Coping with stress during uncertain times

Stress can affect people’s lives at any moment. Some say that a certain measure of stress can be a good thing that pushes individuals to try their best to overcome obstacles. However, chronic stress is potentially dangerous for the mind and body.

2020 has been a stressful year for many people. A global pandemic that emerged in late 2019 and continued into the new year brought with it many changes — some of which are unprecedented. Concerns about the COVID-19 virus, unemployment, reduced wages, and uncertainty about the future has left many people feeling adrift.

According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey, the average reported stress level for adults in the United States related to the coronavirus pandemic is 5.9. When asked to rate their stress level in general, the average reported stress for American adults is 5.4. This is higher than the average stress level reported in 2019, which was 4.9, and marks the first significant increase in average reported stress since the survey began in 2007.

Pandemic stress mixed with existing stress may require additional coping techniques.

• Turn negative thinking into positive thinking. The occasional pep talk can help people manage their stress. Rather than saying “Everything is going wrong,” tell yourself “I can handle this, I have done it before.” Find the silver lining in situations and they may not feel so stressful.

• Take things one step at a time. Getting ahead of yourself by looking too far into the future can compound stress. Focus on the here and now. Make to-do lists and take situations as they come day by day or hour by hour. Situations are often fluid, so worrying about something that is weeks away is often fruitless.

• Exercise regularly. Find opportunities to exercise. The Mayo Clinic says exercise in almost any form can act as a stress reliever. Physical activity can release your feel-good endorphins and distract you from daily worries. Exercise also can mimic the effects of stress, helping to condition the body to its effects and buffer the cardiovascular, digestive and immune systems from negative effects.

• Seek out social support. Chances are someone you know also is experiencing increased stress loads. Find the time for conversation, video chats or safe, socially distanced meet-ups with friends. Each person can share their unique frustrations and collectively you can work through the stress.

• Don’t drown in perfectionism. Trying to be mistake-free can trigger anxiety and stress. Being perfect is impossible and everyone makes mistakes. According to Psych Central, mistake-making can lead to growth and experience, while perfectionism may staunch growth because a person is too afraid to take chances. Not every decision you make will be ideal, but each is a learning experience.

Stress is something most people come up against in their daily lives, perhaps more so than ever this year. But stress can be wrangled and minimized.

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