Stress can be caused by everyday worries, problems at work, or quarrels with relatives. More serious life circumstances, such as a doctor's disappointing diagnosis, war, a pandemic, or the death of a loved one, lead to chronic stress. Stress affects a person's emotions, mood, and behavior. No less important, and often more serious, is its effect on the human body. In December 2019, a cluster of pneumonia cases were reported in Wuhan, China, and a novel coronavirus was eventually identified. Within months, coronavirus cases had cropped up in every corner of the world. The rapid emergence of the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing societal shutdowns brought with them a wave of uncertainty and stress. On short notice, people around the world had to rethink daily life including school closures, employment insecurity, changes in work schedules and locations, and overall changes in social conduct. The continued exposure to stress arising from the crisis is likely to have serious long‐term health effects in the form of increased risk of physical and mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and mood disorders. (Cohen, Janicki‐Deverts, & Miller, 2007; Kuo et al., 2019; Wu, Chan, & Ma, 2005.) While the CDC has recommended individuals to stay safe at home, they have also emphasized the need for individuals to manage stress and protect their mental health during this extremely ambiguous time. However, several months in, people are beginning to wonder how they can cope in the long term: What can we do at home to relieve stress? What can we do to stay sane? Below are a few tips to help you manage stress at home:
Exercise: Exercising has some direct stress-busting benefits. Exercise in the form of swimming, weightlifting, running, or even going for a relaxing walk in your neighborhood results in relieving stress. Physical activity helps the brain release feel-good neurotransmitters, known as endorphins. This directly helps improve your mood and can automatically help lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety. Exercise is meditation in motion; while you focus on pushing through and finishing your last set or working to get in that last rep, the focus on a specific task results in more energy and optimism.
Nutrition: Sometimes the answer lies in simply what you put in your body. "Eating a healthy diet can reduce the negative effects of stress on your body," said Matthew J. Kuchan, Ph.D., a senior researcher at Abbott, a medical device and healthcare company. It can be hard to meal prep for the week, and in most cases, when you’re living a busy and stressful lifestyle, meal prepping is almost impossible. For better or worse, many of us are stuck at home, which has forced us to eat out less and prepare meals at home. Sticking to a healthier lifestyle is easier when preparing meals at home. Having said that, what is considered healthy? What should you eat to relieve stress levels? These are questions we hear all the time. The answer lies in how stress affects our bodies. Stress negatively affects our blood flow and blood pressure. Therefore, eating foods that help lower our blood pressure levels also helps reduce stress levels. Including foods that are high in omega-3s such as blueberries, dark chocolate, fish (salmon and tuna), nuts and seeds, spinach, yogurt, and more help improve blood levels that directly help in reducing stress.
Having routine and structure: Dr. Steve Orma, a CBT clinical psychologist who specializes in treating insomnia, anxiety, and stress suggests that having a routine can significantly help reduce stress. Doing so helps our bodies form healthy habits, such as waking up early and avoiding fluctuating changes in our circadian rhythm. The current pandemic has confined us all in ways we never imagined; hence, setting a routine for yourself and creating a schedule for chores, work, meetings, exercise, etc. can foster feelings of accomplishment and progression that we all need.
Social distancing does not mean social isolation: In the new age of coronavirus, it is time to strengthen our interpersonal relationships, instead of diving deep into the social isolation hole. These sudden changes, nursing scholar Yu-Ping Chang says, go against the fundamental principle of being human, “that at our core we crave to be social beings.” The abrupt shift from “normal life” to the age of social distancing can be detrimental to our mental health. Therefore, taking the time and using it positively can help us stay more optimistic under the current circumstances. A few things we can do to stay healthy both mentally and physically include checking in with a family member or friend and setting a time to chat with them for some time, set a routine to work on daily tasks and productivity goals to gain a sense of accomplishment, maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle by going for a run or a walk in your neighborhood, and spending extra time working on your culinary skills by cooking healthy and delicious meals.
Incorporating the above-mentioned ways to manage stress at home can help alleviate stress being caused during these uncertain times. However, if you’ve done all the above and can’t seem to mitigate your stress, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional to reduce significant long-term mental health impairment.
If you are experiencing symptoms of mental or physical distress and would like to discuss your treatment options, schedule an appointment with one of our providers today by using our online form or by calling (805) 341-3416 during normal business hours.