For almost two years now, we have been living in a global pandemic. There aren’t any words to describe the loss and pain we have felt during this time. Everything changed in a flash. The world as we knew it was gone, and we were forced to adjust to this new world, one filled with fear and anxiety. But as our stubbornness and perseverance came to work, we somehow learnt to survive in these uncertain times. Some of us coped alone, some needed help. But most of us had no idea what was going on — neither outside in the world, nor inside our heads. And one word that surrounded all this frustration and confusion is — stress.
What is Stress?
Stress is your body’s natural response to any changes or challenges that cause physical, emotional, or psychological strain.
We all experience stress in our daily lives, and what’s better is that the human body is designed to experience stress and deal with it. It can impact you positively and negatively, depending on the stress response your body chooses in a particular situation.
As mentioned before, stress in certain situations is normal. However, if the stressors go on for a long period of time, and the stress becomes chronic, it can be harmful to a person’s mental and physical health. But where does this come from? Let us learn all about that.
Causes of Stress
• Work Problems: We all face immense pressure at our workplaces. An important deadline, fear of losing the job, tough competition among colleagues, or workplace harassment are all examples of situations that can cause extreme stress in a person.
• Personal Problems: Life is full of ups and downs. We can easily experience stress in situations such as losing a loved one to death, getting a divorce, breaking up with a partner or friend, family disputes or disagreements, toxic or abusive relationships, confusion or judgement regarding sexual identity, going through a serious illness or injury etc.
• Financial Problems: One of the biggest causes of stress amongst adults is financial issues. Money is an important factor for surviving in this world, and financial troubles can cause all sorts of uncertain thoughts which can trouble us by causing stress.
• Emotional Problems: Going through emotional turmoil can seriously stress you out, whether it is going through low self-esteem, anxiety, grief or suffering from depression or any other mental illness.
• School Problems: The education system nowadays puts an immense amount of pressure on students to perform well. It is a horse race for teenagers and that is why most of them are experiencing extreme stress and unhealthy stress responses. Peer pressure, unhealthy friend or relationship dynamics, going through puberty, being confused about their sexual identities etc. are all causes of stress in teenagers.
• Societal Pressure: We live in a society, which can be rewarding, but is also very challenging. It can be extremely stressful to deal with the judgements of others while going through various life changes.
• Big Changes: Any big change we face in our lives, including moving to a new place, changing a job, losing a long-term partner etc. can be a major cause of stress.
• Traumatic Event: Going through a traumatic event changes a person forever. So, it is only natural that they will experience chronic stress during or after it passes. A traumatic event can be an accident, theft, natural disaster, rape, experiencing or witnessing violence or abuse, living amidst a pandemic etc.
We now understand what are the particular situations and reasons for our stress, but how do we figure out that we are experiencing stress? Relax! There are certain symptoms that can alert you that you are under immense stress. These symptoms are physical, emotional, and behavioural.
Physical Symptoms of Stress:
• Body ache, backache
• Chest pain or a racing heart
• Sleep troubles
• Muscle tension
• Clenched jaw
• Digestive issues
• Weak immune system
• High blood pressure
• Loss of sex drive
Emotional Symptoms of Stress:
• Irritability or anger
• Sudden or uncontrollable crying
Behavioural Symptoms of Stress:
• Frequent and extreme alcohol consumption
• Overeating or undereating
• Compulsive and impulsive participation in sex, spending money, internet etc.
• Use of drugs
• Indulging in violent behaviour
• Isolating oneself
Talking about the symptoms brings us back to the same highlighted question we had at the beginning: how to manage stress? There are certain changes and behaviours you can adopt to manage and reduce stress. Some of them are discussed below:
• Exercise: Physical activity is known to be one of the most helpful stress relievers. It boosts your mood and gives you an adrenaline rush. Daily exercise will definitely release your stress and overall improve your health.
• Deep breathing: Believe it or not, breathing exercises can help you feel very calm and relaxed. Find a quiet place, sit in a relaxed position, and try some natural deep breathing. You will come back feeling better.
• Take a break: Oftentimes, stress causes us to overwork or obsess over our goals and targets. The best thing you can do in such a situation is taking a small break. Force yourself to walk away from the triggering situation for a while and take care of yourself by doing whatever relaxes you. It can be listening to music or talking to a loved one.
• Indulge in hobbies: Hobbies can be extremely relaxing and fun. Dancing, reading, painting or playing a sport will make you feel better instantly.
• Self-care: When extremely stressed, take some time to do some self-care. It can be anything, like watching your favourite movies, taking a hot and relaxing bath, eating your favourite food, getting a massage, going to therapy, going shopping etc.
• Counting to ten method: When we are stressed, we forget to be kind to ourselves and others. So, whenever you feel overwhelmed, close your eyes and slowly reverse count from ten to one, and then respond to the person or situation at hand. The slow and thought-out response will be much better than the impulsive and angry reaction.
• Talk to someone about it: Repressing our feelings can make the stress worse, so make sure you talk to people about things that are stressing you out. It can be a friend or a family member. However, if you feel like your stress is chronic and you can’t manage it on your own, ask for professional help. Therapy can help you in ways nothing else can. There are numerous options available for counselors, and the ThatMate app can help you in identifying and choosing the best one for you.
Dealing with stress is already really hard. Throw in a global pandemic and everything becomes worse. Here’s how you can cope with it.
Dealing with Stress in Covid Times:
• Limit the amount of Covid-19 news: We are already frightened of what is happening. Watching or reading negative news all the time can have a seriously bad impact on your mental health by increasing your stress. Therefore, it is important to limit the amount of Covid related news you indulge in.
• Take the necessary precautions: The best way to make sure that you don’t get stressed out about catching the virus is to take precautions against it. Refrain from going out, avoid crowded places, wear a mask, use hand sanitizer, and most importantly, get vaccinated. Try to accept that this is the new normal now.
• Find ways to connect with people: You might feel emotionally disconnected from others around you or you might be feeling touch starved. But you can make an effort to reach out and talk to your loved ones.
• Limit social media: The constant comparison, negative news, backlash, hate culture of social media can make the already traumatic experience of the pandemic worse. It’s best to do a social media detox every once in a while to release that stress.
• Don’t force productivity: Because of the sudden change in the world, we can feel lethargic some days. That’s alright. Do not force productivity or creativity. That will only make it worse.
• Keep a journal: Days go really slow some days, and it feels like we are still. To cope with that, I made it a habit to keep a journal during these times. You can write down everything you did during the day in it, including simple tasks like taking a bath or playing a game. It will be physical evidence for your mind that you are moving forward. You can also make a gratefulness column in it to write down three things you are grateful for at the end of the day. This activity really helps you stay positive.
We do not know when this will end, and the uncertainty of it all makes it worse. But what is important to remember is that this is not in our control. What is in our control is how we choose to cope with it. Learning healthy ways to deal with stress will not only help you during the pandemic but even after it ends.
So, keep all the reminders of hope close to your heart, and keep saying to yourself: this too shall pass.