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Self-Care Strategies for Coping with Stress

And relax. Easier said than done. 

Quarantine has forced us to stay at home, yet relaxing has proven to be an unexpected difficulty. According to Google Search Trends, searches for self-meditation techniques, insomnia treatments, and anxiety and stress relief strategies are at a record high. Although some people say that they are handling this situation with no real discomfort, for many of us, this time has shone a light on our mental and physical well-being and the apparent imperfections therein.

We are not all in the same boat. This expression has done the rounds recently, and it couldn’t be more harmful and dismissive of our circumstances. Yes, we have all been under the same restrictions, but we are not all living in the same house with the same people, working for the same company with the same benefits, nor worrying about the same private problems and the potential future ones. We are all in different boats on the same ocean.

The impact of this lockdown on our mental health is unknown. However, if online searches and scientific forecasts are anything to go by, it has the potential to be massive.

We’ve all seen the lists of ‘things to do’ to help maintain good physical and mental health. The sheer quantity of them can prove to create only more stress and, in my case, a sense of inadequacy as one’s inability to do what all these other amazing people can do becomes increasingly evident. 

So what can you easily do to help yourself mentally? How do you create a stress-free zone?  How can you relax in the real sense of the word without getting stressed filtering through a million lists or trying to do something out of your skill range in a panicked, often aggressive, sweat? 

Here are my top 5:

1. No news is good news

These days we are bombarded with news, and there is no news like bad news. We receive communications via a multitude of sources on all of our devices. Whether we do it consciously or not, it has a hugely detrimental impact on our mental health. We feel a multitude of negative emotions when we read or watch the news; shame, guilt, fear, anger, helplessness, to name but a few.  

According to renowned historian Rutger Bregman in his book ‘HumanKind”, it causes the ‘nocebo’ effect, where the repeated negativity we see or read causes us to feel and think negatively and cynically. In an ideal world, we would be shown good news after good news and thus create the ‘placebo’ effect and have our whole perspectives change positively.  

Alas, it is not so. We live in a time which could be termed ‘the bad news blitz’, and we are all targeted. Although it is not a bad idea to keep up to date with current affairs, we certainly don’t need to thirst for news as much as we currently do, a thousand clicks and swipes a day, mainly as there is little we can do about things that have already happened.

Try limiting your news intake, once-a-day, or once-every-couple-of-days. Or have a ‘no-news weekend’. There is nothing wrong with not watching the news, but if you have to, definitely don’t watch the news before going to bed or as soon as you wake up.

2. Landline only

Have a landline phone at home and switch your mobile off at the end of your day. Make sure beforehand that the right people have that number obviously, and that they should only call if urgent when they cannot get through to your mobile. 

In other words, make your landline your emergency number.

These days the difference between working hours and leisure hours has become unidentifiable, and it is common to send absolutely anything at any time.  Turn the beeping intruder off when you get home for the day. 

An article from the New York Times outlines the plethora of negative attributes that our cellphones have on our overall well-being, from ‘sleep, self-esteem, relationships, memory, attention spans, creativity, productivity, problem-solving and decision-making skills’.

Much worse than this, the article goes on to say how cellphones ‘chronically raise our levels of cortisol, the stress hormone’ and that this may well be ‘shortening our lives’.

According to David Greenfield, professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, “Your cortisol levels are elevated when your phone is in sight or nearby, or when you hear it or when you even think you hear it […] and the body’s natural response is to want to check the phone to make the stress go away.”

If it is off and out of sight, you will reduce your cortisol levels, and thus you will reduce stress.

3. A treat a day keeps the doctor away

Whatever it is, be it a glass of wine*; a piece of dark chocolate; a chapter of a book (maybe all three), a soak in the bath; a walk; listening to some music; yoga; cooking something amazing (if you can); the list goes on and is completely subjective. 

Whatever it is that gives you pleasure and brings you back into yourself and your surroundings: do it. 

Make sure you have the time and space to yourself or with the people you want to share it with and keep the non-emergency interruptions away.  

Like everything in life, keep things in moderation, an excess of anything is damaging, particularly alcohol. Here is a link to Healthline, which outlines some of the benefits of drinking red wine within the suggested guidelines.

4. Screen strike

According to research from RescueTime in August 2019, the average time spent on your phone is 3 hours 15 minutes daily. That’s an average amount of time from almost a year ago. How much time do we spend today? 

According to the Total Audience Report created by Statista, again in August 2019, the average daily consumption of TV in the US by adults is a shocking 4 hours 30 minutes with people aged 65 and over watching as much as 7 hours a day.

These numbers are scary, and they are almost a year out of date. I don’t imagine they have reduced after our collective stay-at-home for three months.

The effects of living such a sedentary and passive lifestyle are apparent. Your physical health deteriorates, and your mind goes to mush. Harvard Health Publishing has called it ‘the new smoking because of its detrimental effects on heart health’. A healthy body equals a healthy mind. An unhealthy body equals?

The solution? Reduce screen time to as close to zero as possible when you can. Like with the news in number one on this list, it is worth striking against our devices regularly, which will likely lead to doing healthier activities and thus feeling healthier and reducing stress levels. 

5. Sleep

If you do all of the things above, if you take away the distractions, the bad news, the hours of screen time, and do something you actually choose to do, you will sleep

Studies made by the National Sleep Foundation show that the artificial blue light emitted by the TV, tablet, smartphone, and so on tricks your internal clock, or circadian rhythm, into thinking it is still day time. As a result, it is more difficult to fall asleep, and insomnia is much more likely to strike.

They recommend having an ‘electronic curfew’ at least an hour before going to bed. They also suggest reading an old-fashioned paper book under a bedside table lamp like people used to do a million years ago to allow the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin to work its magic.  

Oh yes and, lastly but far from least, laugh.

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