Managing Stress Amidst COVID-19
For the past few months, COVID-19 has complicated our lives. Whether the virus has caused a change of life plans, getting laid off, or losing a loved one, many of us have had to deal with stressful situations triggered by the pandemic. Sometimes it can feel like our lives are entirely out of control. According to the Mental Health Foundation, stress is defined as “the degree to which you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope due to unmanageable pressures.” Essentially, we experience stress when we feel as if a situation is out of our control.
If we practice self-awareness regularly, we will be less likely to feel out of control but rather stay continually conscious of how our circumstances affect us.
At its core, the body’s stress response exists to help keep us safe in dangerous situations. However, experiencing stress for long periods can take a toll one’s physical and mental health. Elongated periods of stress can raise blood pressure, cause sleep deprivation, and lead to constant headaches or bodily pain. Additionally, stress can affect one’s mood, making them more irritable, anxious, and emotional. These factors combined can lead to some serious health issues down the road if not appropriately addressed.
Stressful Triggers and Self-Awareness
Many of us can recognize when we feel stressed. However, it can be challenging to determine the source of where that stress is coming from. Some common causes of stress include the death of a loved one, serious illness, the loss of a job, or a sudden change in life circumstances Sound familiar? At some point or another, COVID-19 has probably caused one if not multiple of these scenarios in your life – making it difficult to identify just one source of stress.
This is where self-awareness comes in. Self-awareness is the ability to look at yourself through a relatively objective viewpoint. In terms of stress, it can be helpful as it forces you to take a step back from your current situation and look at your life through a third-party perspective.
It is much easier to address life’s problems and stay self-aware with a well-rested mind rather than a sleep-deprived one.
Often, when we are in stressful situations, the emotions that follow upsetting events can blur our vision and warp our perception of our situation. However, being self-aware can help you manage your stress in that it separates your emotions from who you are as a person. This notion comes from a concept called Self-Awareness Theory, which states that we are not our thoughts, but rather an entity with autonomy over our thoughts. If we practice self-awareness regularly, we will be less likely to feel out of control but rather stay continually conscious of how our circumstances affect us.
Practices to Cultivate Self-Awareness
Now that I’ve gone in detail about why and how self-awareness is helpful during times of stress, you may be wondering how to achieve it. Admittedly, I can struggle with staying aware of my emotions as I often feel too busy to take the time to do so. However, whenever I neglect to check in emotionally, I often get stressed and become less productive anyway. Below, I’ve included a few practices you can do daily to increase your self-awareness and manage stress:
- Meditation – According to Mayo Clinic, meditation is the fastest and most accessible way to reduce stress. Whether able-bodied or not, any person can take five to fifteen minutes out of their schedule to sit in silence and identify their emotions. Once you’ve determined which emotions you’re feeling, try to seek out the root cause. Was it really that you showed up late to that meeting that’s upsetting you, or is there something deeper you just haven’t processed yet?
- Yoga – Personally, this is one of my favorite ways to de-stress and stay in tune with both my body and emotions. When we are stressed, our body notices and reacts accordingly by tensing up. According to an article from Psychology Today, yoga is an excellent exercise because it challenges you to accept yourself where you are at. Unlike other high-cardio or intense strength exercises, yoga forces you to slow down and become aware of your mind-body connection. If you notice points of tension in your body, take some time to consider what might be causing your body to feel stressed.
- Journaling – Writing out your thoughts so that you can see them on paper can be a resource to sort out helpful from unhelpful thoughts. As you write, notice which thoughts are actually logical and help you move forward in life versus discouraging thoughts that are not empowering. This way, you can engage with the positive thoughts that help you solve problems and regain autonomy over your life. Additionally, journaling every day can help you identify triggers that cause a stress response. Identifying triggers can help you feel more prepared and in control the next time you encounter them.
- Walking – Going on walks is not only beneficial for mental clarity but spending time outside in and of itself is proven to improve your mood and physical health. One of the best things you can do for your body when you are stressed is to give it a physical outlet. This stops stress messing around in your mind and helps you feel more in control. Additionally, any form of exercise can help tire you out and consequently get more sleep. It is much easier to address life’s problems and stay self-aware with a well-rested mind rather than a sleep-deprived one.
Kelly Parks is a recent graduate from Wheaton College with plans to continue her education at the University of St. Andrews for a master’s degree in Victorian Literature. Having studied both psychology and English in undergrad, Kelly is passionate about mental health advocacy, women’s rights, and good writing in general. In her free time, Kelly likes to run, read, and paint fun plants and animals which she posts on her instagram account @kellyparks.art.