The last few months have been a roller coaster of emotions. Many of us would say that living through the pandemic has felt like being in a Hollywood horror film where an unseen killer has threatened our families. We have experienced a mixture of feelings and emotions including fear, sadness, anger, frustration and anxiety. At times we have felt relief, happiness and pride. For some being a key worker has been an added stress and for some they have experienced considerable trauma. Many of us have worried about losing our jobs and have faced financial hardship. Sadly, a large number of us have experienced the worst ever pain of bereavement.

There have been some reasons to celebrate, we may have enjoyed family time and the benefits of lower levels of pollution.

Most of us have probably experienced some symptoms of anxiety in the past few months, this could include difficulties with sleeping, worrying, eating, headaches and other physical symptoms. Some of us will have resorted to negative ways of trying to cope for example by drinking more alcohol or eating too much.

As part of our mission to help you cope, emotionally and physically, we have summarised the science and have provided useful tips to help you deal with difficulties such as not sleeping well, worrying and bereavement. Although we have been thinking about the impact of living with Covid-19, adopting these habits will be helpful in our lives at any time.

Stress

Stress is a normal response to an event. The event could be something that has already happened or can be due to us worrying about it. Some typical things and situations that can cause stress include, moving a house, losing job and worrying about examination results. Sometimes stresses that we experience are of serious consequences such as losing loved ones, serious money worries or worrying about our physical illness or our loved ones’. Our response to stress varies individually and according to different situations.

Stress can affect us both physically and mentally, and it can make us behave in certain ways. However, the way we manage stress can roughly be divided into:

  1. Reducing the stresses in our environment – improving one’s work/ home life balance is an example of how an individual can actively change their experiences to reduce stress.
  2. Improving our resilience to stressful events – not all things that are stressful can be removed from our lives. Building resilience is a very individualised process. It includes learning to recognise stresses and developing healthy coping mechanisms.

Changing to healthy patterns of behaviour overall helps us avoid becoming physically or emotionally unwell due to stress. Eating healthily, sleeping well, keeping fit and developing a positive attitude are examples of healthy patterns.

Science and evidence:

Our bodies release cortisol and adrenaline hormones in response to anxiety and stress. If stress continues, high levels of these hormones can affect our physical health. Stress can cause physical signs, such as headaches, upset stomach and tiredness. Further physical signs include – muscle tension, feeling tired, muscle tension, constipation or diarrhoea and feeling sick. Stress can affect our sleep and eating habits. Lack of sleep and poor diet can affect our physical health, which can cause further emotional stress.

Stress can affect us how we feel. Some of these feelings include – nervousness, being afraid, irritability, aggressiveness, impatience, loss of interest, worry and loneliness.

Stress can also affect how we behave. We might find it difficult to concentrate, eat too much or too little, smoke or drink more alcohol, become tearful and irritable.

Stress can cause mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, and also make existing mental health issues worse. On the other hand, mental health problems can cause stress.

Action:

In order to reduce the impact of worries and stress, we suggest the following strategies:

  1. Identify what you are worrying about. Write it down.
  2. Identify what you can change, decide to shelf things that you can’t affect.
  3. Make an action plan for things you can change.
  4. Be kind to yourself, most of us have experienced things that would worry and upset us all. Don’t blame yourself for things that are out of your control.
  5. Deal with the symptoms of stress, use exercise and other forms of relaxation to reduce the systems. Try yoga or other kind exercise forms.
  6. Try to sleep well, see the helpful sleeping habits article.
  7. Eat well, avoid lots of sugar, caffeine and alcohol.
  8. Use this simple time limiting worrying technique. It does not work telling yourself to totally stop worrying, so take control of your worrying. Set up a worrying time. For example, each day at tea time, you can sit and worry for a limited time. Do not allow worrying outside of that time.
  9. Use this simple thought blocking technique. Think of a pink elephant, dancing on a tub, with an umbrella in her paw. She has a pink dress and sparkly hat. Now try and forget the image. Use an image like this when worrying to replace the thoughts outside of the worrying time.
  10. Boredom is stressful. Set yourself some goals, make sure you achieve even a small thing towards your goal.
  11. Have a treat to look forward to each week.
  12. Keep in touch with friends and family, use video conferencing, telephone calls, messaging and social distancing.
  13. Find something that you enjoy and makes you laugh.
  14. Spend time outdoors.
  15. Use simple mindfulness techniques. Read about these techniques on the net.
  16. Use this simple CBT technique, if you think of a negative thought about yourself replace it with a positive thought.
  17. If you develop symptoms of anxiety such as panic attacks seek professional help through your GP.
  18. And talk more often about how you feel.