Before being furloughed during the COVID-19 outbreak, Leading Results’ Jane Hemus encourages us all to look out for signs of extreme stress and anxiety – and suggest ways to effectively deal with them.
Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear or apprehension about what is possibly to come.
Stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation.
You may be surprised to know that some stress is good for us. If we have no stress or pressure, we can become bored, tired, and disinterested. Too much and we can feel exhausted, worried, panic, out of control and start to burnout.
Therefore, getting the balance right at this uncertain time is crucial for not only our work but home life too. When we have just enough stress we are energised, focused, determined and this is known as our ‘optimum performance’.
The sudden changes we are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty of what is to come will be sure to increase the stress levels in our family, friends and work colleagues, but more importantly ourselves too. The chances of us tipping over that curve where our emotions are unhelpful and unhealthy are significantly increased.
What to look out for?
So, what can we do? Firstly, we need to notice it. This is going to look different for everyone, here are some things to watch out for:
- Emotional changes – Too much stress can fuel many feelings such as anxiety, fear, anger, sadness or frustration. These are often evident physically through our behaviours.
- Behavioural changes – This is going to look different for everyone depending what their normal behaviour was like beforehand. But it could include becoming withdrawn or snappy, indecisive, sleeping less, tearful, irritable or aggressive. You may also notice a difference in how much someone is smoking, drinking, taking drugs and sexual habits.
- Bodily changes – Stress can affect people in many ways. For some, they may experience headaches nausea and indigestion. For others, it could be noticeable through breathing quickly, perspiring more and palpitations. While for others, you may notice nothing.
Some tips on how to help
- Recognise – Whether this is in yourself or helping others, recognising when the prolonged stress levels have become unhelpful and unhealthy is the first step. The next is to try and make a connection with what’s causing it.
- Review – What are the things that you can control and what are the things you can’t? We often concern ourselves with things we have no control over which saps our energy levels, for example, we have no control over the current restrictions with working from home. However, moving our focus to what we can control can help regain clarity, focus and structure, for example, prioritise what you are trying to achieve during the day. Can you choose when you work on these, can someone else help you with some tasks, does it really all have to be done by you?
- Relationships – Having people around to help support you will be important. Try and get support from all of your various relationship groups such as family, friends and work. We may not currently have the physical contact we would normally have with some of these groups, so time to get creative and plan virtual catch-ups through Skype, FaceTime and Zoom etc.
- Regime – You may by now have done a deep clean on your house and tidied the garden, so next is you!
- Healthy eating – Who knew that food can affect our mood – well it certainly can and there is lots of research out there to back this up. Make sure our diet provides the right amount of nutrients including essential vitamins, minerals and drink lots of water.
- Smoking and alcohol – Not wanting to be a party pooper, as often we use these as a release and a way of relaxing. But in reality they can have the complete opposite effect. Alcohol and caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety.
- Exercise – This releases endorphins and acts as a ‘mood booster’ so why wouldn’t we want this? Whether we go out for a walk, run or a find a virtual exercise class, let’s focus on getting moving in some way every day.
- Rest – Make the most of the time we have at home but use it wisely. Getting restful sleep goes without saying but sometimes is easier said than done. Be careful how much caffeine you drink, reduce screen time before bed and write a ‘to-do list’ of things you would like to achieve the next day, as these are often the things that spring into our head when we’re trying to get to sleep. Mindfulness and meditation can also help us relax. Research suggests they can be helpful for reducing and managing the effects of stress and anxiety.
Remember stress is natural and healthy if it’s producing helpful thoughts and behaviours.
When it tips over to be unhelpful and unhealthy for a prolonged period, something needs to change.