It's March, 2020 and the Coronavirus has spread like wildfire across the world. Hundreds of thousands of people have been infected, the global economy is crashing and our national and local governments are escalating their measures to contain the virus and “flatten the curve”.
To say this is a stressful time for most people would be an understatement.
In the midst of this global crisis, the call to action is to…not act. To do nothing. To stay at home. That means not going to work. Not seeing friends and family members. Not going to the gym, the movies, or even out for coffee.
In the event that you need to go out to acquire “essentials”, you must stay at least six feet away from the nearest human. This isn’t just a recommendation. In areas where there’s a “Stay At Home” order, this is a mandate enforced by law.
We’ve been exiled to the confines of our homes along with the people and pets we share them with (some make better company than others). And for others, it’s just us and our wandering minds…which, for some of us, is most certainly bad company.
S.O.S! How Do We Cope with a Crisis?
For some, this feels like a vacation—a break from the stressors of our normal lives. For others, it’s akin to solitary confinement. We’ve got more time, but less to do, and this vacuum is too easily filled with things that magnify stress.
The toxic and never ending news cycle fuels our fears and worries, which compete for our attention against the needs of our family, the demands of our jobs, and our own efforts to stay healthy and sane.
Just a few weeks ago, we could easily compartmentalize these components of our lives. Now, they’re all duking it out in a wrestling ring the size of our homes. This royal rumble can be a threat to our mental health if we don’t take steps to protect it.
So how can we find peace in this unprecedented time of chaos?
What can we do when it feels like we’re caught in a fire?
Is “Stress Management” Stressing You Out?
Because the world is in crisis, many people are preaching the importance of managing stress. While we 100% agree with this notion, we’re also empathetic to the fact that everyone’s social media feeds and inboxes are being overwhelmed with anecdotal hacks from the best hits of pop-psychology.
The positive sentiment is powerful and heartwarming, but the overflow of information can be paralyzing. Which is the last thing you want when you're stressed out.
If you’re in a burning building, you need to find that bright red box that says, “IN CASE OF FIRE – BREAK GLASS”. For most of us, we don’t need to toy around with 17 different stress management techniques. We just want the highly-effective fire extinguisher in the glass box!
We hope that this article can serve as that extinguisher for you.
Read on to break the glass.
3 Evidence-Based Keys to Managing Stress
1. Double Down on Good Sleep Hygiene
The fundamentals of good physical health are also the fundamentals of good mental health. Although this is true for movement and diet, sleep is the keystone health habit when it comes to managing stress.
The research is unequivocal: adequate sleep is one of, if not the single most important, contributors to stress tolerance. Even under normal circumstances, sleep deprivation heightens the body’s stress response. And we know these times are far from normal.
So now more than ever, it’s crucial to take your sleep seriously. Use that extra time you have to double down on sleep hygiene, and you’ll find you can tolerate stress much better.
How to Do It:
- Get to bed on the early side and try to stick to a consistent sleep schedule. This may require that you limit your nightly screen time, however the trade off to your overall stress levels are worth it.
- Avoid things that rev you up like exercising late in the day. And watching the news. Limit caffeine intake, especially after noon.
- Do something relaxing before bed to allow your cortisol level to drop. This is a great time to take a warm bath or shower, read a book, or work on a puzzle with a warm cup of tea.
Yes, these are basic practices, but they work. For more in-depth information on improving sleep, check this out.
2. Rewire Your Brain with Meditation
Whether or not meditation is your cup of tea, it’s the real deal when it comes to stress. Not only can it reduce the severity and duration of an acute stress response, but it can change the circuitry of your brain in a way that helps you become more resilient to stress over time.
There are many different ways to meditate. Professor Richard J. Davidson relates meditation to sports. They are both words we use to describe a wide range of activities. Different types of meditation affect your brain differently just as different sports train different skills and parts of your body.
For those looking for an easy but effective entry point into stress-relieving meditation, we suggest breathwork meditation.
When you focus on controlling the tempo of your breath, you can stabilize your heartbeat and increase vagus nerve activity, which in turn induces relaxation. The technical term for this is “cardiac coherence”.
How to Do It:
- Try the 4-7-8 method popularized by Dr. Andrew Weil. Simply inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7 and exhale for 8.
- Repeat this cycle for at least 2 minutes. The research suggests that additional benefits accrue with longer sessions, so keep going up to 5 minutes or more if you have the time.
- Want guided breathing exercises? Look into these apps:
For more information on meditation and 7 different meditation practices you can follow today, check out our meditation eBook, which is free for a limited time!
3. Practice Positivity
One of the best ways to combat stress and anxiety is to overshadow it with positivity. After all, what is the antidote to negative thoughts? Positive thoughts. Gratitude. Optimism. Think about it… Have you ever been depressed and optimistic at the same time?
While that seems decently logical yet unscientific, there’s actually plenty of research to back it up.
Psychologists have found that people who practice gratitude are more optimistic and feel better about their lives. Surprisingly, these people also exercise more and have fewer visits to physicians than those who focus on sources of aggravation.
While you don’t necessarily need a “technique” to practice positive thinking, using a specific method can help if you need immediate relief and focus.
The practice of Savoring is a great place to start. Savoring is the process of learning to take pleasure or find humor in your daily life.
How to Do It:
- Identify a part of your daily life that you usually ignore, rush through or stress over but has the potential to bring you joy. Maybe this is walking your dog, folding laundry, or making breakfast with your kids.
- The next time that opportunity arises, savor what’s good about it and try to make it last as long as possible. Pay attention to the physical senses such as warm sunshine on your skin, the feel of clean clothes on your fingers, or the sweet, sweet smell of bacon cooking.
- When it’s over, celebrate the win. Acknowledge yourself for having reframed that experience. Be as corny or discrete as you want, but don’t skip this step. It’s essential for making this a habit.
- Before bed, think about (or journal, if you’re so inclined) how it felt to experience that part of your life a little bit differently than normal. Remember how it felt to savor the little things we so often take for granted.
Although there is no timeline for life to get back to normal, we can assume that it will at some point. Knowing this gives us permission to appreciate the positive aspects and opportunities that these circumstances afford us and urges us to not take the upsides for granted.
If Savoring doesn’t resonate with you, find a different technique that does. For other evidence based positivity practices, read The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky and Gratitude Works! by Robbert A. Emmons.
These are stressful times and many experts are warning that circumstances may get worse before they get better. The things that are stressing you out are like unwanted house guests that are quarantined with you—they may not be going anywhere anytime soon.
But that doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to suffer.
There are some incredibly potent but simple ways to not only help you get a grip when you feel overwhelmed, but can change your relationship with stress altogether.
So the next time it feels like you’re in a burning building with nowhere to go, take action to improve your sleep, take a breathwork break or try to reframe your situation with a little positivity.
What else can we help you with right now? Let us know in the comments below!