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Managing stress in difficult times

In times of uncertainty, feelings of stress and anxiety are completely normal. We share advice on managing stress in difficult times.

The coronavirus outbreak is affecting our lives in unprecedented ways, with all of us having to come to terms with new routines, new ways of working, and a long list of restrictions on what we can and can’t do.

Stress is a natural reaction to difficult situations. At the most basic level, it’s a primal response to outside pressures or threats.

So, if you’re feeling stressed right now, rest assured this is a completely normal reaction.1

At times, a small amount of stress can actually help us. But during difficult times, it’s common for stress to build up to the point where it’s bad for us.

How does stress affect us?

Although stress is a natural reaction, high levels can have a serious impact on our mental as well as our physical health.

Stress affects everyone differently. Physically, stress has the potential to impact most areas of the body, from the central nervous system to the digestive system. It can impact immunity, raise blood pressure and heart rate, and affect our breathing.

Stress can also be psychologically damaging. It can interrupt our sleep patterns, upset our moods, interfere with our ability to think clearly and is even thought to lead to anxiety and depression disorders.

Common symptoms of stress include:

  • Tension, aches and pains in your muscles
  • Headaches
  • An upset stomach
  • Skin breakouts
  • Disordered sleep
  • Mood changes
  • Inability to focus
  • Stress can also take its toll on our relationships, which in turn can make our problems worse.

Feelings of stress are incredibly common, and especially so during times of uncertainty and disruption. For many people, there are stress management techniques that can easily be adopted to help you deal with things.

However, if you find that stress relievers don’t work, or that the sources of stress you face simply can’t be managed, it’s time to seek help.

Tips for managing stress during the coronavirus outbreak

1. Focus on what you can control

Make a list of the things you can control, like taking the recommended health precautions and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Try to focus on building healthy habits, such as eating well, exercising frequently and getting a good night’s sleep.

These things can all help to reduce stress and they also protect your immune system.

More advice on boosting your immune system

2. Write things down

Keeping a journal has been shown to help relieve stress. Writing about your emotional responses to events that have happened throughout the day, week or month can actually help you to process your feelings.

Acknowledging and noting down how you are feeling can also help you to develop coping mechanisms for the future.

Of course, you can write down positives too. Take time to think about the good things in your life. Reflect on each day, consider what went well and list three things you’re thankful for.

If journaling is not for you, it may still help to write down what you are stressed about. Seeing things on paper can help to put them in perspective.

Write down all your worries and make a list of all the possible solutions you can think of to combat these concerns. Try not to get too hung up on finding the ‘perfect’ solution; include whatever comes to mind.

Alternatively, if you feel you can’t address your worries, some people find that writing down their concerns and throwing them in the bin offers instant stress relief.

3. Make a plan

A lot of the time, stress comes from uncertainty and from feeling like we’re not in control. Having a clear plan with achievable goals can help you shake off those feelings.

This doesn’t have to be a huge life plan. It’s better to start small and focus on things you can definitely do. Create a list and tick things off one by one.

4. Take time out and allow yourself to feel positive

Taking time out to relax and practice self-care can really help to reduce stress and to protect you from mental health problems in the long term.

Self-care involves doing positive things for yourself. This might be partaking in your hobbies, pampering yourself, going for a walk or relaxing in front of the TV.

Practicing self-care is also about looking after yourself in body and mind; maintaining a healthy lifestyle, keeping up personal hygiene, sleeping well and staying active.

These seem like small things but they are all too easily forgotten during times of stress, especially if we have others to look after. Striking a balance between responsibility to others and responsibility to yourself is vital in reducing stress levels.

5. Try mindfulness or meditation

There’s no guarantee that meditation or mindfulness will help you deal with anxiety or reduce your stress, but for some people they really work.

Mindfulness is about actively paying attention to the present moment – your thoughts and feelings and the world around you. It can help you to enjoy things more and to be more self-aware.

Meditation tends to involve sitting quietly and focusing on your thoughts. It aims to make you calmer, less easily distracted and more focused on the present.

You can find more on mindfulness and meditation here.

6. Reach out for help and support

If you are feeling overwhelmed by stress, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone – be it a loved one or a professional. You are not the only one who is struggling, and you are not alone in your struggles.

Many people feel reluctant to get help, seeing it as weakness or failure. But this is absolutely not true. If your mental health is troubling you, you should seek help in just the same way you would if you had a physical problem.

Speaking to someone close to you can really help to relieve stress. Social relationships are crucial to our mental health. Make time for calls and video chats and tell your loved ones how you are feeling. Sometimes just saying it out loud will start to relieve the stress.

If you are really struggling, it might be time to speak to a professional. The NHS has put together a list of mental health helplines that can help you talk through your problems, and you can also speak to your GP or research counsellors in your area. Many mental health professionals are currently offering virtual sessions.