Feeling stressed sometimes is a normal part of life. I’m sure we all have favourite ways to de-stress and relax when we need to, so that our physical and mental health is maintained. But we’re living in extra-stressful times in 2020-2021. What was ‘normal’ as a way of life, no longer is, and everyone everywhere is dealing with stress on a whole new level.
For most people around the world, life in 2020 and continuing into 2021 has meant lockdowns and isolation. The need for resilience and patience is real and this new set of challenges has meant that self-care is more important than ever. It’s a priority. With the situation seemingly ongoing for some time, as well as the possibility that we may not get back to whatever was ‘normal’, it makes sense to develop habits and coping strategies that work. For now and into the future.
Most recently, my self-care has been more related to the physical. I find I’m needing to move more and at the same time release feelings of stress and anxiety. Disclaimer: I’m not at all sporting(sporty?) and I don’t claim any expertise or follow any ‘fitness regime’. In all my blog postings, I talk about what works … for me.
Usually, I use movement – especially Qigong and vibrational methods – to balance and de-stress. More so since March last year when I found myself ‘sort-of-stranded’ while travelling overseas. Feeling uncertain and anxious much of the time was becoming a problem in the first months, and I relied on working with Qi to feel more grounded and centred. Read more here: Feeling the Qi.
This was an instinctive approach to feeling better and generally less stressed that worked for me, but an article on Livestrong.com confirmed how and why movement is so helpful in managing stress and anxiety. The article is right in line with what I’m doing to help cope with a locked-down life. Keeping moving is working for me!
Stress is a combination of anxiety — fear of the unknown — and depression — hurt held inward. Exercise is an outlet to let out that tension– Jarrod Spencer PhD, sports psychologist
Dr. Spencer explains that exercising ‘works the emotional stress out of the body’. I find this to be absolutely true for me. A few months ago, sirens became more frequent here. Police cars and ambulances became a reminder of the situation outside. Any feelings that emerged – frustration, worry, sadness (name an emotion and I probably had it!) – all dissolved when I exercised.
In the Livestrong article, he also says that a high-intensity exercise routine isn’t necessary for positive results. Yay! Sounds good! Even starting slowly and building a regular fitness schedule can have a positive impact. Choose activities that work for you and ones that make sense in dealing with the stressors you face.
Four types of exercise are recommended to increase movement and reduce stress. Here they are, along with what I do.
Are we all spending far too much time looking at the computer or phone? (Maybe you’re a Netflix tragic, too?) One of the impacts of extra screen time is stress and tension on the neck and shoulders. If you’re working from home then being hunched over your laptop during the workday or for ‘face-to-face’ meetings on Zoom, all add to neck tension and stress on the body.
If you can release some physical muscle tension through stretching, it might help you feel less emotional stress, as well according to the article. Even stretching for 10 minutes, three to four times a week, will give positive benefits according to research from Harvard Health Publishing.
I always stretch whatever part of the body feels that it needs it. Working on the shoulders and neck always feels good. Other areas that can hold tension are the calves, hamstrings and hips. Listen to your body and trust your instincts. Don’t think you have to devote a regular amount of time, either, to have results. A few minutes here and there can make a difference. I’ve started doing stretches in front of the TV or waiting for the kettle to boil. It all adds up!
Yoga is probably the most well-known practice for relieving stress. I’m sure many people reading this will agree. It’s great for improving mental and emotional wellbeing and, of course, increasing strength and balance. Yoga has been practised for thousands of years and science is now examining its health benefits.
Lockdown days mean you probably can’t get to your favourite class as often, or at all. But it’s easy to find great sessions with online videos. There are different types of yoga to choose from, and classes especially for beginners. Explore the websites and find a style, yoga teacher and routine that you enjoy. If you enjoy it, there’s more chance you’ll keep doing it!
A couple of favourites are: Ekhart Yoga and Yoga with Adriene.
Walking is easy, cheap and also a great stress-relieving workout. A bonus is it strengthens muscles and improves cardiovascular fitness, too. A May 2018 study in Behavioral Sciences, shows that walking reduced levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol, improving as well how people actually perceived their own emotional stress. This was especially evident if they walked in nature.
I don’t find myself outside ‘in nature’ often enough these days. State borders where I am are closed. Other districts, too are off-limits and public parks and spaces have been closed for months. So, no trips to the beach or mountains, or anywhere at all … for now.
Note: I can get out to walk around the neighbourhood, which I do every few days. However, with humidity at 85%, it’s like exercising in a sauna! As a daily practice, I’ve started to enjoy lounge-room walks, especially with a soundtrack of uplifting songs. It’s really the music that keeps me moving and walking. Choose your own tunes that will help you get moving!
The really good news is that I’ve replaced ‘stress-eating’ with ‘stress-walking’! As a way to counter anxious feelings it’s a much better option, don’t you think? It’s certainly better than the ‘couch potato’ alternative. I walk any time I feel like it and it does relieve stress and boost my mood. If it feels good, do it!!
How long is it since I’ve gone running? In my 20s? 30s? Never? But having now gotten into the habit of walking most days, it’s become a natural step forward to start jogging. Increased stress on some days has made me want to move more and move faster. It’s not as much fun as it would be outdoors, I suppose. But you have to do what you can with what you’ve got.
I sometimes visualise scenery as I run. I can picture beaches back home and the ocean views. I remember other seaside places I’ve been to in the world. Mountain tracks and forest paths, as well. If you can’t get out into nature and hug a tree, then the mind is a powerful thing.
Remember that emotions these days can run close to the surface. Be kind to yourself, whatever that means for you. For myself, I try to make conscious and positive decisions about what I do and what I choose not to do. I consume less news some days, if that feels right and more ‘happy-making’ content, instead. I choose upbeat and cheerful music to help me feel that way. And I avoid overly emotional movies. Unless I want to have a good cry …