Dealing With Stress and Anxiety in Uncertain Times

The pressure and uncertainty of the covid-19 situation is causing a great deal of distress and anxiety. As human beings we crave certainty – it’s one of our fundamental human needs. As the uncertainty continues, it’s not surprising that you, your family and your colleagues may be affected by stress and anxiety.

Because of this we all need to stand together, look out for one another and be mindful of our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

Employers – I invite you to share this information with your teams to help them respond to the situation, equipped with tools to boost their resilience.

Below are a range of practical strategies to proactively increase your resilience and restore calm. I shared them in a live online session via zoom. You can watch the replay of this below to hear stories, and science behind these strategies, and experience some of the practical techniques with me.

Before I get into any strategies however, there are a couple of things to note.

Stress can reduce your body’s immunity. Managing stress can bolster your immune system

There are two branches to your autonomic nervous system – the sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic (PNS) arm. Your SNS is where fight, flight or freeze occurs whereas the PNS is the calm, rest, restore and digest side of that autonomic nervous system. When you switch into the SNS side, your body sends more blood flow to your skeletal muscles enabling you to fight or run for your life. At the same time it downregulates what it sees as non-essential functions – such as your digestive system and immune system.

So the more time you spend in that SNS, fight or flight response, the more your immune system is compromised. Practicing the techniques below to switch back to your PNS is important both for your mental health but also for your physical health as well.

That being said, stress is not necessarily harmful for your body.

This is really important to understand, and many people are still unaware of the facts around stress and our perception of pressure. Studies have shown that it’s not stress that is harmful to your body, but the belief that stress is harmful. That statement may be difficult to get your head around, so I invite you to watch Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk “How to Make Stress Your Friend” which shares this brilliantly.

When you see stress as positive and helpful in times of pressure, and understand that it’s your body’s way of responding and performing at your peak you can actually thrive despite difficult situations.

(Watch the video from the 11 mins 15 time marker for more on this.)

It’s also important to ensure you don’t spend all your time in the SNS.

That leads me into my first strategy…

1. Oscillate

Your body is designed to perform under pressure, but it’s not designed to stay on high alert all the time. To cope when under pressure, you simply need to oscillate from that high performance state to a recovery state, and to do so regularly. The key is to engage your body’s natural relaxation response.

One of the best ways to do that is by influencing the one part of your autonomic nervous system that you have some control over, and that is your breathing.

(Watch the video from the 26 mins 40 time marker for more on this.)

2. Breathe Intentionally

Practising diaphragmatic breathing is a powerful tool in periods of stress and the number one way to counter anxiety. Athletes, performers and even military Special Forces use breathing techniques to shift their physiology into that calm PNS state, so they can perform at their best. Practise breathing in and allowing your belly to expand like a balloon, and relax down and in as you breathe out, keeping your shoulders and buttocks relaxed.

Try taking 5 slow deep breaths like this at various points throughout your day. See if you can link this to a routine task as a trigger to remind you regularly throughout the day. The more often you come back to natural diaphragmatic breathing the more time your body will spend in that PNS state.

(Watch the video from the 28 mins 29 time marker for more on this.)

Thoughts and thinking - Lauren Parsons Wellbeing Specialist

3. Maintain Your Routines

Human being loves certainty. Your brain constantly scans the world for patterns and loves routine, so keep up with as many of your normal routines as possible, or create new routines to help you stay centred.

(See 6 mins 27 and 15 mins 10 time marker for more on this)

As a parent it is especially important for your children to maintain their routines as well. If anything, invest a little extra time in things such as bedtime routines, having a chat, being available, spending time.

As an employer your staff need to maintain a sense of routine and certainty. So if your team are now working from home, keep up regular contact, maintain meetings – in online formats. Focus heavily on clear and consistent communication to reassure your team how things are progressing and any give advance notice of any likely changes in advance.

Maintain a sense of control by empowering those around you to make informed choices. Now more than ever this is a priority.

4. Build a Resilient Mindset

Your physical wellbeing stems from your mental wellbeing. So here are some of the most important keys to a resilient mindset:

  • Focus on what you can control  

There will be plenty of things outside of your control, yet always plenty of things that are within your control as well. Direct your thoughts to focus on the things you have some control over. For example, your response, your attitude, what you do right now in this moment, what you eat, how you move, when you go, who you talk to etc.

  • Monitor what you feed your thoughts

This is especially pertinent when so many people are closely following various media and at times getting information from a wide range of sources. Be selective and use quality sources of information so as not to get caught up in the fear the media can create.

  • Ask yourself “is this helpful or harmful”

For example, consider whether it would be beneficial to switch off the news feed and get outdoors for a walk, make a healthy snack, phone a friend and do the thing that is most helpful for you right now.

  • Avoid thinking traps and catastrophizing

Download this list of thinking traps to help identify the ones you may be falling into and start to be aware of your thoughts. When you raise your awareness, you can choose to avoid common traps such as catastrophizing, labelling and black and white thinking.

(See the 17 mins 31 time marker of the video for more on this)

5. Be Present and Mindful

Often we spend a lot of time in our own heads either replaying situations from the past (perhaps wishing how things had unfolded differently) or worrying about the future (where we often spend time playing out a range of scenarios, most of which will never eventuate.) This can be mentally exhausting. An antidote to spending all this time in the past or future in your thoughts, is to focus on the present moment.

One way to bring yourself back to the present, is to get in touch with how you feel physically and to pay attention to your surroundings – the things you can see and hear, your breathing, how you’re feeling and to focus on what you’re grateful for in this moment.

(See the 36 mins 42 time marker of the video for more on this)

6. Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude

Gratitude is one of the most powerful ways to shift how you’re feeling. Your brain cannot focus on two things at once. When you’re feeling worried or anxious and you choose to focus on what you’re grateful for, it can instantly shift your thoughts and as a result your emotions

(See the 38 mins 45 time marker of the video for more on this)

You can also check out this TV interview where I share four strategies to practise an attitude of gratitude.

7. Sleep Deep

Sleep is absolutely fundamental to your wellbeing. There are a number of keys to ensuring you get deep qualify restorative sleep. These include:

  • sleep hygiene (having a very dark, cool, comfortable place to sleep, free from technology),
  • sleep regularity (getting to sleep at a similar time and waking at the same time each day)
  • having a regular bedtime routine (and using it to ‘catch the wave’ as soon as you feel sleepy so you don’t end up over-tired)
  • using sunlight to deepen sleep (getting daylight into the retina of your eyes early in the morning and around midday each day)
  • remembering that your day sets up your night (getting your heart rate up in the earlier parts of the day, eating a wide variety of different coloured real food, avoiding stimulants, particularly later in the day)

There is much more to cover on this topic and especially now, worries may be keeping you up. I will do a facebook live video on my page with further tips and advice around getting to sleep, what to do if you’re wakeful during the night. Feel free to post any questions here.

(See the 41 mins 10 time marker of the video for more on this)

8. Add Movement

Add positive movement into your day. Your body is designed to move and not only does physical movement improve your health, most importantly it’s great for your mental health.

Make sure you get movement in every day. This could be what you think of as a typical “workout” or even just a simple “snack on exercise” for 4 minutes a day. This concept is all about fitting short bursts of movement in as an uplifting and integrated part of your day. Check out my 2018 TED talk on this concept and feel free to check out the examples 1 and 2 minute videos in the videos tab of the facebook page for instant ideas you can use at home or the office.

If you can get out for a walk in nature for example for even longer that will give you even more benefits and consider how you can add more restorative movement to your day – such as a low impact stretching/strengthening routine.

If you’d like some home workout ideas, feel free to checkout my online store for poster sets, circuit cards and resistance bands to help you workout from home.

(See the 45 mins 00 time marker of the video for more on this)

9. Maximise Your Veggie Intake

Your immune system is made up of everything that you consume, so support your body’s physiological function by eating lots of real food and minimising processed food. Aim to keep it simple and ensure you have a wide variety of colours so that you’re getting a wide range of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals to support your health.

Yes, eating real food will mean some preparation time. If you’re busy and have limited time, get into the habit of quadruple batch cooking so you can create a “library of meals” in your freezer. This way you only need to cook two nights a week and you have every other night off. If you’re interested in more about that and how to make sensational salads in seconds, feel free to check out my book real food less fuss which explains how to do this and much, much more about simplifying life so you feel amazing every day.

 (See the 47 mins 00 time marker of the video for more on this)

10. Shift Your Posture

As Amy Cuddy explains in her TED talk, your posture affects how you feel and how you show up every day. An incredibly simple yet effective technique to be more present, and to feel more in control is to adopt expansive postures. Often known as power posing – you can find out how and why this works in her talk “How your body language may shape who you are

You can instantly lift your mood by smiling, lifting your gaze (count the lights or look at the sky), and raising your arms in a V.

(See the 48 mins 52 time marker of the video for more on this)

11. Embrace Laughter

Find ways to add laughter to your day. It’s never more important than right now. Check out a funny video on youtube, someone like Michael McIntyre “Sellotape and Scissors” or “People without children have no idea.”

Even if you have to pull faces at yourself in the mirror until you make yourself laugh, laughter is fantastic for your body’s physiology.

Make a point of smiling at people as much as you can – even if its via technology.  We have things called mirror neurons that make us want to smile back, and the more we smile, the more we send messages to our brain that we are calm and happy.

(See the 50 mins 43 time marker of the video for more on this)

Now more than ever it’s vital you boost your resilience by employing the strategies above.

One thing is certain amidst all the uncertainty – we will get through this.

Take good care of your loved ones, colleagues and friends and most of all, take good care of you.

If you’d like online coaching, training or support for your work team or yourself feel free to book a chat into my online calendar and let’s set this up.

I’ll be making space for both one on one coaching and for group sessions and partial or full funding is available through the Regional Business Partners programme for qualifying businesses.

Kia Kaha Kia Maia, Kia Manawanui – Be Strong, Be Steadfast, Be Willing

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