This blog offers five tips for managing stress (physical activity, nourishment, technology, creativity and social support) along with insights and expertise for incorporating them into daily life. Since COVID-19, many people seem more comfortable talking about mental health concerns. Therapist Erin K. Scott-Haines, MA, BC-DMT, LPCC offers her professional advice for managing stress and thoughts on the value of connecting with others over the topic.
As a therapist, it has been so interesting and inspiring to witness recently the connection between our confidence in the notion that people around us are experiencing the same stress as we are, and our comfort level talking about our stress. That’s kind of a long winded way to say that, but what I mean is- when we think everyone’s going through it, we’re ok talking about it.
Although our society has made vast improvements in decreasing the stigma around mental illness, I would say it’s still far from normalized. Yet, it seems like since COVID-19, communities are coming together, sharing their feelings, fears and experiences with one another, even with complete strangers. During the height of COVID-19, “Coping” was at the forefront of headlines, and preventative health and self-care became a priority. It was actually a beautiful thing to see!
I wonder how different the world would be if we always felt free to share our worries, or run our plans by one another, just to feel a little safer, a little more assured that we are on the right track.
Outside of keeping a positive mindset, staying out of our primal fear brain, and continuing to share our feelings and support with one another, here are the top 5 things you can do to manage your stress.
1. Physical activity
Physical activity. The best recipe for excess mental energy is increased physical activity. Whether it’s going for a run to clear your mind, dancing in your living room with your family, working on your computer while doing a wall sit, or having a push-up competition with your partner, using your body to balance out all of the input received in the brain is your surefire road to mental health success!
Waaaaait are you saying the mind and the body are connected?? Yes…yes, I am. Also, please make your physical activity fun, you won’t do it otherwise. Think outside of the box, give yourself permission to PLAY! Now go climb something.
Take time to overhaul your nutrition and perform any lifestyle changes you’ve been avoiding due to “being too busy.” Your stress level is not going to be aided in developing alcoholism or fear-eating. Be kind to yourself. Going back to those basics we mentioned about the mind and the body being connected, nourishing your brain and body has a lot to do with what it spits back out at you as thoughts and feelings.
Take advantage of technology. We mental health professionals are usually advocating for less screen time and ridding ourselves of gadget blue light, but sometimes I think it’s to our advantage that we have the world at our fingertips- we just need to use it responsibly. Make your technology work to your mental health advantage by creating rituals around mindfulness apps and games that challenge our brains. There are so many relaxation apps to help you fall asleep or take a guided meditation break, a quick App store search will suffice, or see what apps the Anxiety & Depression Association of America recommends.
Of course, this is no replacement for psychotherapy, but don’t worry, telehealth has got all of your virtual counseling needs covered- maybe now is that time you’ve been waiting for. Besides decompressing using apps, you can also invigorate the mind by learning a new language online, or playing intellectual brain games on your phone or laptop.
4. Get Creative
Get creative. All those worries and thoughts are just hanging out repressed in your mind-body dying to burst out in the form of self-expression! Nothing holding you back now; time to explore your inner creator! Whether you’ve had dreams of painting and traditional artistry, or want to build, organize, or design, now is the time to fulfill all of these creative endeavors we’ve had on the backburner.
Take a drawing or dance class online, redo the kitchen, let the kids rearrange their rooms (two birds there with the physical activity), just let the nonjudgemental creative juices flow! Set a timer and write: stream of consciousness style, or start your book!
You don’t have to create in isolation either. One of my favorite games is to put a song on and then everyone in the room can decide how to interpret it- maybe someone sings along, someone draws, someone sculpts, someone writes, someone dances- the point is, you’re all sharing in being uniquely creative, while also being together.
5. Social Support
You know what’s not broken- calling your Mother. Yep, the good ol’ fashioned phone call is still in style after all these years. Now, if Mom is no longer with us, or if she’s the one causing all this stress in the first place, not to worry, that’s what friends are for. Social support is key during times of stress. And to nod back up to our “making technology your friend” point, how about amping it up with face-time. Or combat isolation via social app games like Words With Friends, or Draw Something.
Instead of spreading the woes on Facebook, take some time to pick up the phone and video chat your long lost friends and relatives. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel. What’s the old saying- shared joy is doubled joy, shared sorrow is half sorrow- point is, you’ll cut your worries in half by sharing them. Even if you don’t feel like you NEED to call someone (firstly, get out of your pride and be preventative), try to be of service. You’ll feel less stressed (and you may even feel great about yourself) if you put someone else’s needs before your own and are able to be there for them. I promise.
Erin K. Scott-Haines, MA, BC-DMT, LPCC
Director of Program Development, Discovery Mood & Anxiety Program
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