How to Manage Stress in a Crisis

Advice on staying emotionally healthy through difficult times

A virus is spreading across our world. People are losing work, stores are closed or empty, and schools have shut down.

Everything that gives us a sense of normalcy — work, vacations, weddings, celebrations — are all canceled.

This is truly a test of our emotional resilience and fortitude.

It’s one that we can overcome, together.

The unknown is one of the biggest causes of worry and stress, and understandably these emotions are running rampant throughout our cities, towns, and communities.

So what can we do?

There are many strategies available, but here are the tools and techniques that I’ve honed over the past decade to manage stress and build resilience against what we can’t control.

1. Talk to others, but limit unproductive complaining.

It can be freeing to talk with others about the anxiety, fear, and challenges that the world is experiencing right now. It helps us to feel connected and less alone. It also validates our experience and helps us to feel heard.

Try talking to someone about how you’re feeling right now, with a time limit on any negative circumstances. How long is up to you; sometimes 15 minutes is enough to share, other times we need more.

Then pivot the conversation toward topics that don’t create anxiety or fear. For example:

What is going right in your world?

What are you proud of?

What are you grateful for?

What are you looking forward to?

Then think: How can you encourage this person?

This works because when we give all of our attention to the negative, we lose sight of what is going well and then everything appears bad.

This is something that I’ve practiced a lot with myself, and if I find myself getting into a negative spiral, I make a point to change the conversation to what is going right. It naturally feels so much better.

Of course, there is a time and place for negative emotions, but what’s important is to express them and then move on for the sake of our overall mental health.

2. Be giving.

Generosity doesn’t have to be a monetary amount, but rather could be a bag of rice, or fruit, or toilet paper.

It could be writing a letter, making a phone call to check in, or recording a video for someone else in isolation.

It could be offering to pick up groceries or medical supplies for a neighbor.

Or it could be well wishes, good vibes, or prayer for others facing challenges.

The act of giving is scientifically proven to be good for our mental and emotional health.

Giving has been associated with the release of oxytocin, a hormone that elicits feelings of connection to others, and which activates parts of the brain linked to social connection, pleasure, and joy. Generosity also releases endorphins in the brain, producing warm and euphoric feelings.

Is there anything that you could do to help or give today?

3. Take a cognitive break.

It’s far too easy to find ourselves mentally exhausted from our on-the-go lifestyles and constant stressors. But because our brains enjoy being stimulated, we can end up getting stuck in “on” mode 24/7. Even while we’re resting, we read, scan social media, watch TV, or think about other projects.

This February, I found that I was on-the-go all the time and not taking critical mental breaks to refresh and replenish my mental health.

This was a mistake. And as the coronavirus spread throughout my state, I found myself settling into unnatural anxiety and even panic. So I cut off the news, turned on a yoga recording, and practiced deep breathing. I made an active effort to slow down.

As I did this, I could feel the anxiety releasing and the tension melting away from the past few weeks. It also helped mitigate a bit of the cabin fever that so many of us are experiencing right now.

We know that it’s time to take a cognitive break when everyday things like a few Legos on the floor or dirty dishes in the sink evoke anger and irritability.

Taking a break, and possibly a meditative shower, to clear one’s mind while visualizing the stress and anxiety being drained away can be monumentally helpful. This method never fails to ease my own tension; what bothered me before the shower is usually much less irritating afterward.

Remember that we need frequent mental breaks, especially during times of duress, to create more resilience and fuel the wellspring of our soul.

Here are a few ways to take a cognitive break:

Time in nature

Light exercise

Breathwork

Meditation

Listening to music

4. Validate your feelings.

Stress and anxiety have a negative connotation because we all want to avoid pain and discomfort. This can make it difficult to face these emotions, which is completely normal.

But what tends to happen is that if we don’t let ourselves feel what our mind and body are telling us, our emotions get stuck. And because emotions are energy, they don’t disappear, but rather persist in our muscles and memories.

Try this exercise to allow your emotions to surface (and remember that whatever you feel is OK):

Sit in a comfortable, preferably quiet, place.

Play soothing music if you wish.

Close your eyes.

Notice the physical discomfort of stress.

Where are you holding it in your body?

How does it feel?

Each time that you exhale, let the tension release.

Then say:

“I acknowledge these feelings.”

“I let these feelings exist and then flow out of me.”

“These feelings cannot harm me.”

“I am safe from threats.”

“I am not my emotions.”

“I am free.”

Repeat as needed.

You may find that when our feelings are allowed to exist, they dissipate more quickly, as we feel validated, heard, and safe.

5. Seek help when you need it.

Many people, communities, and organizations are banding together for the good of humanity. Even while staying home, people are helping and looking out for others.

It’s also a time of advanced digital technologies that make it easier than ever to seek out support and guidance. There are countless counselors, doctors, teachers, and other professionals available online in the comfort of your home.

Don’t feel ashamed to need help sometimes — everyone does. And in times of crisis, people like to feel useful by offering assistance when they can.

There is never a wrong time to ask for help.

Photo by Colton Duke on Unsplash

Fear tends to cloud our minds and decision-making capabilities, so we must look for tools to increase our resilience as we journey through this situation, to emerge with renewed connections and appreciation for life.

We will get through this, together.

Wishing you healing, peace, and love.

Seeking support?

Here a few resources that may help:

Find a teletherapist (search your zip code and check the online/teletherapy option).

7 Cups is a service that connects you to caring listeners for free emotional support.

talkspace online counseling is running a special offer: Get $100 off with code 1004U

These are only a few resources in the vast scope of the Internet. There are many more depending on budget and needs.

A freelance writer with a background in animal behavior, journalism, mysticism, philosophy, & psychology. https://aurorae.substack Writing website coming soon!

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