In the last few months, like most of the world, I have been confronted with mountains of stress stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, the non-stop news cycle of 2020, and of course, “normal” life stressors too. While procrasti-baking and Netflix binges have been enjoyable, it’s become clear that my typical coping strategies and stress reduction techniques aren’t cutting it. As I spend more and more time at home, I have been challenging myself to get creative with new ways to help my brain chill out without fully vegging out.
I know I am not alone in experiencing more stress from the pandemic. Fear of getting sick or our loved ones getting sick is real, and there’s the added uncertainty of when life will pick back up again. At the end of June, the CDC surveyed 5,470 individuals on their mental health. Almost 31 percent reported experiencing anxiety or depression symptoms, with 24 percent reporting anxiety and 25 percent reporting depression. These numbers are alarming, considering that in "normal times," mental health reports of anxiety and depression have been 8 percent and 6 percent in the same period of time last year, respectively. Luckily, there are various effective treatments for these conditions, including psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. However, experiencing stress does not always equate to clinical diagnosis, and in most cases, it doesn't lead to one. Stress is a normal and expected part of life, and healthcare professionals agree that stress reduction is crucial for our well-being, accounting for both our physical and mental health.
Most of us know that our daily lives flow better when we are hydrating, eating nourishing foods, sleeping soundly, and mindfully moving our bodies, but when it comes to confronting and combatting stress– we might feel too deep to get out of it. Especially in the last few months, what worked for us once might not be enough now, so taking inventory and being non-judgmental about it is the next best step towards change. Much like daily hydrating habits, eating well, and exercise, we can also benefit from a Daily Dose of stress-reduction.
Why is Stress Bad Anyway?
Imagine stress as a big and daunting threat, like a thunderous cloud above our heads. We try to live our lives running from the looming cloud above us, which grows darker and darker with each stressor. If we are lucky, it doesn’t storm– we don’t get burnt out or sick– but we do feel on edge, frazzled, and less than content sitting in the present moment. Other times, when stress persists for days, weeks, months, and even years, we can no longer run from the cloud above our heads, and the storm comes down. It might be a drizzle, a sun shower, a washout, or a full-blown hurricane.
When untreated, stress can manifest in worsening mental health issues and even physical health concerns, illustrating the intensity of the mind-body connection. When we add habits that promote stress reduction into our daily routines, it acts as a shelter from clouds above our heads, protection from a storm that may or may not happen. It gives us the ability to sit with the stress-filled cloud above us and acknowledge it, saying, “I see you, I feel you, and I will protect myself from the storm.”
You might notice that these affirmations are not exclusive to wishes of only clear, sunny skies, as much as we might want them to be. Stress is inevitable in our lives, and even with the best protection from it, we all will experience it in acute and significant ways. Because of this reality, creating a personally-tailored, Daily Dose of stress-busting strategies for ourselves is a non-negotiable in our wellness routines.
I’ll share a few of my Daily Dose practices that help me chill out and stress less– one word, step, sip, and sleep at a time.
4 Tried-and-True Strategies For Your Daily Dose of Stress-Reduction
If mornings are typically stressful for you, consider viewing this as a sacred time to reflect and set intentions. I am guilty of reaching for my phone and checking socials and e-mail moments after waking, and I recognize that this habit can set off my stress and anxiety instantly. Lately, I’ve been squeezing in a 5-10 minute journaling exercise first thing in the morning using prompts from my Shine App. Taking the time to tune into my thoughts and needs, instead of tuning in to the external world first thing every morning, has been beneficial to my mood and mental health.
Tip: Dedicate a journal exclusive to your morning journaling sessions. If you want to go the extra mile, write out your daily journal prompts once a week to keep you on track and motivated to complete them each day.
Doing it all from home has been blurring all the boundaries between work and play. Remotely working has just as many pros as it does cons, and it’s forcing all of us to re-evaluate our lifestyles. Building in an afternoon walk at the end of my workday has been a simple way to break up my day. It allows me to literally unplug from my work and assignments and get outside in the fresh air to clear my mind and embrace the change of seasons.
Magnesium Citrate Supplement
Winding down before bed is vital to a goodnight's rest. One nighttime tool that I've found helpful is supplementing magnesium, which helps alleviate stress, promote sleep, and relax our muscles from tension. Each night a few hours before bed, I use a handheld frother and blend up one teaspoon with water to enjoy as a nighttime elixir. I recommend Garden of Life’s Raspberry Lemon formula.
Snuggling up in a twenty-pound weighted blanket has been a game-changer for me. It is a form of deep pressure stimulation therapy and helps send a message to our autonomic nervous system letting our body know we are safe, which allows our worries to subside. If I feel my anxiety rising during the day, I will take a quick break and cozy up under my blanket for a few minutes taking deep breaths or doing a distraction exercise. It’s also been a great strategy to ease into sleep, and I recommend this Bearby Weighted Blanket to anyone who experiences anxiety and/or sleep issues.
Other stress-reduction options:
Practicing mindfulness (meditations or other practices)
Grounding exercises (feel your feet root into the floor or earth)
Embrace ecotherapy and get into the great outdoors
Let yourself complete a page in a coloring book or coloring app
Take a few minutes to work on a crossword puzzle to distract your mind from stress-induced rumination
Apply some lavender essential oil on your wrists, using a rollerball
Pour yourself a cup of herbal tea that cozy and comforting
Creating a Daily Dose routine reminds us that stress reduction strategies are in our control. However, it's important to note that the factors that build up stress may not be at times. In some cases creating firm boundaries in our personal and professional lives can reduce stress tremendously. At the same time, other stressful circumstances (i.e., the global pandemic, health issues, family concerns) are harder to detach from. But remember– you are in control of what you consume, be it food, drinks, your Instagram feed, or the news. You are the best source of knowledge to know what stresses you out and what calms you down. Sadly, despite the best marketing geniuses' best efforts, there is no secret supplement or wellness tonic that will cure stress entirely. It is the tiny habits built upon every day that allow us to cope and become resilient in the face of stressors.
Once you create your Daily Dose of stress-reduction practices, let me know what strategies you’re finding helpful by commenting below or messaging me over on Instagram.
Please note: If you’re experiencing overwhelming amounts of stress and have noticed your mental health worsening, that’s entirely OK, and there are plenty of resources for help and support. Please refer to the resources the CDC compiled to help people navigate their Mental Health and the COVID-19 Pandemic.