DEALING WITH THE STRESS
It probably feels like the world has been turned upside down in the last few weeks. You may suddenly find that all your previous plans have been thrown out the window and you may now face unprecedented stress from all sides. You may be facing income loss or unemployment. You may be unsure about your housing situation, due to not being able to pay rent or even stress over where your next meal is going to come from. How can you cope with the stress that is all around with even harder times ahead? How will you cope?
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
The fact is that the world has been turned on its head in an unexpected way and many of the problems that we were able to avoid in the past, or were able to ignore, are now being thrown right in our faces. And unfortunately, things are going to get tougher. For example, the UN is predicting up to half the working people in Africa will lose their jobs.
One thing you need to be aware of is that this Pandemic and the lockdown are impacting on absolutely everyone. Some less than others, sure, but everyone is being affected in a negative way. If you are struggling to pay rent or provide for your family please be aware that millions of other people are dealing with the same situation.
You are not alone.
What this means is that the government is having to get involved because everyone is being impacted. New laws are being made and new regulations are being added almost daily to try to assist everyone make it through the situation. This will provide relief.
Everyone experiences stress. It can actually be used by your body to help you deal with challenges and danger.
It is a normal part of life when in moderation. When stress is prolonged, however, it goes from being ‘normal’ to ‘negative’. It can have very bad effects on your physical, emotional and mental health.
What is important then is to identify the type of stress you are facing and then act accordingly.
Right now you may be facing fear. Fear of illness and death from the unseen virus. This is stressful. Should you let this stress drive you to hide in your bed? Danger is always around us. If you cross the road then you face danger. So, what do you do in that situation? You take precautions: you look both ways and you do not rashly run into traffic. So, the same strategy can be
applied to the current COVID-19 Pandemic. Be aware of it but remember that if you take reasonable precautions then you will reduce the risks and can get on with your life.
HOW TO REDUCE YOUR STRESS LEVELS
Key to dealing with your stress is to clearly identify where it is coming from. It can actually help if you write down the causes of your stress on a piece of paper rather than have some vague feeling looming over you. Why not try to make such a list?
Once you have identified the causes of stress arrange them into groups of those you can do something about and those you have no personal control over. For example, can you remove COVID-19 from the world? No. You can, however, lower your personal risk of infection by taking reasonable precautions.
You might only be able to reduce some causes of stress and may have to learn to change your mindset about others that you cannot control. It is important to realize that while you can reduce your stress levels it is unrealistic to think you could or should remove all stress from your life. You should, however, remove ongoing negative stress where possible.
WHAT CAN YOU CHANGE RIGHT NOW?
You may also have to separate your list of stressors into what you are able to give attention right now and what you will have to deal with in the future. For example, you may be worried about this month’s rent and next month’s rent. It would be better to focus on this month’s rent now and once that is dealt with, give attention to next month’s rent.
You may find that your situation may change so much during the next few weeks that something that you were worried about for the future never even becomes an actual concern. You may contact your landlord and explain your situation and ask for a reduction in rent and they offer you relief for two months, not just this month.
It is better to focus on things that you can try work on now than lie awake for hours stressed about things that may simply never happen at some distant future point. That is a waste of your emotional battery.
CHANGING YOUR MINDSET
How we think about things makes a huge difference. Your brain tells your body how to feel about things. If asked to dig a hole in the ground on a hot summer day for no reason it will be hard and unrewarding. Digging for treasure in the same spot, on the same warm day will probably be much more enjoyable (if you find a treasure map let us know). For example, you may be worried about this month’s rent and next Debt is a classic example. With debt who has the problem? The person who took the money and spent it and had all the benefits of it or the person who gave them the money and might never get it back? Think about it.
During this tough time, try to think positively. Think the best of people. Try to “cut them some slack” if they step on your toes. Try to look for the positive of a tough situation. For example, the lockdown may have taught you new ways to reduce your office overheads. It may have moved you to become more technologically able. These are good things.
DON’T FOCUS ONLY ON YOURSELF
If you are focused only on your problems they will progressively become bigger and bigger in your mind. If however, you start to try to help others with their challenges you may find that your causes for stress seem to be smaller. Being aware of others problems and actively helping them will help keep our challenges in perspective.
The current pandemic is presenting all of us with chances to help others in ways big and small. Physical, emotional and material ways. Try finding ways to spread the love. It will make you feel better. Who knows? Maybe someone out there will help you too.
It takes a little effort but being organized can seriously help reduce stress levels. Getting organized can mean several things. Declutter your work and living areas. Keeping these clean will help you be more productive. Making lists can help you be more productive. Being more productive can help reduce stress levels since you have less obligations and pressure from those around you.
Making lists also helps you track the progress that may otherwise be hidden. When we make progress towards a solution our brain tells us it is ok to stress less about something. For example, when you are very hungry you feel better the moment food gets in your mouth..not in your stomach… or not in your bloodstream minutes later. You feel better right away because your brain tells you that the problem is dealt with.
BALANCE WORK AND RELAXATION
All work and no play makes Jack…you guessed it: Stressed. At the same time, all play and no work makes Jack poor, which will make Jack stressed. So, balance is required.
Lockdown has helped a lot of people realize the importance of playing with your kids and your pets, having a cup of coffee, listening to music and getting some sunlight. It has also perhaps helped them realize that other people need these things too.
Those who were glued to social media and news outlets at the start quickly found themselves stressed out by too much negative news. It is valuable to unplug and avoid too much negativity. It is no wonder that one popular phenomenon during the lockdown in the USA is a small weekly show by “Jim” from The Office (John Krasinski called Some Good News). Others have turned to the sheer outrageous escapism of The Tiger King. People need to balance work and their personal lives.
Good nutrition is also important as is exercise. As those joggers, who were arrested during lockdown along the Sea Point Beachfront, told the police: exercise is also vital for stress relief. Government has acknowledged this and has relaxed restrictions from level 4 downwards.
IF YOUR STRESS IS OVERWHELMING
If you feel trapped and no matter what your stress is making it hard to get through the day then you should talk to your family and friends. Social interaction is vital and will help you focus on others and not just your own stresses. Sharing our concerns is another good way to reduce stress. As the saying goes: A problem shared is a problem halved. Do not isolate yourself.
Dealing with negative stress is not something we are designed to do alone. If those feelings persist then talk to a professional. Call a helpline such as Lifeline. They even have people you can chat to online on Skype with one click of a button: https://lifelinewc.org.za/
If you are dealing with loss of income, then talk to your Debt Counsellor. They will help you take advantage of insurance options, bank relief measures, government aid and UIF to help you cover your basic needs while you get back on your feet. You have lots of options and getting help will help you explore them all.
ENJOY THE GOOD THINGS YOU HAVE
Being able to find small causes for joy throughout the day will help you offset the pressures you feel from around you. If you love coffee, then why not revel in it, really savour it? Make the most of that small boost. ‘Stop and smell the roses’ as they say.
If you can find a dozen small ways to smile each day it will help you reduce your stress levels. Find a silly game to pay on your phone, step outside into the sun and appreciate the weather, snuggle in your bed for an extra minute or two and just enjoy being warm and comfortable each morning. Take a moment to tuck in your kids at night.
By taking some practical steps, like making a list, you can reduce your stress levels and even cope with those causes of stress that are unavoidable for now. By identifying your stressors and acting on those that you are able to control or reduce at the moment, you will find you are able to breathe.
You will be able to sleep well at night. By helping others and still taking some time for ourselves you will be able to find an emotional balance that helps you be productive and deal with stress.
Remember your body can use stress to boost your adrenaline production to equip you to deal with danger. It can save your life. Perhaps the stress we all face right now is driving us towards a better more balanced approach to the future? Let’s ensure the next few historic months help us improve as communities, families and people.