With the ongoing pandemic, people’s mental health and well-being continues to be negatively impacted. It has been a long year and tolerating high levels of stress over a sustained period of time has many of us, at the least, overwhelmed. People experience stress differently but the uncertainty of the current environment has touched everyone. Many in our communities are struggling with the implications of a virus that has us asking how we can best survive these challenges. Moreover, how can we not just survive, but how can we begin to thrive within what is likely to be a “new normal.”
Although, there are many strategies and coping mechanisms we can utilize during times of uncertainty and stress, in this article we will look at three that are simple, yet powerful. These three strategies are well suited for children and adults alike.
¯ Breathe — We take breathing for granted as our body performs this task every day without thinking. But, thinking more about our breath and setting aside time every day to concentrate on breath work is of great benefit to our body and mind when dealing with stress. There are many patterns a person can use to practice breath work but a simple deep inhalation through your nose making your belly expand and slowly exhaling out through your mouth is a great place to start. Practice a few rounds every day and when feelings of anxiety creep up on you, remember your breath. During times of stress, the fight, flight, freeze response gets activated. But slow, deep breathing tells the parasympathetic nervous system to send your brain a signal that it can calm, disabling the stress response. It’s important to practice this strategy daily so that when challenging times present themselves, you will easily reach for this coping skill. Families can work on breathing skills together and find that it does not take up much time at all. There are many fun ways for children to practice such as blowing bubbles or putting a stuffy on their tummy and watching it go up and down as their belly expands and contracts. The internet has more resources on breath work than can be mentioned in this short article so, take a little time to search out something that works well for you.
¯ Move — Movement is so important in maintaining positive mental health and well-being. For some of us, movement has been negatively impacted during the pandemic. With schools and gyms closed, many people have experienced much less physical activity. Additionally, in our climate, the ability to be outside is dependent on the weather further impacting our options for movement. Nonetheless, our bodies still need movement for optimal mental and physical health. Research shows that positive mental health is highly contingent on movement. Movement can provide a sense of calm and soothing to an anxious brain and does not have to look like intense exercise, although, that is a great goal to work toward as increasing your heart rate changes brain chemistry lowering stress levels. Begin by looking for simple ways to get in extra steps during your day like parking in the farthest spot away from your destination. Or, perhaps, take the stairs or the long way to the bathroom at work. Another easy way to add movement is chair yoga. You can find several routines on the internet and practice these with the entire family. With better weather coming soon, taking outdoor walks can be most enjoyable. Shake up your walking routine by going with a friend or choosing a new location. You will not only reap the benefits of movement but of nature as well. Yet another way to reduce stress is being in nature so adding that with walking or running is a winning combination. However you add movement, it will be beneficial, just get creative and look for ways to move!
¯ Sleep — Simply put, sleep is underrated. We try to go, go, go, fitting so many things into our day that we exhaust ourselves and cut into our time set aside for sleep. One of the easiest and best ways to beat stress is to get more and better sleep. Sleep is when our brain builds and repairs. It is during sleep that our brain gets rid of waste material or toxins that have been built up during the day. When we miss out on sleep, our brain cannot perform tasks as well leading to poor mental health and well-being. Getting a good night’s rest can be a challenge for many people however, and during times of stress, sleep schedules often become altered. Coming up with a good routine is where to begin. Top tips for a better sleep routine begin with avoiding the use of technology or watching stimulating television about an hour or so before bedtime. Put your phone in another room and put it to sleep as well! Things like turning down your bed, having a cup of herbal tea, and taking a warm bath or shower can be great additions to the bedtime routine as well. One you get into the habit of doing these things nightly, your brain will realize it is time to rest and begin making melatonin preparing you for sleep. Remember, turn off the lights to avoid any interruption in the production of melatonin and aim for seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep. You want to achieve full sleep cycles without prolonged interruption. Interrupted sleep not only increases stress but it negatively impacts memory and the immune system. You will be amazed at how differently you feel and the better emotional state you will experience once you make a concentrated effort to get more and better sleep.
Focusing on improving breathing, movement, and sleep is something that nearly everyone can do to employ better coping strategies during times of stress. Even with a small amount of effort, honing these skills will provide almost immediate improvement and bolster mental health and well-being not just in stressful times, but for the long run as well.