there isn’t the particular meat/veg/bread you wanted. Try not to get frustrated by it but see it as an opportunity to try a different recipe. If someone is currently shopping for you don’t be concerned about asking to mix up what you get delivered and ensure you are still getting a varied diet. Try to eat at least one cooked well balanced meal a day and eat a variety of colours of fresh fruit and veg to ensure you are achieving your 5 a day. A few restaurants, pubs and cafes are now delivering meals, so if you don’t like cooking or just don’t feel like it, that may be an option and means you are also supporting local businesses! One I find difficult, as I love my teas and coffee throughout the day, is to try to be mindful of the amount of caffeine you are consuming and make sure you keep hydrated drinking 1.5-2L of water per day. More information on how to achieve a balanced diet can be found at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/the-eatwell-guide/
Positive mindset – Being positive when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed is difficult. However there are positives to be taken out of most situations. I personally like to do what I call a Gratitude Intervention, at the end of the day I write down one thing I am grateful for that day, it can be as basic or as complicated as you want and mine range from a good film recommendation, to having a full fridge, my job, family, friends, health. The list goes on, but finding just that one thing that you are grateful for that day and doing this regularly can really help change your mindset.
Communicate – It is easy to feel isolated currently, a lot of of people literally are, and social distancing meaning you can’t see friends and family making this feeling worse. If you are home alone, or with small children or just not with people you feel like you can talk to, this could be a particularly difficult time. Reach out, the majority of people experience stress at some point in their lives, talk to friends, family or colleagues. Phone calls, texts, video calls, emails or writing a letter can remind you that you are not alone in this and the person on the other end will probably be just as grateful that you are thinking of them. If you want someone impartial to speak to you can contact the Samaritans, call: 116 123 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Time Management – Do the hardest most important things first. That task that is going to take the most time, the thing you are dreading starting the most or that feels overwhelming, make that the first thing on your ‘to do’ list. Break it down into more manageable chunks, for example writing an introduction for academic work or clearing out a room prior to painting it. Don’t try and do the whole thing at once. Set goals for the day, and start with the simple things such as making your bed, that way you have ticked one thing off straight away. But, accept that you are not going to be able to achieve everything in 24 hours, be realistic and prioritise what you need and what you want to achieve. ‘To-do’ lists can help with this. Also ensure you take breaks, stepping away to have something to eat, give your mind a rest, do some exercise which can not only increase your productivity but also the quality of what is produced.
Help others – Helping others can also make you feel happier, I’ve enjoyed writing little postcards to elderly and vulnerable friends and relatives that I know are bored/frustrated/anxious with everything that is going on currently. There are also residential and nursing homes that are accepting letters for their residents who are currently unable to have visitors. Volunteering online is an option if you have found that you have more time on your hands currently.
Accept things you can’t change – Be kind to yourself. If you are not achieving as much as you think you should be, or are feeling anxious or stressed don’t berate yourself for it. This is a totally new and unprecedented situation. There are many things you cannot do right now because of the restrictions imposed, you can’t change that. There is no right way to do isolation/lockdown and you need to do what is best for you. Try not to compare yourself to others especially if that is through social media because it is generally a showcase of people’s achievements, people don’t tend to post about the things they are struggling with. Social media is not an accurate reflection of life.
In Summary – Stress affects the majority of us and can be a useful tool, but if it becomes all consuming or overwhelming it can have negative affects on almost all aspects of our lives, recognising it and doing something about it is very important. And there are various methods of avoiding or dealing with stress. I have shared a few techniques I use, I hope some of them will be of use to you.