In the last month have you found it hard to make a decision or have you wanted to curl up and stay in bed all day and imagine COVID-19 doesn’t exist? Maybe you’ve had a sense of drive and told yourself multiple times that you are okay even though you haven’t had a great night’s sleep in weeks. If you’ve had any of those experiences you are totally normal and having a very natural stress response. But what can you do to get stress relief?
Under Pressure & in Need of Stress Relief
Most people I know put a lot of pressure on themselves. We can push ourselves at work, as parents, as partners. Sometimes we feel like we are not doing enough even though the day is full. Now add quarantine to the to-do list when no one has the answers and somehow there is just more pressure to do more and be more. We tell ourselves we need to learn to slow down at this is the time, but in reality everyone is learning how to homeschool and trying to save the careers we spent a lifetime working toward.
As I saw quarantine approaching I thought there would be a lot of down time. I could not have been more wrong. Add to all the extra pressure the concept of the mind-body connection, where more often than not we are told the mind has immense power over the body. If we haven’t figured out how to cure our ills with our mind we can feel less than. But until someone can teach you how to bend a spoon with your mind, I remain frustrated when I hear about the power our mind had to heal us.
The Mind-Body Connection
Yes, our mind is a powerful tool that can change how we react to a situation and our perspective toward our surroundings. But we can’t think positively and will COVID (or any other illness) away. Our body plays an important role in the mind-body connection too. It’s why I think I’ve talked to so many people (myself included) who will say they are fine, but aren’t sleeping or even if they are sleeping feel tired.
Our minds can try and talk us off the cliff edge on this one and tell us we are fine, but every other part of our body is sensing strange signals that the world is not fine. Our entire body is notifying the brain all day that this is not normal. We can do all the self talk we want, but we can’t change the facts.
And, our body does get to dictate some of how we respond to our world. We generally respond to stress in three different ways: fight, flight, or freeze. Typically, at least initially when we see a stressor, we don’t get to analyze which stress response is best. Our body reacts and selects the reaction for us.
Different situations produce different responses. I’ve been surprised how quickly and suddenly I’ve risen to action at a stranger needing CPR. But I’m useless if a drop of blood appears, and when Matt sliced his foot and there was a small flap of skin hanging off his toe I couldn’t even come in the room.
Generally speaking if over the last month you’ve wanted to curl up in the fetal position and pretend this will all go away, you might be experiencing flight. Your body is trying to escape the situation. If you can’t make a decision: should I go to the grocery store or not? Is it safe to visit my older relatives? Am I really safe six feet apart from friends? you’re likely stuck in freeze mode. They body and brain don’t know how to keep us safe, so they make choice seem impossible to immobilize us. If you are running on overdrive, feeling like you’re nailing this crisis, stepping up and helping everywhere, you’re likely in fight. It may seem like the most productive option, but it’s a sure way to burn out quickly. I for one have felt like a ball in a pinball machine lately. I’ve bounced from one stress response to the other. Maybe this isn’t happening. What should I do? I got this. And back through the cycle again. We need stress relief.
While we don’t have a ton of control over our initial stress response, once we can step back and access the situation, we can develop coping skills for whichever response we are having. And those coping skills may be different during COVID than what they would be in normal life. You probably had stress relievers that you took for granted and didn’t recognize in your typical daily routine pre-COVID.
Maybe your commute whether 15 minutes or an hour separated work from home for you and provided a moment to yourself. Maybe if that’s gone you need to make time to take a drive every day. Perhaps the co-worker you chatted with for ten minutes was such a bright spot in your day that you need to reach out for a chat now that you don’t see each other at the office.
For flight mode. Maybe you need activities to look forward to that create a sense of normalcy. Have a virtual game night with friends or just call a friend to talk. Maybe you need the quiet of a good book.
If you’re stuck in freeze mode, trust that overall there is no right decision now. You can make one as long as you feel good about it, you’ll have done the best you could with the knowledge you had at the time. We are all so limited on knowledge here that if you make a decision and something bad comes from it, it is not entirely your fault. You don’t have the perfect answer and neither does anyone else (even if they tell you they do).
For fight mode: maybe you need forced time to relax by taking a bath or doing gentle breathing exercises. Or maybe you need the exact opposite and you need to burn off steam with regular runs and a high interval training class. Perhaps you can order a punching bag.
Stress Can Be Positive
Often we think of stress as a bad thing which creates a downward spiral of added stress. We know all the terrible ways stress destroys us which just stresses us out more. But stress is a normal, functional reaction that serves a purpose and has positive traits. It can motivate us to make a change to help our situation. Stress can reduce pain in the body (it can also increase it for sure). It can enable us to get through difficult times. The point is, stress can be your friend, not your enemy.
It would be nearly impossible not to feel stressed or on edge right now, or at least not to have your moments. It’s okay. Recognize it. Try to note what response you are having. And do you best to learn what would help you cope with that particular stress response.
For me movement is almost always my go-to. Movement of the core muscles are intricately linked to our adrenal glands and therefor how we process stress in the body. So definitely consider moving your middle. Sit tall, side bend, round forward, bend back, and twist. Your body will thank you…and because your body is actually a powerful tool…your mind might just thank you too!
Keep Moving for the best stress relief!
Want to build some upper body strength? In this blog Maggie has a ton of video for arm and upper body moves!
Perhaps watching sea turtles swim will help you relax. In this blog post, you can find links to videos Maggie took of sea turtles while snorkeling.
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