Stress Won’t Kill You, But Your Reaction To It Might
“Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing,” wrote one of the world’s foremost philosophers, Winnie-the-Pooh, “of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.” Doing nothing is exactly what a lot of us are facing for an extended period of time. But “not bothering” is probably not how most of us are feeling.
We’re worried about our families, our next meals, our jobs, the bills, the economy. For some, self-isolation, quarantine, or lockdown is a risk factor for domestic abuse. Many people are trapped in truly precarious situations, far away from home or from needed medication. Others are just alone, and it feels like solitary confinement with no prospect of human interaction for weeks to come.
These adverse circumstances amount to considerable stress. Yet, there’s hope, as it’s not the stressors that will kill you, but rather how you react. In other words, your home isn’t going to hurt you, but your physical reaction to being cooped up might do some damage. For example, you might be fearfully producing the chemicals in your body and brain that cause your heart rate to increase, breathing to quicken, muscles to tighten, and blood pressure to rise. Your behavioural choices and how those around you handle tension can also have a huge impact on your health.
As Lou Holtz, the American football coach says, “It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s how you carry it.” Let’s do what we can to ensure that the current crisis doesn’t manifest an avalanche of cases of anxiety and depression.
We’ve seen examples of how people are alleviating stress amid the COVID-19 crisis. Neighbours are joining in song from their balconies in China and Italy. Social media is alive with suggestions for fun, sociable activities you can do online in groups. Musicians are streaming concerts online. And everywhere, families are getting quality time together.
But being stuck at home can lead people to adopt unhealthy behaviours too. The most easily accomplished of these are smoking and eating too much. It you have started smoking, then seek help. Smoking will only pile on the problems. As for food, don’t let this be a time for poor diet choices. Those who struggle with weight management should focus on losing weight, not gaining it. Join an online exercise group and remember to step on the scale every day.
Difficult relationships can be made worse when confined in close quarters. So use the occasion to talk out the troubles. Find common ground. Put time into building the foundation for new beginnings. And reach out to professionals who can help you.
Even without the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety is already the world’s top driver of poor mental health. The incidence of anxiety is certainly skyrocketing now. So before you run for more pills, try proven natural approaches. Exercise is one of the best remedies. Yoga, meditation, even reading a good book. If you are having trouble sleeping, turn off the TV and put away your phone. Try using a weighted blanket, which has a natural comforting effect.
Finally, think about all those who may need a little help with day-to-day living during these difficult times. Call someone who may be lonely. Check to see if seniors in your neighbourhood have the supplies they need. Offer help and reassurance to those who may be facing uncertainty about their job security. And show appreciation for all those on the front lines of the pandemic – most especially by staying home and keeping healthy yourself.
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