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22nd April 2020

Managing Stress during lockdown: Laws, Tips and Charts

With the current challenges in our lives due to COVID-19 we are all likely to be feeling more stressed than before. For many of us, we are having to balance work with childcare whilst also virtually looking after older relatives. In addition to the increased demands put on us we are also having to navigate through a very uncertain time whereby many unprecedented things are happening. Although some degree of stress can be motivating, when we experience too much stress it can start to have negative effects. For example, work-related stress is shown to negatively impact mental health [1]. An increase in stress levels for a sustained period of time is unpleasant and unhealthy for our bodies. Therefore, we’d like to share with you some ways in which you can identify stress and understand how to reduce it.

What is stress?

Stress is a word we hear and use regularly. Stress has a biological nature which causes psychological and physiological symptoms. When we perceive something to be threatening it triggers our body to produce a fight or flight response whereby stress hormones are released in order to respond quickly to a situation [2,3]. When this increase in stress is short-lived there are no serious lasting effects on the body. However, if it is excessive and persists over time this causes the body to be in a consistently high state of alert which can cause damage to the body [4]. Rather than feeling motivated, you end up feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope.

Stress and Performance

Yerkes-Dodson Law

(Yerkes & Dodson, 1908)

The Yerkes-Dodson Law is a great way to visualise how stress can either help or hinder performance. Where stress causes a flight or fight response in the body it leads to a state of arousal. Arousal is beneficial for performance as it increases our motivation and concentration. With low arousal, performance is lower as attentional mechanisms are less active and motivation is lower. However, as arousal increases so does performance to a point of optimal arousal. At this optimal point, arousal is high enough to increase attention and motivation to complete complex tasks but not too high that it causes feelings of panic. When arousal increases beyond optimum, performance decreases due to increasing anxiety which makes it more difficult for the individual concentrate.

 Think about recent situations where you may have experienced this-do you recognise what we have described?

How to manage stress

1. Visualise the energy. Close your eyes and imagine the stress as an energy ball inside your chest. Rather than perceiving it as negative energy, imagine it is positive and fuelling. By changing your perception of the stress, it will help you feel more in control and bring you back to the optimum state of arousal.

2.Don’t expect too much from yourself. This is one of the most important things to bear in mind. It is easy to start comparing yourself to others and to try and achieve great things during the lockdown. However, if you set the bar too high from the start you are setting yourself up to fail and this can increase your stress levels and dampen your mood. Is it realistic to try to learn 3 languages, read the Complete works of Shakespeare, become a strictly level Latin dancer and a body builder in 8 weeks? Instead set yourself a few manageable goals each day. Ensure that they are realistic and include enjoyable activities too, for example, watching an episode of your favourite television programme. Simply the act of ticking things off your list will improve your perception of your productivity and will help to reduce your feelings of stress.

 3.Stop following the news. Research shows that constantly staying up to date with the news can negatively affect your mood and mental health. Especially at a time where the news is very upsetting with constantly daily updates on the death toll, it is important to limit your exposure it. Try and only listen to the news once a day. You can do this by unfollowing news sources on social media, don’t have the radio on constantly and only watch the news on TV once a day.

 4.Stay active. Exercise has many positive effects not only on your physical health and fitness, but it can also improve mental wellbeing by causing chemical changes in the brain which helps to improve your mood. Physical activity also helps reduce the emotional intensity of your thoughts and feelings which can help to relieve tension and increase feelings of calmness.

5.Connect with others. Make sure that you make time to speak to your friends and family regularly. It’s really important to share your feelings with others and it helps you to put everything in perspective. Your family and friends are the people who know you best so it is likely that they’ll want to listen to your concerns and help you as best they can either by offering you some advice or at least providing you with some support and reassurance. There is also evidence to suggest that helping other people can increase your resilience. Call up a friend or family member who may also be finding the lockdown stressful, providing them with a listening ear can help you put your worries into perspective.

 6.Avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms. One of the most unhelpful things you can do is turn to an unhealthy habit to help you cope with your stress, such as smoking or consuming alcohol or caffeine. Rather than effectively dealing with the problem it just causes it to be transferred to a different source; it is called avoidance behaviour and is more common in men than women. This is one thing that is important to keep control over and try not to make excuses for these unhealthy behaviours. For example, it’s fine to treat yourself to a drink at the weekends but don’t let this become an everyday occurrence. Ultimately, unhealthy habits can lead to poor mental health. Set yourself clear rules about what is and is not okay and stick to them! Try to find someone to support you in these goals e.g. a partner or a friend.

Here is a great chart to help you change your perspective about stress.

 Whilst feeling some stress during the lockdown is normal and a natural response to a significant change in day to day life, we hope that you can use the information and tips to help you to better manage these feelings. Even if only a couple of the tips suggested resonate with you make sure you take them on board and look after yourself. Remember that it is not forever and take everything day by day.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed?

Impact’s Chief Executive, Shelly Rubinstein, is currently running online coaching sessions in order to support clients through this challenging time. Shelly draws from 30 years of high-level commercial experience to provide executive coaching to individuals across the private and public sector. If you think you would benefit from coaching, please get in touch with us to find out more.

References:

1.Bonde, J.O. (2008). Psychosocial factors at work and risk of depression: a systematic review of the epidemiological evidence. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 65, 438-445.

2.Centre for Studies on Human Stress. Recipe for Stress: Click here

3.Segerstrom, S. C., & Miller, G. E. (2004). Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 601-630.

4.American Psychological Association. Stress: Click here 

5.Yerkes, R. M., & Dodson, J. D. (1908). The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit-formation. Neural Psychology, 18, 459-482.