Everyone is talking about mental health in some fashion right now. Covid has really made us take a hard look at every single aspect of our lives, cultures and well-being. And as a result, a spotlight has been shone on mental health and on the impact this life-altering event has had one everyone.
How are you feeling – mentally and emotionally – these days? Are you managing your stress? Are you keeping a calm head amidst unprecedented challenges thrown your way? Are you getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising? Are you able to take a moment for yourself? Are you able to check-in with yourself and be truthful about how you’re actually feeling?
During the really stressful days (or weeks), are you able to calm and control your stress? When your anxiety rises and flares up, are you able to talk yourself down?
The answers to these questions will of course vary from person-to-person, but they will most likely also vary depending on what day of the week it is!
Stress and anxiety are no joke – and quite frankly, they can be detrimental and (in the most extreme situations) deadly. For those who are lucky enough not to have to deal with one or both of them – good for you by the way! – on a daily basis, you may not understand how completely debilitating they may be. Yes, of course we have all encountered some level of stress in our lives. That’s just normal life. But what about those times where it’s more than just your run-of-the-mill stress? And what about for those whose stress turns a corner and morphs into anxiety? And then that anxiety fuels more anxiety? And then you find yourself in a cycle of anxiety-fueled thoughts, fears, and emotions. It happens – it is very real, extremely difficult, and can be very frightening.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend to be an expert on the subject. Far from it. I am not a medically-trained anything, and these words that you are reading are my personal thoughts and experiences on the subject. That said, I have both seen and experienced the effects that a little to extremely severe stress and anxiety can have on a person.
When you’re in the middle of an anxiety episode, it is as if you’re having a back-and-forth argument with yourself – most often in your head – talking yourself down off the ledge in many cases. You know that some of your thoughts and fears are irrational – however, in that moment they seem so real! And from that feeling it fuels even more anxiety and fear. It is a vicious cycle, and it has ripple effects: you can’t sleep, you can’t focus, you may lose your appetite or you may binge eat, you become depressed, withdrawn, or have so much pent-up energy and anxiety in your upper shoulders and neck… it’s all so very debilitating! Not to mention your cortisol levels are out of control and you are exhausted – emotionally, physically, and emotionally.
So what can one do if you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed out – or worse? The first step is to recognize that you’re just simply not OK – that you’re having a difficult time and that you need help. And it is OK to need help! You’re not alone.
Step two is talking to someone. Talk to a friend or family member who you trust, or talk to a professional – or all three! There is absolutely no shame in asking for help. Seek the help that you need to feel better and handle what life has thrown your way. If you broke your leg, you’d go to a doctor wouldn’t you? The same applies here – you need help, so ask for it.
There are of course countless websites that offer up suggestions and ways to cope – to help calm you down in the short-term as well as help you cope long-term. The information that they provide can be very helpful, especially if they provide you with tools to help you battle your stress and anxiety. And I’m sure any mental health professional will advise some of these same tips, and perhaps have many others as well.
In that spirit, here are a few things that I have found to be helpful when dealing with stress and anxiety:
- Take a time out – literally stop yourself and put yourself in a time out from your stress / anxiety and try to calm yourself down
- Count to 10 slowly
- Talk to someone, get a second opinion
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Eat well
- Go for a walk outside – be surrounded by nature
- Take a deep breath (or two or three or four)
- Get up, move around – change your scenery
- Sit up straight, open your chest, take a breath – this sends a message to your mind and body that you are in control
- Limit alcohol, caffeine, and sugar because they aggravate stress / anxiety
- Re-label what is happening – even though your fear and anxiety seem very real, listen to the rational you in that moment
- Fact check your thoughts
- Follow the 3-3-3 rule: list three things that you see, list three things that you hear, then move three parts of your body
- Think of something that brings you pure joy
- Watch / listen to something funny
- Do the best you can
Stress and anxiety impact us all differently, and life throws us different challenges and curve balls. There is no right or wrong way to cope with it, especially when we are faced with difficult circumstances. But the one thing that we all have in common is that you are not alone! There is absolutely no shame in asking for help, in fact, you will be so much better off when you know that you have someone right there next to you – someone who will do their best to help you fight your battle.
These are difficult times that we are in, and we have unprecedented challenges thrown our way every single day. And let’s just be honest: some days are simply really hard – and there is nothing wrong with saying that! That is the truth of our current reality. But how we cognitively process what we are faced with, and how we decide to deal with each issue is what helps to determine who we are and how we deal with our world and our reality.
You are in charge of your life – even though some days it doesn’t feel that way. But that’s just life! At the end of the day, (try to) regain the control that you need. Do what is best for you – for your health – for your well-being – for your family – for your life. There is no right or wrong way, but as long as you know that you have help if you need it, you’ll get through whatever has been thrown your way. We can all do this – together!
Hang in there and take care of you.