Isolation and Fear = Stress:  Tips to Lower Stress in Difficult Times 

 April 23, 2020

To say that our world has changed as a result of the Pandemic is a massive understatement.  Never- before has the world’s production and economic activity shut down in lock step, on a scale seen today.  In our drive to control the Pandemic, we are isolated in our homes and away from important social support structures.  This leads to high levels of stress.

In an era of seamless international travel, business and diplomatic activity, good and bad are easily transmitted.  We will rethink supply chains, the nature of work, and travel when this is over. Business models that worked in February, won’t work in September.  All this creates incredible uncertainty, leading to fear.  Fear activates our Autonomic Nervous System’s flight or fright response, resulting in a release of neurochemicals through our body to prepare us for action.

Author and Professor Robert Sapolsky, PhD., in this book; Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers, explains why we as human’s do get ulcers and mismanage stress.  Whether we face an imminent threat in the flesh, such as a stranger attacking us, or we ruminate and worry about tomorrow in the theater of our mind, the same response happens. We can invent stress in our minds and cause our body to respond as if it’s truly happening now.

In times like these many of us are creating massive stress internally due to the change and uncertainty we face.   It’s vital we learn tools to master our internal response to stress to prevent future health problems and better adapt today to our new world.

Even before the Pandemic, I used to make the case that we live in a very different world from when I was young in the 1960’s and 70’s.  No fax, no iPhone, no tablets, no computers to look at all day.  Expectations on how fast you responded was measured in days not seconds.  People stayed connected face to face, by phone and through written letters…we mailed!  Life was simpler, slower-paced, and we didn’t know every bad thing happening in the world.

Today is different.  Life is fast, expectations are high on us, social media reminds us of the great lives of everyone else (at least that’s the picture on the surface), devices shoot blue light at us all day.  All this has ramifications on our long-term health.

We’ve never lived in a time when our Autonomic Nervous System is more on alert, having to monitor and respond to more stimuli than today.  Our brains are predisposed to a negativity bias to protect us.  We naturally gravitate toward seeing fear in much of what we face in life.  With the onslaught of information, we have more to react to and filter out.  With this we can end up in stress response chronically.

Mental health is never been a bigger problem than today.  It’s the world we live in, in many ways we weren’t built for this.  So, what to do?  We must learn to be aware of when we are in stress response and change the pattern in the moment. The goal isn’t stress elimination, it’s management.  We want to break the hormone cascade that happens when we go into stress response.

Here are some basic strategies you can employ every day to break the cycle of stress and get re-centered.

  • Practice deep-diaphragmic breathing 3x a day and when you feel stressed. Breathe until you feel calm again.  A minimum of 3 minutes is needed.  This is your number one tool! You can go to this YouTube link for a demonstration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgTL5G1ibIo
  • Work in focus and recovery cycles. This means work for 90-120 minutes, then breathe or go for a walk for 10-20 minutes then go back to work.  Try it.  Your day will go better, and you’ll get more done.  Thinks cycles of work and recovery.
  • Practice mindfulness, meditation or Yoga. You want to learn to calm your mind and get a thought and pattern interrupt from your work thinking and stressful thoughts.
  • Get in nature by walking for breaks. There is good research in the benefits of this to reduce stress.
  • Reframe your thoughts when feeling fearful and stressed. Understand they are not helpful in solving any problems and use the other tools to get past these thoughts and focused onto something you CAN do now that is productive and within your control.

You can’t control whether you experience stressful events, you can control how you respond.  It is in this learned response, which really is a skill, that you gain the ability to keep your Autonomic Nervous system in balance.  If you don’t research is clear, chronic disease in the person’s future who fails to manage stress well.

Times have changed, learn to response to stress using these tools. They will enable your gifts and abilities to emerge and adapt to the changes you face.