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How to deal & Manage Covid-19 Stress

Biologically, our bodies produce a range of stress hormones, such as adrenalin, that encourage changes in your physical and mental state, helping you either to escape from the situation or face it head-on.

By Abdul Bari Nomani

The Epidemic of Covid-19 covering the major part of world’s population has defeated the enormous human development of Science and Technology. Due to vast spread and crisis situation, it has badly affected the mental health and psychological wellbeing of mankind. Due to repeated media exposure, everybody feels like “seized” and wandering in the sea of hopelessness. In history, mankind has faced various epidemic situations, fought bravely and defeated the ruthlesscircumstances. We can also defeat this situation by joint efforts and following preventive measures. In this article, we’ll find out how a person can manage his stress levels with his own help & can come out this situation positively and confidently.

What is Stress?

Biologically, our bodies produce a range of stress hormones, such as adrenalin, that encourage changes in your physical and mental state, helping you either to escape from the situation or face it head-on. This is called the ‘stress response’, and you may have heard it called ‘fight or flight’. The three key players that come into play when it comes to the stress hormones are adrenalin (associated with flight), noradrenalin (associated with fight), and cortisol (a kind of on/off switch).

When you experience this type of reaction, you often feel muscle tension and an increase in heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. You may sweat, and experience changes in your digestive system such as ‘butterflies’ in the stomach. Your thinking can become more focused on the task ahead, and you may be able to do things that you would not normally be able to. You may have heard stories of people who have undertaken superhuman feats to save a loved one. For example, a colleague is trapped in a fire under a cabinet that has fallen on him and a friend is able to lift cabinet to free him – something that under normal circumstances would seem impossible as it would be far too heavy to lift.

There is a third response that can be triggered and this is the ‘freeze’ response, where the person stops and becomes very still and is unable to move. Although this is a less common response, it can be very effective in the right circumstances – for example, if you were hiding from an attacker.

The stress response is a survival strategy, and is your body’s way of providing you with a biological mechanism to deal with life-threatening situations. When you step into the road and suddenly see a car speeding towards you that is unlikely to stop, you want to be able to move as quickly as possible to get out of the way. It is just this type of situation that the stress response is designed to help you with. However, many people become severely stressed over situations that are far from life threatening, and it is when this happens that problems occur.

Like anything in life, too much of a good thing can become a problem. The stress response is essential, and yet, for many, it has become a burden rather than a blessing. The stress response is your body’s natural Defence system for dealing with danger. If activated for short periods, the stress response will not cause you undue harm. If activated and sustained over long periods of time, you are likely to experience both psychological and physical damage.

Managing the Stress

Historically, our thinking patterns are built in a way that we attract negativity much more than the positivity in our lives. Negative news attracts our attention very fast, keeping behind the positive and aiding news. Due to repeated exposure towards the negative news about such a situation, we feel helpless and demotivated towards the destination. Human motivation in any situations depends upon that how much control we got over the situation. Due to widespread negative orientation, we are bound to think that nothing we can do about the situation. Same is happening in the Covid-19 situation, Media exposure is creating hopelessness, and the information shelling is creating anxiety and stress. As a student of Psychology, I’ll suggest to reduce this media exposure and devote this time towards other positive and learning based activities so that our lockdown time become fruitful for us in the future outcomes. You can use this time to recite Holy Quran with translation, you can read books on Seerah, History and self-development. You can start a new hobby like gardening, Cooking and others. Various institutes are providing online courses, register yourselves there. Time is very valuable, do not waste it on watching and spreading social media news. Only a limited amount of time should be spent on latest news updates, fix a time in your routine. Reduce your screen time up to 1-2 hours a day.

Following are some ways to achieve resilience and to defeat the stressful situations.

Sleep is very important to keep us physically and mentally healthy. Make a regular sleep cycle of minimum 6-7 hours. Go to bed early and wake up early in the morning. Spend some morning time in walk and jogging (if not possible, then do some indoor exercises). Take deep breaths and be thankful to Allah for His every blessing.

1. Ensure you have a routine. Have a warm milky drink, as milk contains tryptophan, which promotes sleep.

2. Take a warm bath. Using relaxing bath oils may also help.

3. Avoid sleeping during the day

4. Avoid drinking caffeine, as caffeine is a stimulant and may keep you awake. Too much coffee during the day could still affect you in the evening.

5. Avoid a heavy meal and eating late at night.

6. Turn the clock away from you. Research has shown that turning the clock away from you helps if you are having problems sleeping, as clock watching is liable to keep you awake, whereas not knowing what the time is encourages you to sleep more.

Relaxation

Relaxation can also play an important part in dealing with stress. Simple ways in which you can find time for yourself are:

Take time to enjoy a bath, light some candles and play some gentle music while you take time for yourself.

Dim the lights in the lounge, play some gentle music, close your eyes, and allow yourself time to relax;

Take some time to enjoy your garden or local park. Take time to look at all the trees and flowers.

BREATHING – A RESCUE REMEDY THAT CAN BE USED ANY TIME AND ANYWHERE

When you find yourself feeling stressed, or are about to deal with a difficult situation, it can be useful to have a strategy that can help you relax quickly and efficiently. The following exercise provides you with a mechanism that, once you have practiced it so that you can use it easily, can be called upon to help you keep calm. Keep practicing until you feel confident that you would be able to undertake this breathing exercise anywhere and at any time. It is simple but effective, and can take the edge off your feelings of stress.

1. Breathe in through your nose for a count of four.
2. Breathe out through your mouth for a count of five.
3. As you breathe out, consciously relax your shoulders.

As you breathe in and out, use your stomach muscles to control your breathing. For example, when breathing in use your stomach muscles to push out and when you breathe out use your stomach muscles to push in. This way you will breathe more deeply and this will help you gain the maximum benefit from this kind of relaxation.

MUSCLE-TENSING EXERCISE

It is also known as progressive muscle relaxation. This exercise works on the premise that since muscular tension accompanies strong emotions, then you could reduce those feelings by learning how to deal with such tension.

           1. Lie on the floor and make yourself comfortable.

2. Starting with your feet, tense all your muscles and then relax them. Focus on how heavy your feet feel and the way in which they are sinking into the floor.

3. Tense all the muscles in your legs as hard as you possibly can, then relax them. Focus on how heavy yourlegs feel and the way in which they are sinking into the floor.

4. Move up through the other parts of your body – hips,stomach, chest, arms, neck, and face – tensing and relaxing the muscles as you go.

Note: If you suffer from high blood pressure or heartproblems, you should always consult your doctor beforeengaging in this particular exercise.

Visualization

1. Choose a safe place to sit or lie down.

2. Imagine you are in a garden at the time of the year you like best, enjoying looking at flowers, shrubs, trees, and so on.

3. You notice a wall along one side of the garden. In the middle of the wall is an old-fashioned wooden door with a wrought iron handle on it.

4. You make your way over to the door and open it.

5. On the other side, you find yourself in your own, very special, safe place. A place no one knows about and where no one can get you.

6. Enjoy being there.

7. When you are ready, make your way back to the door.

8. Leave and shut the door firmly behind you, knowing that your special safe place is always there, whenever you choose to return there.

9. Walk around the garden and, when you are ready, open your eyes.

Note: This exercise can take between two minutes and half an hour, depending on how much time you wish to allocate to it.

Meditation

Although meditation is often thought of as a component of Eastern religions, aspects of it are now being used in a new area of Cognitive–Behavior Therapy called ‘Mindfulness’.

There are a number of studies that have demonstrated that engaging in regular meditation changes brainwaves, and that this has a calming effect. Meditation describes a state of concentrated attention on some object of thought or awareness. It usually involves turning the attention inward to the mind itself. Some forms of meditation are also used alongside physical activities, such as yoga. Sit in a calm environment, play some relaxing music if needed and divert your attention towards your feelings. Put away all thoughts from the mind and feel relaxed.

Stress and Food

The increased levels of stress are also linked to our food intake. The following are some dietary tips that will help you.

1. Drink plenty of water – not only is it good for your skin, it helps to flush out toxins and keeps your kidneys in good working order. Around eight large glasses a day is best. There is nothing wrong with flavoring the water if you are not keen on drinking water. However, avoid sugary flavorings as this will defeat the object. Drinking fruit teas are also a good way of getting water into you.

2. Make sure you eat at least six times a day. Breakfast, mid-morning, lunch, mid-afternoon, tea, and dinner. By eating little and often and ensuring that you do not skip meals you will help your blood sugar levels stay balanced.

3. Keep healthy snacks around you and plan ahead for days when it may be difficult to find healthy meals.

4. Try to avoid ‘fast food’, as it usually contains more fat and additives than are good for you.

5. Take a multi-vitamin pill daily. It can be difficult to ensure you get all the nutrients you need through the food you eat and a multi-vitamin tablet will help to ensure you are topped up on any you may be missing. A good option for people who don’t like fish is to take omega-3 DHA capsules. However, it is best if you can get your vitamins directly from the food you eat, rather than from vitamin pills.

6. Try to avoid overdose of coffee, tea, cola drinks, and sugary chocolate, as all these contain varying amounts of caffeine. Try to avoid saturated fats, as these can lead to health problems. A diet that is high in fat will also contain high levels of cholesterol. There is an increased risk of cancer of the breast, colon, and prostate, as well as coronary heart disease.

7. Avoid excessive amounts of salt (sodium), as about a quarter of what we require is to be found naturally present in food. We require so little that we can quite happily survive on what occurs in our daily food.

Your grateful list

Another exercise that can be used to help you discover the good things is the ‘grateful list’.

1. Write down everything in life you are grateful for, both in the past as well as the present. As you see your list grow, you begin to realize that life is made up of good and bad and that there are always things to be grateful for.

2. Your list needs to include things people have said and done as well as the things that you count as good. Many of these things may be small, such as being able to see the flowers bloom in morning.

Every item is something for you to focus on that you recognize provides you with pleasure. It is worth doing this exercise at least once every week to really capture the good things in your life. Linked with gratitude is the ability to recognize on a more regular basis the things in life that you are grateful for and that bring you a sense of satisfaction or joy.

Hopefully, these stress management techniques will help you to burst out the Covid-19 stress and also in other general stressful situations.

(The writer is Islamabad based psychologist, Peer Educator and Blogger). 

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