Under the best of circumstances, coping with the daily stresses of life can be overwhelming. Psychologically, stress can cause depression, anxiety, irritability, and restlessness. It can leave you feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, and unfocused. Excessive stress can affect your sleep, impair your memory, and cause you to make bad decisions. Physical symptoms of stress and anxiety include low energy, headaches, and muscle aches. Stress affects your digestive tract and causes symptoms like diarrhea, constipation and nausea. Prolonged stress and anxiety can cause chest pain, rapid heartbeat, loss of libido, frequent colds, and infections.
Fortunately, most of us have found ways to deal with day to day stressors. But what most of us are experiencing right now is different. It’s hardly news that we are in the midst of an international health pandemic with no quick resolution in sight. On top of that, we are experiencing Depression level unemployment and a collapsing economy. And as if that weren’t enough, we are in undergoing the most profound civil unrest since the 1960s. The optimist in me believes will get through this and come out stronger. But what do you do with all that extinction level stress in the meantime? How do you deal with so much uncertainty?
There is the familiar list of de-stressors. Eating nutritionally balanced meals while limiting caffeine, alcohol and sugar from your diet will help relieve anxiety. And exercise, even a little, will go a long way towards managing stress. But is that enough?
According to NPR correspondent Sara McCammon, “This pandemic that we're all going through feels unprecedented — but the feeling of uncertainty is not. People live through all kinds of scary things all the time.”
McCammon interviewed three people who had all gone through periods of great looming uncertainty and shares how they got through it. One person was a woman whose home was destroyed in an instant by a wildfire. Another was a young mother living with a late stage cancer diagnosis. Yet another was a successful woman of 55 who suddenly found herself near bankruptcy after the 2008 financials crisis. Based on the experiences of people who had been there, McCammon came up with 7 tips about surviving times of great uncertainty.
- Reflect: Maybe it’s through journaling or through conversation, but take a moment each day to reflect both on what’s hard and what’s still good.
- Don’t “should” on yourself: There’s no right way to get through a difficult time. Do what’s best for you.
- Know when to shut it down: That might mean ordering take out, zoning out in front of a movie, or letting the kids have cereal for dinner.
- Find the day’s “best gift”: Paint. Read. Bake a cake. Find the thing that feels meaningful or gives you a sense of accomplishment and do that.
- Move past shame: You might have to compromise and do things differently, like taking a job that’s not a good fit or finding a roommate. That’s part of being resilient and it’s no cause for shame.
- Find your “resilience circle”: You didn’t land in a ditch by yourself. There are millions of Americans who have landed here. Reach out to others.
- Don’t try to make sense of things too soon: Sometimes there isn’t a reason. Things are just hard. Avoid the temptation to fill in the blanks or find a lesson.
Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but that doesn't mean you should ignore it. Too much untreated stress can cause potentially serious physical and mental health problems. The good news is that with a few useful strategies, stress can be manageable.
Philip Hitchcock is an independent, Certified Personal Trainer specializing in “Fitness after 40,” Resistance Training and Weight Loss. He maintains his own client base and is also the exclusive trainer for the Four Seasons Hotel. Check out HitchcockFitness.com