How to control your stress during the Covid-19 emergency?

HSE Psychologist has some tips on what you can do

Dr Jennifer Edgeworth, HSE Senior Clinical Psychologist for Longford and Westmeath 

Reporter:

Dr Jennifer Edgeworth, HSE Senior Clinical Psychologist for Longford and Westmeath 

coronavirus covid-19 stress

Manage your stress

At this very challenging time, stress control is a proven and effective way to improve mental wellbeing.

Stress is a very normal response to a threat. Very simply we can describe stress as occurring when the demands on us outstrip our ability to cope.

And nobody could argue about the demands that are placed on us right now, either directly from Covid-19 or indirectly from financial worries, childcare concerns, threats to livelihood and so on.

But the good news is that there are many proven and practical ways that can help us to cope with stress.

If you are overwhelmed there are lots of supports available to you, stress control online is one of them. Although, obviously if you are feeling very overwhelmed then you should contact your GP in the first instance.

You may wish to share the information about this programme with your family and friends to encourage their participation.

Mind your body:

In stressful situations, our body produces adrenaline to get us ready for the fight or flight response. Therefore, your body will have excessive adrenaline and energy which may leave you feeling restless, fidgety and agitated. Exercise burns off this energy in an adaptive way.

Exercise also helps fight low mood and depression. It is helpful to promote good sleep (but do not exercise too close to bedtime). Breathing exercises are another way your body can help you. When we are worried or anxious, our breathing typically becomes fast and shallow. Try to slow your rate of breathing. There are many good apps to help with this. It is important that we also mind our body so try to make sure you have a healthy diet and get enough sleep.

Mind your actions:

There is 24-hour access to information about COVID-19, much of it is not reliable. 

Make a decision to check in with updates no more than once or twice per day and make sure you get your information from reputable sources.

Routines are important- try to stick to a routine in your daily activities or create new routines for yourself. Sometimes people’s best efforts to cope with a difficult situation, such as having an extra drink in the evenings, can become problematic.

Don’t drink alcohol to excess, smoke more, take non-prescription drugs or comfort eat in order to try to cope.

Do devote extra time to self-care - have a long soak in the bath, watch box sets of favourite programmes, go for walks. Situations like this can really make us think about our sense of control or lack of it. Humans like to feel we are in control and we feel anxious if we think this is not the case.

Focus on what you can control, rather than what is beyond your control. You can control how you follow recommendations, your social distancing, hand washing, restricting social media/ news exposure and minding your physical and mental health.

You cannot control how long this will last, what will happen, what is in stock in supermarkets - let go of these concerns. 

Challenge your thoughts:

You will likely have myriad thoughts running round in your head – the “what if’s…”, “if only’s…”. Notice them.

Your thoughts are not facts. So you can challenge them. A good place to start is to ask yourself what is the evidence that your thought is true? We are not fortune tellers- we cannot predict what is going to happen. Stick to the facts. Most of us are better at solving other people’s problems than our own! So ask yourself what advice would I give to a friend who was thinking this way. Try to reframe the situation….…

I will test positive              I cannot predict the future. I can follow the guidelines on self-isolation until I get the results and, in the meantime, manage my symptoms as I usually would.

I will get very sick                I don’t know that. I do know that 80% of cases get mild symptoms

Everything is shut down          That is not true– the most important services remain open.

Look out for positives: 

This is a very tricky time for many people and there is a lot of worry and distress around us. However, if possible, make it your intention to notice any positives that there may be.

You may have more time on your hands which you can use to do those things that you never had the time for before. You can take the opportunity to spend more quality time with immediate family, to connect with friends and reconnect with old friends via technology.

There is a lot of altruism and kindness in our midst despite the worry and stress. Look out for offers of free online opportunities to learn new skills, tour museums and listen to free musical concerts. Notice the helpers, the people who are selfless in their response to the difficulties we are encountering.

Perhaps think if you can volunteer your skills or your time  in some small way yourself. Often we cope with things better than we ever expected. Make a list of all the resources that are offered by others in our family and friendship circles and in our community.

Rather than focusing constantly on the difficulties, think about what you have managed or are managing so far. Consider what strengths and resources you bring to the table right now.

Make a list of strengths, coping skills and the resources that reside within us. We are all stronger than we think.

HSE Health & Wellbeing, are making the Stress Control Online programme freely available for everyone with a programme starting on the 13th of April.

At this time is important for those of us in our community who feel anxious or stressed to have access to a trusted programme like this which is proven to help people with mild, moderate and severe levels of stress manage their feelings.  It is available via stresscontrol.org

The programme helps participants recognise the signs of stress. It covers topics including how stress affects our bodies and our thoughts. It teaches skills to overcome panicky feelings and tips to getting a good night’s sleep.

This programme includes six modules which will be broadcast at scheduled times for 3 weeks (2pm and 8.30pm Mondays and Thursday). Simply go to Stresscontrol.org and subscribe at no cost to the YouTube channel so you will be updated when the next module will be broadcast.

Join the conversation on social media at #StressControlIrl