It may seem and feel like a never ending battle to balance our mental wellness, especially since pandemic started. Some days we may feel like we are lost at sea in one massive storm experiencing intense or uncomfortable emotions, while other days we may feel calm and grounded. These unprecedented times have really put our mental wellness to the test. Life stressors, isolation and change have intensified experiences of anxiety, frustration, and sadness.
Here are 5 ideas to manage your stress levels.
There may be days when you woke up and everything feels calm and relaxed and at your best self. When you least expect it, something stressful happens; maybe your child protests getting ready for school; your partner says something that triggers you; or you begin thinking about the 100 tasks on today’s to-do list. Internally, the alarm of threat goes off and our fight or flight response kicks into overdrive. Feeling stressed, anxious, pressured, irritated and even overwhelmed may result. It may become more difficult to focus, concentrate and respond calmly. Our ability to manage stress declines at this point.
PAUSE is a practical strategy that can help. PAUSE stands for present awareness using senses to experience our internal and external environments. Think of a time you “paused” for a brief minute by centering and grounding yourself. What did you notice? Maybe you noticed calmness in breath or tense muscles relaxing. We can “pause” by shifting awareness to feel supported by sitting in a chair against your back or legs. From a standing position, sense the floor beneath you, anchoring you. Add in breath; begin settling into your natural breath. Notice any areas of tension or emotion you may sense inside and on the exhale breath, let go of anything you are holding on to, including judgments. This action will help to calm your nervous system and create space to be open and receptive. At this point, you may feel elevated emotions settle and begin to think more clearly and flexibly.
What makes you Thrive? Nourish Your Mind, Body and Soul
Do you recall a time you have flown in an airplane? What is recommended in case of emergency during the safety briefing? You are asked to put on your own oxygen before helping others. There is good reason for this. Yet when it comes to our own self care, have you ever said to yourself or out loud, “I put others first. My self-care is on the backburner.” After a while, we may experience our candle burning at both ends and the flame slowly burns out. When this happens, our mind, body and soul starts to deplete. We may feel lost, overwhelmed or the smallest things begin to irritate us. Some things may be outside our control. Even when this is the case, we have choice with respect to what we experience. As unnatural as this sounds, choose to be selfish. You are important and so is your self care. Caring for you translates into caring for others. This does not mean sacrificing your values and saying no to everyone and everything. It means doing things that make you thrive before you reach the point of depletion. It can make a difference to begin finding ourselves once again. It is okay to spend some time on you. It is a necessity.
Choose to savor that amazing cup of coffee or stunning sunset. Choose to laugh like you never laughed before. Can you recall a time when you had a belly laugh that your stomach ached? What about being immersed in nature? Can you recall an experience of being in a forest, a park, or swimming in a lake? Was it revitalizing? When we do things that make us thrive and immerse in the present moment, we feel better mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Take a moment to reflect and think of things that fulfill your mind, your body and soul. Here’s an opportunity to start.
It is a normal response to disengage and disconnect when we experience trauma, stress, loss, adjustment and change. Connecting with our resources helps with healing and recovery. With pandemic, we are in a position to put our creative hats on and think of unique ways to foster connection differently. We have a choice to connect virtually or through social distance. We can still laugh together, play games together, send letters, and appreciate one another. January and February are months where we may traditionally feel blue. You have a choice and opportunity to connect, turn towards one another and redefine your definition of connection if need be. Give yourself permission to connect!
Be Kind To Ourselves and Others
Did you notice when we experience “hard times” we become more rigid with ourselves, in our relationships or even with the world. However, when our BFF may be dealing with their “hard time,” advice and perspective is given with kindness, encouragement and understanding. Self compassion is a practice to soften our inner critic while raising the volume of our inner advocate. Rather than being our own worst enemy with harsh judgment, self blame and mile-high expectations, choosing kindness and compassion is an option. We can offer ourselves self compassion during times we may automatically pose judgment on ourselves. Give your inner advocate the voice it has been longing for. Try it, see what happens. First, become aware of any judgments in your mind or voiced out loud. Take note without feeding into judgment. Second, challenge the judgments with realistic appraisals based with kindness and compassion. For example, we may find ourselves thinking and our inner critic saying, “I failed and I am no good”. Give our inner advocate permission to respond, “We are human and we will make mistakes. It’s okay. I am learning. What do I need to know about this experience to choose a different course of action?” Third, commit to practice regularly. Your growth mindset will emerge. Your sense of worth will also grow.
What’s Important Now
“What’s Important Now?” is a mighty question to help prioritize, make decisions and focus on what’s important during the present moment. Throughout one day, we are faced with many decisions. Do I wake up with my alarm or press snooze twice? Do I make my lunch or do I eat out? Do I react to a comment my family says or do I take a moment to pause and respond with a calm manner? Asking what’s important now sets the stage to determine best probable outcomes without emotion taking over the driver’s seat. Likely you will contemplate positive choices that promote your growth while aligning with your values. When we do, we are more at peace and ease with ourselves. Try it! It may be a tool missing from your tool belt.
The past several months have tested us and our mental wellness. Some days our meter of hope may feel like an 8 on a 10-point scale and dip down to a 2 on other days. Those times when your hope may feel like a dim light in the distance, we may be the resource that holds hope for you. It takes great courage to realize that our tools in our tool belt no longer work for the job! If you are ready to begin your healing journey we are here to support you through that journey at Aspire Too!
Tiffaney Haydukewich, BA, BSW, MSW, RSW
Clinical Counsellor / Registered Social Worker