I Didn’t Think I Was Stressed
Dealing with stress amid the coronavirus pandemic
I’m working from home; I have my dog at my feet, another pot of coffee brewing and relative security. I’m in comfortable clothes and my bed’s made and because I don’t have to commute, I have time to get a workout in before I log on.
But after only a few days of this idyllic life, I began noticing that I was more anxious than usual. I checked my news apps more often, but didn’t seem to retain anything I was reading. I tossed and turned at night, despite my exercise routine. Little things, like my roommates leaving a dish out overnight, annoyed me more than they merited. But I didn’t recognize that as stress – even though it was.
According to scientists, isolation-caused loneliness can lead to stress – and stress manifestations are a lot more varied than grinding your teeth or snapping at someone. Stress makes you anxious; it can mess with your eating and sleeping habits, prevent you from focusing, drive you to drink and even cause a loss of interest in some of your hobbies. And with nearly one-fifth of the country now out of a job or facing reduced hours, with rent and utility bills looming, stress is a common thread for all of us – which makes learning to recognize and manage it even more important.
COMMON MANIFESTATIONS OF STRESS
Below are some ways stress can manifest itself, aside from the obvious (tightened muscles, physical tics), according to researchers. Keep an eye on your behavior and your moods from day to day; sometimes, stress can be subtle enough to pass under your day-to-day radar while still affecting your work and your health (mental and physical).
- Heightened anxiety
- Altered appetite
- Having trouble falling or staying asleep
- Inability to focus
- Exacerbating pre-existing behavior (like smoking)
- Aggravating pre-existing health conditions
- Increased emotional volatility (yelling or crying easier)
- Losing interest in activities
- Acting out at inappropriate times
ALTERNATIVE WAYS TO MANAGE STRESS
There have been around five million articles on stress management since March began (I even wrote one of them). Here are a few less commonly-shared tips, why they work, and how you might customize them to make them work for you.
- Set times to check in on the news.
- Sitting and refreshing your news app of choice doesn’t do anything but make you anxious; it’s unlikely to catch major breaking news every two seconds, and even if you did, the information would be thin on the ground. Instead, set times for yourself to check on big news and stick to it. This helps prevent preoccupation, allows you to get more information per check in and keeps the anxiety from building in your chest.
- Commit to calling a certain number of people every day.
- Dedicate yourself to call a certain number of people daily, whether that’s just one or twenty. It can be the same people; it can be a different set each day. But research shows that reaching out to others helps temper the loneliness and uncertainty that contributes to stress.
- Don’t neglect your routines.
- Yes, one of the benefits of video conferences is that as long as you have a nice shirt on, who needs pants? But you should still set and keep some basic rules for yourself. Take a nice shower; get dressed (even casually); and stick to your routine.
- Practice altruism.
- It has been proven, time and again, that those who give reap benefits twice over. Use your time to make other people’s lives easier, whether it’s contributing to a social fund for groceries or helping an older relative refill their prescription, and you’ll feel your own mental burden grow lighter.
- Check in with yourself.
- Anxiety, stress, loneliness – if you’re not familiar with them (and even if you are!) they have a terrifying ability to sneak up on us unnoticed. Set aside a time once a day, every day, to perform a quick check in with yourself. Touch base with your physical body – are your shoulders set tight? Is your jaw sore from grinding your teeth? – and with your headspace. Much like a check-up with your doctor, a check-in with yourself can be priceless for preventing problems down the road.
- Reframe your language.
- Optimism, like a smile, can be faked – but science has proven that, like a fake smile, fake optimism can make you more positive anyway. Pay attention to the words you use and how you frame your thoughts, and do your best to rephrase negative ideas. Optimistic people tend to suffer fewer negative health repercussions from difficult situations.
These habits, in combination with some of the more common pieces of advice – physical activity, getting sunshine, eating healthy – can help you keep your cool and ward off stress as it tries to creep in through the cracks. It won’t stop you from wanting to write a nastygram to that one coworker (you know the one), but let’s be honest…you want to do that even under normal circumstances. For now, focus on keeping that tension out of your muscles, finding joy in the little things and getting an excellent night’s sleep.