Take Care

We all experience it, whether we realize it or not.  It may feel like a sudden assault, or perhaps a low-grade, ever-present state of mind.

From the start, we must all realize that stress is within us, not out there. It is our perception of an event or series of happenings, or a continuous response to an ongoing situation.

This fact is important to remember: while some events—an illness, the death of  a loved one, the ongoing COVID crisis to name a few—are universally stressful for nearly everyone, many events can be perceived as either positive or negative, depending on the individual perspective.

A job may be a source of stress for one person, and a source of enjoyment for another. 

An airline flight may be extremely stressful for one passenger, and pure pleasure for the one sitting next to them.  Same flight, different perceptions.

A football game may cause one viewer stress, while another feels only positive emotions, such as excitement and anticipation.

It has been almost three years since the COVID pandemic began to rule our lives. None of us have ever lived through anything comparable to this before, so none of us have a blueprint. 

Most of us have experienced stress as a result of the pandemic.  Add to that the political and social woes of our society, and the crisis of our economy, and it is a perfect recipe for stress, and perfectly understandable.

A certain level of stress is important to keep the body productive and moving.  It challenges us to find ways to work through situations, and motivates us to improve them in order to live our lives to the fullest.  If there were not stress, these challenges would not help us become better people.

The human body responds to stress in many ways, including:

  • an increased heart rate
  • increased blood pressure
  • tightened muscles
  • shallow, quicker breaths

If you are confronted with a “fight-or-flight” situation, whereby you need to experience these symptoms in order to kick-start your body to preserve your life or well-being, then stress is indeed a good thing.  

Too much stress for the wrong reasons, for too long, however, is not life-saving as the fight-or-flight response is.  It can wreak havoc on your body if it is not brought under control.

In most cases, the mind kicks into overdrive, imagining more stressful situations to add to those already present.  Sleep is compromised, and one’s diet may reflect this stress; some people eat more, some eat less. The stomach and digestive system respond as well; most of us know what a nervous stomach feels like. 

Cortisol, also known as “the stress hormone,” is responsible for these physical changes.  We need cortisol to get our systems firing in order to respond to these perceived stressors.  It is simply doing its job. 

Hopefully, the stressor is soon defeated or diminished, and the cortisol tells the body to cool those engines it fired up for defense.  The stressful event should be handled and one should move on. Except, many of us don’t.  We hang on to the stress response, and our body begins to feel the pinch.

In this COVID era, stress levels have legitimately been higher than usual for so long for so many people.  This is a whole new world we are living in, and it has changed for the worse for so many people.  This is understood, it is not something that is easy for most people to shake.  Many of us have lost loved ones, and/or are experiencing ongoing symptoms of COVID long after the virus has left us.

Giving yourself permission to feel stress is certainly legitimate.  Giving yourself some TLC is recommended.  This is where self-care is important.  The following ideas are good starting points to bring stress levels down, and to take good care of ourselves:

  • Sleep is extremely important as a restorative tool.  Think of it as recharging your batteries.  Your body cannot function well without it.
  • Practicing hygiene is essential:  brush your teeth at least twice a day, and be sure to floss at least once.  Shower or bathe regularly, even when you don’t feel like it.
  • Move your body.  Exercise, even if it is a walk around the block is a foundation for good physical and mental health.  The human body is designed to move.
  • Eat the right amounts of the right foods, and allow yourself a treat as well.
  • Alcohol and sodas should be a limited treat as well.  Caffeinated beverages are okay in moderate amounts.
  • Drink enough water!  Dehydration, especially during warmer weather, and in times of exertion is a risk.
  • Breathe deeply.  You are already breathing, so pay attention.  Most of us, especially when stressed, take short, shallow breaths.  Simply breathe more deeply, and aim to inflate your stomach as you breathe in.  This deep breathing reaches the lower, larger lobes of our lungs, and automatically relaxes the body.
  • Connect with friends and family.  We all need each other.  We have all had too much isolation in the last few years.  However, be aware of those people who might bring you down.  Limit your interactions with them, find the bright lights among your circle of friends and family.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  If you are struggling with stress, friends and family may be able to help you through.  If you need professional help, don’t be afraid to seek it out.  Ask your health care provider if you need help finding help.
  • Smile, even if you don’t feel like it.  Your body responds to this action in a positive way.  So, too, do other people.
  • Be aware of extreme behaviors:  too much or too little work, overspending, indulging in too much food and drink, or perhaps not enough.
  • Do what you like to do!  Treat yourself to time spent enjoying things you like to do, whether it is reading, sewing, crossword puzzles, TV or traveling. 

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 Be kind to yourself, and to others too.