Stress Awareness Month - Tools for Effective Stress Management

23 April 2020

The World Health Organization declared Covid-19 to be a pandemic on March 12, 2020. The size and unpredictable nature of this global event can lead to feelings of uncertainty and fear, and can bring up emotions like shock, confusion, frustration, and worry. Not to mention the stress related to the economic consequences of the virus, there are very real impacts on the mental well-being of Chicagoans, Americans, and humans the world over. Now more than ever, it is important to understand stress, it's impacts and the methods for effective stress management.

In addition to bringing the warmer days of Spring, every April marks Stress Awareness Month. Health organizations across the world take the time to educate and train on stress, it’s impacts and how to effectively manage it. There are several types of stress that people may face at different times in their lives. The everyday stresses of jobs and family are the most common. The stress of a sudden change such as a job loss, illness, or divorce. Lastly, the type of stress that is most concerning, traumatic stress such as a major illness, an accident or a tragic death of a loved one. Covid-19 is impacting us all in different ways but there is no doubt that everyone is experiencing stress related to the health crisis. Most people are working from home while also educating their kids, many have lost jobs, and all are experiencing the global trauma. Below, we’ve outlined some helpful insights into managing and reducing stress.

Managing Stress

According to Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, it is important to identify the natural response to stress. “Knowing the type of stress response can help determine the best coping strategies…” Consider the stress-responses outlined below:

  • Response: I feel the need to mobilize. I have a desire to take action or take control.
  • Response: I want to run away. My thoughts are racing and I feel keyed up.
  • Response: I feel immobilized. I don’t feel like doing anything and can’t motivate myself.
  • Response: I feel disconnected. I compartmentalize negative feelings and avoid addressing them.
  • Response: I feel okay. I have ups and downs as I adjust but am able to stay within a comfortable enough emotional range. I’m consistently taking steps towards my goals.

Sometimes, the most challenging part of tackling stress is identifying ways to talk about it. This is true in today's climate as well as during any typical workday. There are a lot of different ways to address your stress and many of them can also be used safely from home. Consider the coping mechanisms suggest by the team at Columbia:

  • Focus on balance — set goals and take breaks.
  • Soothe worried feelings by decreasing exposure to triggering information — set boundaries with media consumption and identify negative thinking patterns.
  • Encourage healthy action by increasing sensory information — plan on connecting with a friend and create a flexible daily schedule.
  • Make time to reflect and connect with “bad” feelings in small doses. — Talk with friends. Move on to something lighter when you begin to feel overwhelmed.
  • Engage in self-reflection to identify the coping tools that work best; this will help harness them reliably when needed.

Reducing Stress

Just like routines have changed when it comes to work and play, strategies for reducing stress also need to adjust to meet the new reality. Below are some tips for coping with stress before it gets out of control, all of which can be done safely while maintaining social distance.

  • Relaxation – Learn to incorporate some relaxation techniques into your daily life. Meditation, journaling, and breathing exercises are just a few ways to find a moment of escape and to reduce those stress hormones. If you aren’t familiar with skills like meditation, try downloading a helpful guided meditation app like Balance. Our team member, Vic Howell like to listen to music, talk with old friends and puzzle!
  • Exercise – Even 20-30 minutes a day of walking is a great stress reliever and a good way to get your mind off your daily worries. As long as you can maintain your social distance, walking and running outside are both great sources of exercise but are also a safe and acceptable way to get out of the house. Yoga and low impact cardio routines are two other suggestions made by the Atlantic. Focus CEO, Tim Anderson is an avid runner and now takes care to adjust his running route to steer clear of congested areas. The photo below is of Tim competing in a marathon back in 2019.
  • Laugh a little – Carve out some time to spend doing something enjoyable. Spending time, even virtually, with friends and family or binging a favorite show on Netflix are accessible ways to have some fun. Another great option is to seek out positive sources of media, like John Krasinski’s new web series, Some Good News. SVP of Marketing and Administration, Kendall Lettinga spreads cheer with the adorable videos of her daughter’s laughing fits.

While there isn’t a one size fits all solution for effective stress management, some combination of these strategies may help to reduce stress levels.

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