How do I calm frayed nerves? Try these stress busters

Nearly two months in, we are all experiencing the emotional, mental and physical impact of staying at home to flatten the COVID-19 curve. Right now, 68 percent of Americans are saying that everything feels out of control. Other health surveys indicate that many of us are having a hard time concentrating and sleeping. 

Stress and anxiety are rising as uncertainty about when we can resume our lives continues to mount. It’s a crisis, and in crisis moments like these, it is more important than ever to find ways to manage our stress. We experience both negative (distress) and positive (eustress) types of stress in response to changes in life. Our natural reaction to a threat is known as fight, flight, or freeze — an immediate response. Longer periods of stress may result in our feeling anxious, depressed, or sad. We may experience headaches, digestive problems, trouble sleeping, and weight gain or loss.

Eustress, the positive kind of stress, causes the same physiological reaction as distress, but boosts positive responses like increased motivation, focused energy, feelings of excitement, and improved performance. We feel eustress when we take on a new challenge: starting a project, learning a language, or trying a vigorous activity or sport. Eustress enables us to develop habits and skills, like resilience and goal-setting, that motivate us towards positive growth. Kids who harness the power of eustress tap into the five power behaviors of self-directed learners that enable them to pick up new skills. It also encourages them to make progress in meaningful work.

From distress to eustress

How can we bust through our COVID-19-induced distress and find the benefits of eustress? Here are some tips for making the shift:
  • Don’t watch too much news. Lots of  exposure can have negative effects on both our, and our kids,’ well-being.  Watching just 14 minutes of bad news can impact our health.
  • Try a mindfulness moment. Mindfulness can improve mental health by aiding well-being, attention, self-regulation and social competency. It has been proven to lead to more happiness and productivity.
  • Write down how you’re feeling. Research suggests that writing about yourself and your own experiences can improve mood and boost memory. Recording what’s happening today is valuable. It helps our minds process and understand what’s happening to us.
  • Laugh a little. Laughter is a powerful coping mechanism that not only strengthens our immune system, but can stop a downward spiral and reframe our thoughts and it’s a social emotion that binds people together.
  • Get outside and connect with nature. It takes as little as five minutes outside to reduce stress levels. It improves your mood because it increases blood circulation to the brain and releases hormones that increase our sense of well-being.
  • Have a back-up plan. When you have a back-up plan it’s easier to pick yourself up and move on with life. Keep the focus on your ultimate goal.
  • Pick up a hobby. Research found that enjoyable activities performed during leisure time are associated with higher levels of positive psychosocial states and lower levels of depression and negative effects. Try a stress-busting hobby like:
    • Reading
    • Knitting
    • Gardening
    • Music (both performing and listening)
    • Drawing, painting, or coloring
    • Baking
    • Dancing
    • Taking care of a pet
Still struggling with stress? Research suggests that stepping into your future self’s shoes can also reduce stress. According to the study, adaptive self-reflection—the act of self-distancing from future stressors—leads to lower levels of anxiety as well as fewer negative visualizations—for both adults and adolescents—about what might happen.