We are living in a tsunami of stress.
Hospitals are flooded with patients as Covid-19 cases surge to unprecedented heights. Over half of all Americans know someone who has been hospitalized with the virus or has died. Small businesses are drowning. Millions are unemployed. Unemployment benefits are trickling away while Congress is in deadlock about what to do. And parents are at their wits’ end while trying to teach and work.
Could it be worse? Yes, because it’s the holidays. In normal times, that alone would be enough to overwhelm our coping skills. But this is 2020 – and on top of everything else, we have a duty to protect our loved ones despite our need for togetherness.
“I think it could be even more of a challenge than what we saw with Thanksgiving,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN’s John Berman Monday.
“I hope that people realize that and understand that as difficult as this is, nobody wants to modify – if not essentially shut down – their holiday season, but we are in a very critical time in this country right now.”
Pressure-cooked brains also don’t work well, sending less blood flow to such frontal-lobe executive functions as creativity, compassion and emotional regulation. Those are the cognitive functions we need in order to manage uncertainty, take productive action and remain hopeful.
But there are ways to short-circuit feelings of panic and helplessness, even in a pandemic. Here are five expert-vetted ways on how to put an end to stress and take back control.
1. Simply stop and breathe
Just stop and breathe – but deeply.
“We can stop the physiology of stress dead in its tracks by ramping up our parasympathetic nervous system,” said stress management expert Dr. Cynthia Ackrill, an editor for “Contentment” magazine, produced by the American Institute of Stress.