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Guidance for Reducing Stress During COVID-19

April 22, 2020
Guidance for Reducing Stress During COVID-19 - Lark Health

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The COVID-19 pandemic is dominating daily life, and stress related to the outbreak is increasing across the country. Emotions such as anxiety and fear are rational reactions to this unprecedented situation, but they contribute to higher stress levels. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note, everyone responds to stressors in a unique way [1]. 

Coping with stress is essential for getting through COVID-19 with physical and mental health intact. Many of the strategies that can work during COVID-19 are the same strategies that work in other situations. These are some effective ways to reduce and manage stress, and Lark can help you learn about and practice many of them.

1. Identify triggers

Are there times when you feel more stress than other times? There may be patterns. Identifying your triggers can help you avoid them or modify how they affect you.

For example, going grocery shopping can be upsetting because lines to get into the store and empty shelves are reminders of a changed world. If that is the case for you, grocery delivery services can allow you to avoid trips to the store and those unpleasant reminders. Similarly, if the news is bothering you, turn off the television and stop browsing the internet. 

It is not possible to avoid all triggers, but If there is absolutely nothing you can do to avoid or modify certain triggers, simply recognizing and accepting their existence can lessen their hold on you.

2. Stick to a schedule

As recently as a couple of months ago, your daily routine may have so engraved in stone that you never even thought about it. It was natural to get up, feed the family and get them ready for the day, get yourself and maybe the kids to and from work and school and activities, fit in a workout, and complete household chores.

Those required events at specified times might have disappeared overnight with the onset of stay-at-home orders and working and schooling from home. For the first time in years, maybe ever, you may have flexibility about what you do and when. 

Setting a schedule can help keep you grounded and give you a sense of purpose. It does not need to be the same every day, or be as full and rigid as previously, but it does help to plan for certain activities, such as dressing, eating meals, and getting exercise, at certain times. The guidance of a schedule can lower stress that can come from feeling lost.

3. Live healthy

Healthy lifestyle choices can help reduce stress and improve your ability to manage the stress you do have. Along with having regular meals, we suggest eating plenty of vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. These foods can boost your immune system and improve mental health and mood, too. 

Other healthy choices to make are to be as physically active as you can, such as walking, gardening, or biking if you want to be outdoors, or setting up a home gym inside if you feel safer there. Getting enough sleep is another way to balance stress hormones and stay healthy. Here are some tips from us on how to set up a simple home gym!

4. Pause a moment

Stepping back for a moment when a trigger comes can help reduce its effects on your stress levels. Simple techniques such as deep breathing for 60 seconds or counting slowly to 10 can, for example, prevent you from escalating an argument with a family member, or allow you to laugh instead of fume if you realize that you burned dinner.

Lark has ideas for relaxing and can guide you through some management techniques. With consistent practice, relaxation techniques can become natural so you start to use them whenever you are confronted with a stressful situation.

5. Relax daily

Relaxation techniques can help manage overall stress levels if you practice them regularly. Exercise, stretching, and listening to music are all activities you can do regularly to better enable you to manage stress.

6. Be together

Loneliness from physical distancing can add to stress, but it can help to connect with others in new ways. Video chats with a friend or family member, or a group at a time, can make you feel connected and even give the chance to get deeper into conversation than you may have gotten in recent years when hanging out at bars, concerts, or sporting events. They're actually really fun! Staying connected if working from home can be just as important, and it can help to replace some of the coffee-break-banter you may be missing with other conversations, such as over messaging systems or during a lunch break video chat. Here are some more tips on feeling "together".

7. Be alone

As important and challenging as it is to stay connected during physical distancing measures, it can be equally important and challenging to have time to yourself. How can you do that while sharing a home or room with a significant other, kids, roommates, or parents? 

Taking a walk can get you out of the home. So can being in the backyard or front yard. Retreating to your bedroom, with an understanding that you are having "alone time," can work. With kids, you might ask another adult in the household to watch them for a while, or give them an activity that will engross them. 

Another strategy is having an "understood" period of "alone time." During this period, whether it be for 15 minutes or the entire afternoon, everyone simply goes about their business with the understanding that they are not to interact with each other. Surprisingly, this can work well enough to relieve stress!

8. Change your perspective

Thinking about what "should be happening" is a quick way to feel very sad. Instead, thinking about the reality and what you can do about it can not only lift your spirits, but reduce stress by giving you more control over the situation. 

For example, if there is a birthday coming up, it is stressful to think of the plans you may have had. Instead, starting from square one to make the celebration the best it can be now can be exciting and fun. There may even be opportunities that were not there before, such as having family and friends from all over the country or world join in to sing "Happy Birthday" over video chat, whereas the plans before COVID-19 only would have included a few local friends joining the celebration.

9. Lower your standards.

Setting yourself up for success can lower stress, and the old standards may no longer apply. For example, before the novel coronavirus pandemic, a typical day may have included a full day of work for you and a significant other, along with a trip to the gym and some errands and chores, and children at school all day before doing extracurricular activities and homework. That scenario is not going to happen now, and striving for something that is impossible to achieve will only add to stress levels. Instead, a "successful" day may be one that includes a family walk, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with the kids doing their schoolwork for a few hours, and you getting in a bit of work from home. 

10. Help Others 

Research consistently shows that helping out others is great for you, too. There is a need now for whatever you are able to give, such as the following.

  • Time: shop for an elderly or other high-risk neighbor, or pair up with one or more lonely residents of your neighborhood and call them every day for company.
  • Expertise: offer video chat classes for cooking, dancing, sewing, or whatever it is that you are good at, or offer online shows where you sing, tell stories, or give other entertainment while people are stuck at home.
  • Money: Food banks, hospitals, charities are in need of cash donations, and local businesses that need cash flow may be selling gift cards to be redeemed when they reopen. 
  • Talents: Start a community garden, make cheerful thank-you cards for healthcare workers and get-well cards for local hospital patients.

11. Keep chatting with Lark.

Lark is a consistent voice in an uncertain world, so checking in frequently can be comforting and stress-reducing. Lark offers coaching on healthy habits that can lower stress, such as eating right, getting physically active, and improving sleep quality. Lark may guide you through stress management techniques and help you practice healthy behaviors so they become habits. 

One way or another, this historic period of time will end. Until it does, managing stress can help you get through it as healthy as can be. Lark is there for you throughout it all.

About Lark

Lark helps you eat better, move more, stress less, and improve your overall wellness. Lark’s digital coach is available 24/7 on your smartphone to give you personalized tips, recommendations, and motivation to lose weight and prevent chronic conditions like diabetes.

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