A year ago today, the world was on full lockdown. Businesses were closing, families were staying home, students and teachers began remote schooling. We entered a global pandemic, with set expectations that it would only last a few months, if not weeks.
A year and change later, many of us are returning to in-person work or to the classroom, and many more of us have started to attend our go-to entertainment…think theaters, restaurants, theme parks and indoor sporting events.
More than 733 million vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, equal to 9.6 doses for every 100 people, and these vaccinations will continue well into the summer and fall months. Fortunately, the U.S. administration has doubled its original goal, now aiming to distribute 200 million vaccines by the end of this month.
With more Americans fully vaccinated, we are entering a new “normal” — a normal that includes vaccine cards that are encouraged or required by businesses and airlines. And online business meetings, for example, might become more commonplace than crowded conference rooms.
With this new “normal” comes a new kind of stress. After all, COVID-19 is still circulating; cases are increasing in many states. Getting a vaccination doesn’t mean you’re impervious to the virus, and it remains important to practice precautions like mask-wearing and maintaining 6 feet of social distance.
But as the world slowly reopens, people will be able to reconnect in new, expected settings. You may experience stress from public situations or feel negative emotions from the pandemic. These emotions include anxiety, doubts, anger, frustration, uncomfortableness or grief. This is psychological and emotional trauma, according to mental health counselors.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor Jill Hamilton Buss says that is to be expected given the effects of the global pandemic and the year-long quarantine.
“We’ve been living in a fully stressful, VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) world for a solid year and that’s on top of the stress that you already had in your lives,” Buss said. “Our lives were already stressful and then it was compounded by all of this.”
In honor of April’s Stress Awareness Month at the Center for Health & Wellbeing, we have compiled a number of tips for coping during this new “normal” in-COVID times. Try these stress tips and reduced stress is yours for the taking.
Follow public health guidance but reduce media consumption to ease stress.
It may seem quite practical, but there are public health disclaimers set in place to keep the public safe. Following this guidance can help you control your environment and ease stress. However, to reduce our stress is to also reduce our consumption of media or information. So, make a decision to limit your attention to the television screen. Buss recommends scheduling time-in and time-out periods to regulate when and how often you receive updates on the pandemic.
“None of us can immediately fix the situation so consider dialing out when you know for you it has gotten to be too much or just unplugging and having quiet time at some point for you and your kids [or grandkids],” Buss says.
Plan ahead and take your time to reduce stress and social anxiety.
After a year-long quarantine from friends and family, it may feel quite overwhelming to attend a public gathering. You may experience doubts and anxiety about seeing your extended relatives, or friends, so we urge you to start small.
For example, if you are feeling stressed about socializing, an outdoor, public gathering with two or fewer friends may feel safer for you. Then, you might try working your way to a more difficult social situation. For example, that next step might include an indoor setting in a location with a mask mandate that includes three or fewer individuals. Plan ahead and take your time when assessing a social gathering.
Identify your stressors and remind yourself of the reasons for re-engaging with family or friends.
Planning ahead and making the best decisions for you can be emotionally and mentally draining. Are you having more trouble making decisions or thinking clearly? It may mean you’re more stressed. Buss advises to name your stressors.
“It’s hard and it’s not an easy thing to do,” she says. “It’s interesting but research shows just by naming, it can help reduce our stress, and getting it out of our head and on paper, we can look at it and maybe choose to do something about it.”
Make a list of the three to five top items stressing you. Categorize them by what you can change and what you can’t. An affirmation like, “I am being safe” and “I am in control of my emotions and my environment” can also assist in easing your negative emotions.
Work in a self-massage, exercise or meditation into your daily routine.
Impacts of stress include muscle tension, over and under-eating, headaches, shortness of breath, heartburn, upset stomach, and pain in neck or shoulders. In COVID times, the power of touch has become more difficult for most. But touch can not only relax you, it can ground you in time and space. Work in a simple practice like a self-massage or a hug from a family member or significant other into your daily routine. A meditation, or workout like a 30-minute walk or run, in your daily routine can also release tension.
Talk about it.
You are not alone in your sentiments, and these emotions need an outlet. By talking with others about your stress or emotions associated with this new normal, you can relieve stress and realize that others share in your experience and feelings. Friends and family can help you during this tough time. If your family lives outside the area, stay in touch by phone if possible. Your children or grandchildren may be experiencing increased negative emotions like stress, anxiety, anger, frustration, or grief as well. Parents may notice some changes like increased behavioral issues and moodiness from older kids and teenagers as we transition to a more pre-pandemic time where there are now public gatherings. If you have children, encourage them to share their feelings and concerns with you.
Free “Stress Reduction” Community Education Programs from the CHWB
Listening to music can be an intrinsic part of coping with the stress of everyday life. Music is a powerful tool that can help change your mood. It can release your emotions and give you a sense of empowerment when you need it most. Intentional music listening can be a healing experience. It can grasp onto something deep within you. It can challenge your own understanding of yourself, and it can help you keep going when times are tough. Join Ashley Lewis, a nationally board-certified music therapist and the Music Therapy program coordinator for Central Florida Community Arts (CFCArts), to learn the types of musical playlists you can create to support your health and wellbeing. Register Now>>>
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