5 Tips for Keeping Stress in Check When Your World Is Upside Down
Anyone else feeling a little out of sorts this week? As the days get shorter and we continue to work through still more pandemic-related challenges, being proactive about our mental health has never been more important. This week let’s explore a few simple ideas to help us weather whatever might lie ahead.
1. Tend to your “whole health” needs
Remember: physical, mental and social health must be in harmony with our needs met in each of those categories for total well-being to be achieved. Physical health tends to be the domain that gets the most attention but the other pieces of the pie are of equal importance. Besides, mental distress can absolutely carry physical symptoms. Ever have a hard time sleeping when you’re stressed out? Notice changes in your appetite, or do you tend to gravitate toward less-than-ideal foods? It can impact our social health, too: do you have a harder time finding the energy to do things that you normally enjoy or finding joy spending time with others when your mood is low? When you think through the steps you need to take to optimize your health, consider all three components and what’s worked in the past to make you feel your best.
2. Get serious about a healthy routine
As we Canadians brace ourselves for the high-risk window for Seasonal Affective Disorder (a type of mood disorder with symptoms similar to those of clinical depression, but triggered by reduced exposure to natural light), being diligent about sticking with a daily routine is helpful. This isn’t necessarily the routine you go through on the daily at this moment; take some time to reflect on what’s working well and what tweaks you might make to your daily habits that would support your well-being. Are you getting enough sleep? It’s a great time to try out that bedtime reminder on your phone. Having a hard time getting your 10,000 steps in each day? It’ll likely become more difficult still as temperatures drop and – dare I say it? – snow and ice make walking conditions outdoors a challenge, so think ahead about a work-around.
3. Carve out intentional time to de-stress (and make a plan you can reasonably sustain)
Many of you have heard me say this before: self care isn’t necessarily about taking every Friday off to hit the spa. In fact, some of the most effective forms of self care involve things that are minimal time commitments because they’re far easier to integrate in to that healthy routine we talked about in #2. However, self care also doesn’t just magically happen on its own – keeping mental health a priority means there’s intentionality or some type of plan behind what you’re doing. At the end of a long work day you might feel like grabbing a burger on the way home and crashing on the couch with something mindless on Netflix… and sometimes that might be exactly what you need! But think of what a longer-term self care strategy might look like for you. Mental resilience is all about taking the time to reflect on what you need and working to meet those needs on a regular basis. If you think of your resilience like a bank account, you want to be making regular deposits and have a sound long-term investment plan in place, otherwise there might not be as much in the account as you’d hoped when it comes time to make a withdraw.
4. Focus on what you know to be true
…and let the rest go. Venturing down the path of “what if…” generally doesn’t improve our mental health and often puts us on a hamster wheel that’s hard to step off of as it picks up momentum. If you find yourself distracted or tossing and turning in bed trying to solve problems for issues that haven’t happened yet (or might not happen at all), take a deep breath and refocus. Remind yourself that those are bridges you’ll cross if you get to them, but for right now there’s enough stress in the world that we don’t need to seek it out. When our Fight or Flight Response is triggered it’s natural for our brain to seek out more information or fixate on potential future threats – it’s actually a survival instinct. When it’s causing your stress level to skyrocket though, you may need to step in and employ some strategies to consciously redirect your thoughts to your present reality, which hopefully includes a connection with loved ones and some tried and true self care techniques.
5. Talk it out
Lastly but perhaps most importantly, don’t be afraid to reach out when you need a little extra support. It’s important to stay connected to friends, family members and co-workers for the sake of our own mental well-being as well as to offer support to someone if they’re going through a hard time. Don’t wait until you’re really not feeling like yourself to let someone in your life know you’re struggling. Touching base with a good friend to share some laughs and commiserate about the challenges of the past 18+ months is sometimes just what the doctor ordered. Speaking of which, there are lots of options at your disposal if you feel you might benefit from talking to a professional about your mental health. Great places to start are your Employee Assistance Program through your or your spouse’s workplace, a general health care provider (like your family doctor, 811, or a GP at a walk-in clinic or through your province’s virtual health services) or a counsellor, psychological or clinical therapist.
Thanks for tuning in, friends! May your Thanksgiving weekend be a great source of fuel for your mental health. See you next time!
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.