4 Steps to Destress: Fine Tune your Stress Mgmt

At the time of this writing, just shy of April’s Fools Day 2020, our lovely world is under siege from the Covid-19 virus. It’s a tough time for many people, systems, and enterprises. On the other hand, this is a particularly good time to examine and renew your methods of managing stress. You can fine tune your stress management now.

Coping with stress is different and unique for each person. Different copes for different folks, you might say. One person’s method of relaxing may not make any sense at all to others. But if it works for them and does no harm, no problem there. This attitude brings everyone freedom to experiment if adapted. It creates openness and acceptance of diversity.

With many of the usual ways of coping closed to the collective (such as rec centers, massage centers, libraries and book stores, restaurants and cafes, etc., etc.) it behooves us to hold that attitude of open acceptance towards self and other right now.

With this going on, it’s a great time to add or revamp the ways you cope. The more the merrier applies here. As well, the concept of slack – or breathing space – could be a kind way to handle ourselves and our neighbors. Many of our friends, family and neighbors are stressed and struggling at the changes afoot.

RATE YOUR STRESS AS WE START

How are you doing so far? You can always take your temperature. Your stress temperature that is. Let’s call it the stress-ometer (sounds like ther-mom-eter. Except stress-om-eter. Not stress-o-meter, just so we’re clear).
On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the high end, how stressed are you right now. Yes, you can use 1/2.

Well, I feel a little better. Hey, I got to use the word behoove. Sometimes, very small things can help.

COVID-19 IS NO SMALL THING

Covid-19 is big. There is so much uncertainty. No one knows what the other side will look like. Sure, it’s nice to hear statements like, “We’re in this together”, and “We’ll get through this”. At the same time, you may also have an inner sense that difficult surprises and losses are looming. There is no way to predict those losses, or their impact. And while some preparation can help, it’s really not possible to be completely prepared for the impact of what is unknown.

It’s frustrating and disempowering when you’re dealing with the unknown. Right now, the Covid unknown is lasting a long time, with no foreseen end ahead. You may be used to being in control. Just so you know, this type of stress dealing with the unknown? It’s one of the hardest to deal with.

The good news is it is not rocket science to improve and adapt your coping. Even when you are coping with what you can’t control. With a little time and self-study, with a few experiments and some commitment to new practices, you can emerge from this more resilient than ever.

UH OH, IT’S FIGHT OR FLIGHT MODE (AKA FIGHT FLIGHT FREEZE MODE – the FFF)

The word “unprecedented” has been said about 6000 times since covid-19’s emergence. Yet this is not without precedent in human history and evolution. Still, this is a crisis of OUR time. Who cares about history when you can’t pay the rent right now?

In Japanese, the world CRISIS includes the glyph for DANGER as well as OPPORTUNITY. All stress, and all growth, has both. At first, all you might feel is the stress, and the threat. But if you look back at past shite storms you’ve weathered, you can see you got through it. You adjusted and you even may have grown or been better for that experience.

High levels of stress though do bring us back to the good ol’ Fight Flight or Freeze (FFF) response. FFF is an ancient instinct that has helped us survive. Wrestling with this instinct has led to fun shows like Survivor and The Walking Dead. While good in the short run to keep you alive and kicking, there’s trouble if you stay in FFF too long. This is what’s called chronic stress; it takes a toll on the body and can lead to chronic health problems.

Good news is you can learn to deal with FFF and take the reins when it kicks in. You can learn to notice its arrival sooner, and tame it down. This is one of the biggest keys to mastering stress. You can learn to manage your focus so you at least don’t ADD to your stress, by the inefficient methods of worrying or procrastinating.

MASLOW’S HIERARCHY RIDES AGAIN

Ever hear of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? It’s a pyramid of needs with the more basic human needs at the bottom. You start at the bottom with level 1 – physiological (body, health) and level 2 – safety. Well hello Covid roller coaster. So that’s why the ground’s shaking.

FYI the next levels are Love and Belonging, Esteem, and at the top is Self-actualization. Like many pyramids, you must master the lower level needs before going to the next rung. Hopefully one day those upper levels will again be relevant, lol. Because with Covid-19, no matter what level you were on with the hierarchy before this time, you’ve probably been kicked back into to survival mode.

Just wanted to provide some background on why it’s so stressful for the collective right now. if your stress level is high right now – if you’re having trouble sleeping, if you’re going a little stir crazy and barking at your family – that’s pretty normal. Don’t expect that you’ll be a saint – not quite yet at least. If you do feel it’s a bit over the top, ask for help. It’s out there. That is good stress mastery there – to know when you could benefit from extra support.

THREE OTHER THINGS TO KNOW

What is our first most basic instinct with stress? Avoidance. We tend to want to avoid stress. That’s natural at first. But if you actually sit down with it and face it, deal with it? You can lower your stress a bunch. First the flailing, first the avoidance may come up. So, after the binge watching, have a cup of tea with your stress.

Another thing that can be stressful is CHANGE. Nothing stays the same really. Change is a constant. This constant change can be hard for you when you’re happy with this way things are. With the Covid changes, the disruption from change can feel like a roller coaster (huge ups and downs). Big changes are happening every day. That’s very stressful and exhausting. That’s why you might need extra focus on good practices for wellbeing and stress management now.

Third, a foundation of any stress management training is doing a regular contemplation, meditation or relaxation practice. Contemplative movement formats also count – think of yoga, tai chi, and chi kung. If you’re not already doing this and you’d like to start, start with 5-10 minutes a day. But more important than the length of time, is practicing as consistently as you can. Doing it first thing in the morning is when most people are more likely to get it done. It sure sets your day up in a good frame.

Here is an article about different free and paid apps you can explore, from Oprah mag. And another review of 14 apps from Kaiser Permanente, which separates neuroscience from spirituality leanings, beginner  levels, music included or not – an also a video from NBA star Chris Paul. So cool, how accessible and acknowledged the benefits of meditation are now!

CONCLUSION OF LESSION 1
AND OH JOY, HOMEWORK

If you are like most people, you probably had plenty of stress before Covid-19 arrived. The addition of Corona virus turns a green or yellow state of affairs into the red zone. It can cause you to feel distracted, overwhelmed, hopeless, mad – you name it. It can be hard to handle yourself and your moods. You can lose productivity and perspective.

That sounds like FFF and survival mode. That’s OK at first but after a while, you’ll be ready for a change. In this series, we’ll cover all kinds of helpful options for all kinds of stress. You’ll be able take an active role in better managing stress and knowing what will work best in any given stressful situation.

For now, here is a little homework to begin the practices that will help grow your mastery of stress, and increase your peace of mind and sense of perspective.

ACTIONS TO TAKE FOR LESSON 1

One and Two are quick and pretty easy. Three will be ongoing HW during the series. 

  1. Take out a piece of paper, or create a file for this series, and start a document. Write out every item that is on your stress plate. Covid-19 impact, and everything else that is stressful right now. Then rate your stress right now (stress-om-eter) on a scale of 1-10, with 10 the high side. Write that # on the list.
    This is step 1 of the 4 Steps, and we’ll refer to this assignment in Lesson 2.
  2. Write down 15 things that increase your well-being. Put a star by any that you can do in fifteen minutes or less.
  3. Investigate starting a daily meditation / relaxation practice. Research on the benefits of relaxation date back to the 70s out of Harvard Medical School under Herbert Benson MD (“the relaxation response”.) Health, immunity and resiliency all improved after a couple of months of regular practice in the studies. To get started or revamp your current practice, explore these options.

RESOURCES 

Info sheet on free and paid apps for meditation

Note: Many of these exercises will involve some writing. Research shows this works better at training your brain and reducing stress than just doing it in your head. You might use / repurpose a notebook to dedicate to this series. Since you shouldn’t go to the store…

Questions or comments? Use the comment section down under.

READY TO CONTINUE? PROCEED TO LESSON 2:
Helping Coping Ideas:
Step 1 (con’t) and Step 2 of the 4 Steps to Destress