Jenn Bovee, LCSW, CRADC, CCHt, EMDR Trained
There’s a great deal of uncertainty right now—both locally and globally. The confusion and unpredictability regarding the future is happening on many levels, encompassing a variety of topics, and affecting not just individuals, but often causing a divide in families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. As a local therapist who specializes in trauma, it’s not surprising that I am seeing a massive increase in symptoms of stress.
While people have always experienced some uncertainty in their lives—after all, no one has a crystal ball—and people have always encountered stressful situations, there are some unique things about the current state of affairs that are leading to an increase of stress. These include the uncertainty about the everchanging details surrounding COVID—specifics about testing and quarantining, guidance on wearing or not wearing masks, consideration for personal health risk—and increased awareness of social justice inequalities. Perhaps the most significant difference in today’s environment is the lack of control and helplessness that most people feel, which makes it difficult or impossible to plan any course of action.
The way stress symptoms can manifest include: increased heart rate, memory issues, immune system issues, anxiety symptoms, stomach and digestion issues, decreased energy, eyelids twitching, increased blood pressure, communication breakdowns, increase in muscle pain and aches, headache, and even acne. If you have some of these symptoms, it’s easy to see why you may not connect them to stress. And if such symptoms persist over a period of time, they can quickly overwhelm a person’s coping skills.
In a perfect—or even more perfect—world, we would never struggle with stressors that exceeded our ability to cope. Because we don’t live in a perfect world, following are some good coping skills to help you de-escalate the level of stress that you may be feeling.
- Keep Breathing: It sounds silly, but in reality, many people tend to hold their breaths when they begin to experience stress. Even though it feels counterintuitive, experience and practice deep breathing, where you focus just a bit longer on the exhale. Some people really love squared breathing, which is where you pick a number and you inhale for that count, you hold it for that same count, you exhale for that same count, and you again hold it for that same count. You can increase the number as high as you are comfortable with.
- Movement: I’m carefully labeling this one as a movement instead of exercise. Exercise has negative connotations for many people. Just move your body—stretch, dance, sway—really feel what it feels like to allow your body to let go of the stress you’ve been carrying. Let go of all the negativity or pressure that you have put on yourself to get certain steps, to get in a set amount of exercise, and just allow your body to move. Stretch your body. Move your body.
- Get Creative: When we engage in those creative activities, we stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system. Which is the part of our nervous system that is responsible for feeling safe, calm, and grounded. There’s no limit to what we consider creative. For some people, it’s cooking; for other people, it’s singing; other people may find drawing, gardening, or organizing to be creative. If you feel like it’s creative, then it’s creative. Try it and notice how peaceful and almost sleepy you feel when you are done doing creative activities.
- Meditation / Self-Hypnosis: The ability to engage in time-outs, to clear your mind, to de-stress your body is not only beneficial but healing as well. The ability to decompress and reset your mind and your body and let go of any physical stress and turmoil that your physical body may be holding is actually crucial.
If you find that your stress level is higher than what you are able to address using the above suggestions, then it’s important to seek out professional services. Every person deserves to receive quality mental health services!
For help with any mental health issue, contact The Mental Wellness Center at 309-807-5077 or e-mail info@TheMentalWellnessCenter.com. Their office is located at 205 N. Williamsburg Drive, Suite D, Bloomington. They are invested in empowering you to return to—or achieve, possibly for the first time ever—a state of complete mental wellness.