Coping with Chronic Stress caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic
Updated: Feb 4, 2022
Lately, I find that my baseline level of stress is higher because of constant worry about the pandemic.
As the morning news frequently says, we are living in "unprecedented times" while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. There are new health regulations all the time, new guidance on what kind of masks to wear, where it is safe to go, and so much more.
For mothers of small children, there is even more to worry about if children are still too young to be vaccinated.
The news more and more is talking about how this is now becoming a "pandemic of the unvaccinated" and I know that mostly they think of people who have chosen to decline the vaccine, but what about small children who are unable to be vaccinated through no choice of their own? As a mother of a child who has just turned five and only has one shot under her belt, this is a constant worry of mine.
The type of chronic stress that we have experienced during the almost two years of the pandemic is different than the usual types of daily stress that we experience.
Usually, we will be stressed about a deadline or a specific circumstance. We worry until the stressful event has come and gone, and then we relax again. But with the pandemic, we are constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. The stressful event never passes. We never get to finally relax.
This type of stress is referred to as Chronic Stress. According to Pfizer, "Stress that lasts for weeks or months indicate chronic stress."
There have been several studies on chronic stress relating specific towards to the pandemic.
According to one study by BMC Psychiatry,
We found that COVID-19 pandemic related long-term chronic stress has profound impacts on the long-term mental health of the general population. The proportion of people with symptoms of depression, anxiety and insomnia remains high even 1 year after the COVID-19 outbreak in China.
This finding means that right now, and for the last two years, we have all been under chronic stress. This is taking it's toll on everyone.
Effects of Chronic Stress.
If you are anything like me, you may realize that you feel this constant stress underlying everything that you do. There are constant worries about your family's health, your friends and acquaintances. You may worry about finding childcare, or that it will fall through, have zoom fatigue, and have to adjust to constantly changing rules at your child's school.
This constant stress has many detrimental effects on both our physical and mental health.
According to Pfizer, "Signs and symptoms of chronic stress may include:
Forgetting things or having trouble concentrating
Fatigue or experiencing too much or too little sleep
Headaches or other pains throughout the body
Stiffness in the muscles, particularly the jaw or neck
Digestive issues like diarrhea, constipation, or nausea
Use of alcohol or drugs to relax"
When we are irritable and unable to relax, or drinking several nightly glasses of wine to unwind, this can have effects on our parenting too. It can make us either zoned out staring into our phones, or snappish with our kids or spouse.
I have been noticing lately that being cooped up in the house all winter, we are all starting to get bored and irritated with each other. There is nothing new or exciting to do. My toddler has even gotten bored of watching TV.
Coping With Chronic Stress.
To some extent, we can cope with chronic stress in much the same ways that we cope with regular day to day stressors. We can use good health behaviors to combat the stress. We can use self care.
According to Sutter Health, you can use these 10 strategies to cope with chronic stress:
Re-balance Work and Home
Build in Regular Exercise
Eat Well and Limit Alcohol and Stimulants
Connect with Supportive People
Carve out Hobby Time
Practice Meditation, Stress Reduction or Yoga
Bond with Your Pet
Take a Vacation
See a Counselor, Coach or Therapist
When looking at our chronic stress during the pandemic, it is probably not feasible to do #9, but most of the rest of these can be done.
When working from home, we need to make sure that we are having proper work-life balance. Since we are still at home all the time, we need to make sure that we are putting away work at our scheduled end time for the day. I read recently that since the pandemic started, people are working an average of 80 minutes longer per day. Since we don't have to commute, we are spending the extra time on working longer, instead of doing something for ourselves.
It is important to take breaks, take time for yourself, and do things that feel good for your mental and physical health.
Personally, this winter I find myself sitting in one spot from almost the time I get up until I go to bed. Luckily, I have an alarm on my watch that will tell me to get up and stand if I have been sitting for more than an hour. Getting up to do a couple of squats or jumping jacks, or take a short walk around the block can help to get your blood flowing again. This improves both your health and your mood.
Because of the chronic stress of the pandemic, it is more important than ever to take time to care for our physical and mental health. There are many ways that we can do this. Make sure to take some time every day to do something for YOU.
Instead of spending the time you used to spend commuting on extra work, take that time to exercise, spend extra time with your kids, do some self care, or work on your hobbies. This can help you be healthier, happier and less burned out.
If the stress gets to the point that you don't think that you can cope with it, then it may be best to talk to a therapist.
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