The human body is an amazing organism that gives us the ability to adapt to almost any situation. But long-term stressors, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, can test our bodies’ ability to manage stress effectively. If you find that you’ve been experiencing fatigue, loss of motivation, lapses in concentration, or difficulty completing tasks, the cause could be prolonged stress.
Long-term stress can affect your mood, your work, and even your emotional connections to friends and family. Let’s explore the science of stress and then look at some stress-busting strategies you can put to work for you today.
The Science of Stress Management
To better understand the science behind the feelings, let’s take a look at how our bodies handle short- and long-term stress. Our brains contain two almond-shaped clusters of neurons called the amygdala. The amygdala serves as a sort of early warning center for the brain. Among its duties are to assess potential dangers in the environment. If the danger proves real, our brains set in motion a subconscious cascade of biochemical and neurologic responses to help us cope with the threat. This ancient “fight or flight” response heightens our sense awareness, boosts adrenaline, and increases secretion of stress hormones like cortisol. All this happens within seconds to help us cope with sudden or unexpected threats (e.g., a car cuts unexpectedly into our lane, a tree limb falls across our path, etc.).
But what happens during periods of long-term stress? Our stress response mechanisms are well adapted for short-term crises, but events such as war, pandemic, poverty, and domestic abuse can pose greater threats to our coping mechanisms. The term “surge capacity” is used to evaluate our emotional resilience to a crisis. As a stressor transitions from short- to long-term, we can exceed our surge capacity—and this is when we begin to see negative emotional impacts such as depression, loss of interest or motivation, reduced focus, and difficulty completing tasks.
Addressing the Problem
If you’re like many of us, your brain is likely struggling to process global stressors (like COVID-19) while also handling the daily challenges life tosses you. The first step in managing stress is understanding the signs. In addition to loss of focus and motivation, you may experience other symptoms of stress overload, such as irritability, sleep disturbances, changes in eating habits, alcohol or drug abuse, or depression.
To combat the negative effects that stress has on both your mood and body, let’s look at a few stress-busting tactics with a proven track record of success.
- Rediscover a Hobby
The COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine may have limited our ability to travel outside our homes, but there are many enriching activities you can pursue at home. Pick up that old guitar, start a coin collection, or take up watercolors. The choice is yours. And remember, creative expression is a great antidote to stress!
- Reduce Media Exposure
In many ways, the 24-hour news cycle has become the 24-hour stress cycle. And with the upcoming elections occurring during the COVID-19 outbreak, news coverage can get pretty stressful. If news is stressing you out, try limiting your exposure to 2 or 3 quick check-ins daily.
- Adopt a Relaxation Regimen
Long-term stress requires long-term solutions. And while a brisk jog may be great for your body, it may take a little more effort to clear your mind of stressful thoughts. Set aside time for quiet relaxation such as meditation or yoga. Even a simple morning stretch routine can help center mind and body for the day ahead.
- Be Kind to Yourself
Self-care begins with you. Treat yourself to a favorite meal or a small online purchase, rent a favorite movie or reread a cherished novel. The time you spend on your emotional wellness now will pay dividends later.
- Share Your Concerns
There are few more stressful activities than worrying alone. Reach out to others, whether in person or online, and share your fears and concerns. Chances are, you’ll find people who share your feelings. By listening to and sharing with others, we can create a sense of community and shed the feeling that each of us is in this alone.
- Seek Professional Help
Even emotionally strong people can find themselves struggling during periods of unusual or prolonged stress. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, reach out for professional guidance.
At Key Assets Kentucky, our compassionate, professional and experienced team are ready and eager to help. Feeling depressed, disconnected, or hopeless? Do not delay, contact us at Key Assets Kentucky now. We’re here for you!