Stress Management Tips for Women During a Pandemic
My last post was about staying sober during a pandemic. The first tip was managing stress, and I feel like stress management during a pandemic requires its own post entirely. I specialize in working with women, and so these tips will be for women specifically, but can certainly be used by men as well.
We are now in the middle of a pandemic in which our lives have been completely disrupted. We are now working and schooling from home, sheltering in place or staying at home, social distancing, and coping with economic fallout and instability. We are reading, seeing, and hearing about suffering, death, and racial injustice. We are struggling with our own fear and anxiety about the future.
As women we spend much of our lives caring for others, and being expected to care for others. During these uncertain times these expectations from others and those we place on ourselves to care for others are most likely calling to us loud and clear. And so we are responding by doing whatever we can to meet the needs of our families, loved ones, friends, colleagues, neighbors, communities, etc. There is nothing wrong with caring for others unless it means that we are unable to care for ourselves.
If you answer YES to any of the following questions, it’s time to prioritize your self care and stress management:
Are you struggling to find enough time to exercise, get adequate sleep, and eat healthy?
Are you noticing that you have little or no time to relax and decompress?
Are you noticing physical signs of stress such as difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, muscle aches or headaches, upset stomach, rapid heart beat?
Are you noticing anxiety, panic attacks, and constant worrying?
Are you drinking alcohol to cope with stress?
If you answered YES to any of the above questions, it is definitely time to put a plan together to prioritize your own self care and stress management. Here are some tips to help you with your stress management plan:
Identify Triggers for Stress
The first step is identifying what is triggering the stress. Journaling for 5-10 minutes at the end of each day can be a great way of evaluating what events and situations triggered feelings of stress. Once you start to identify triggers for your stress, make a list. Think about each item on your list and identify if it is possible to eliminate this trigger (example, drinking too much coffee), or if you need to find other ways of managing the stress (having a difficult conversation with your boss). You cannot eliminate all triggers of stress, but you can find other ways of managing and responding to those triggers.
Identify Stress Management Practices
Now’s the fun part. What healthy practices or behaviors help you reduce stress? Go ahead and make a list. It can be as simple as taking 10 deep breaths or going for a 20 minute walk. Go ahead and make the list and post it somewhere visible. It is also helpful to schedule these practices into your day. When trying to develop a new habit or practice, doing it in the morning when you still have energy and motivation can increase the likelihood that you will follow through.
Schedule Time for Yourself
This is a big one. Notice I didn’t put it at the bottom of the list. It is important that you have time for yourself to decompress and relax. Think about the things that you do that recharge you the most and schedule that time into your week, as many times as you need! Remember, taking time for yourself is not selfish, it’s self care. If you notice guilty thoughts about taking time for yourself, remind yourself of the oxygen mask analogy, that taking care of yourself ensures you can be the best care giver possible to others.
Strive for Healthy Amounts of Sleep
You know how much sleep you should be getting, but how much are you actually getting? Sleep is what our bodies need to regenerate and refill our energy tank. Sleep is vital for the physical, cognitive, and emotional processes in our bodies to function in a healthy way. We need to get adequate sleep if we want to be the healthiest person we can be, for us, and for others. If you are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep it might be wise to talk to your doctor or a therapist about strategies to improve your sleep hygiene.
Eat Healthy and Exercise
If you answered YES to the question above about struggling to find time to exercise and eat healthy, then I think it’s imperative that you start to take a good look at your priorities. Eating healthy and exercising, along with sleep, are some of the most important factors in determining long term health. If eating healthy and exercising are not a priority, then it might be a good time to talk to a therapist to help you identify obstacles to making these a priority.
Meditation has been proven to reduce anxiety, depression, and stress. There is literally NO downside to meditation. I recommend meditation to all of my patients because I’ve seen in my own life the powerful affects meditation can have on reducing anxiety and stress. Meditation does take practice, patience, and non-judgement towards self. If you are unsure about how to get started with meditation, there are plenty of you tube videos on meditation instruction. You can also find meditation teachers in your area.
Reduce Time on Internet/Social Media
Now is a time when there is no healthy reason to spend extended periods of time on social media or reading about the current state of the world. I understand it’s important to be informed. I am now allowing myself 15 minutes of internet news time per day in order to limit my exposure to my own triggers for anxiety. If reading about tragedy and suffering triggers stress and anxiety for you, then I would recommend limiting your time to just the amount of time you need to be informed.
Increase Time Outside
I don’t know about you, but being outside recharges me. I immediately feel a sense of calm and relief when I walk out onto my deck in the backyard. Find some time throughout the day just to sit outside for a few minutes. While you are sitting outside, notice the environment around you. Focus on the flowers, trees, and birds that you see. Being outside and focusing on the natural world can help calm us and bring healthy perspective.
Healthy Communication with Loved Ones
We have all been spending a lot of time with our families since the pandemic started. This can of course be a positive thing, but it can also be a trigger for stress. Spending lots of time with loved ones can highlight issues and unhealthy dynamics in the relationship. If there were concerns about the relationship before the pandemic, those concerns are most likely growing larger now. Healthy communication with loved ones is essential in working through conflict and misunderstandings. It is important for you to feel safe in expressing your thoughts and feelings honestly and respectfully with loved ones, and for them to do the same with you. If you are struggling with healthy communication with a loved one or family member, couples or family counseling may be helpful in putting those skills into place.
I hope this post is helpful in jump starting your stress management plan. Reach out anytime. Stay well and healthy.