Gerry Raftery: Managing Coronavirus Stress

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CORONAVIRUS is causing stress in people’s lives, living in lockdown, cocooning, lonesomeness and despair. 

Gerry Raftery is the Co-Ordinator of Mindfulness Programmes at Personal Milestones and shares tips on how we can manage coronavirus stress. 

Shopping is normally an enjoyable experience for most people. Now shopping for food and the weekly provisions has suddenly become difficult and Stressful.

At the moment many of us can experience anxiety when shopping. We have to queue to get into the shop and then we can become afraid of picking up the coronavirus from other customers or from staff or from the stock on the shelves. 

But there are many other sources of Stress at the moment. Of Course, the greatest one of these is the fear of contracting Covid-19 – that the Coronavirus comes into our own family circle.

What are the other Stressors? There is the Stress in the loss of a job. There is financial Stress. There is the Stress of being restricted in our movements, our loss of freedom.

There is the Stress of living at close quarters in a family situation which can be difficult. There is Stress in caring for school-children at home and encouraging students in an uncertain academic world.

Then there is the Stress of the constant news about the Coronavirus, the daily reports of more deaths and more new cases. 

So, we live in a highly Stressful environment. What can we do to manage and cope? A basic understanding of the nature of Stress Overload and how to deal with it can be helpful.

What is Stress Overload?

While Stress can be a normal part of life, at times we can experience Stress Overload. How does this Stress affect our physical and mental health?

Stress can make us physically ill. It raises our blood pressure and when we are under constant pressure this can lead to long term damage. We get pains and aches in the neck and back. We can get headaches as a result of Stress. Stress damages our ability to have a good night’s sleep. 

At an emotional level Stress can take quite a toll as it leads to anxiety, nervousness, helplessness and depression. Emotionally Stress can make us irritable and leads to bouts of anger, impatience or low energy and weariness.

Without doubt the Coronavirus Pandemic has heightened the Stress levels of most people in the country.

Stress can lead to some mis-guided Stress management behaviours such as drinking more alcohol, eating more food, drug taking and smoking more. When we handle Stress negatively it can make a bad situation worse.

So, we need to find healthy ways to manage Stress.

Managing our Thoughts 

We have often taught in our Stress Management and Mindfulness Courses that if we could manage our thinking, we could manage our Stress levels. While no amount of positive thinking can change the reality of the Coronavirus Pandemic it can help us to manage it better.

We can manage our thinking by focusing on learning the real facts about the virus. Beware of thought patterns which are unhelpful, these include exaggeration and what is often called catastrophising. Here we make things out to be worse than they really are. 

If our natural tendency is towards negativity or pessimism, we have to filter our thinking and recognise that there could be a gap between how we see things and the reality. The situation may not be as bad as we believe it to be. 

For example, the experts in this country are telling us that we are making progress in containing the Coronavirus. We are heading in the right direction in our battle against the disease. The battle will be won.

10 Coronavirus Stress Management Techniques

There are many things we can do to reduce our own Stress levels in the face of this Virus. Here is a list of 10 useful practices or habits to get us through the present crisis.

  1. Top of the list is to be guided by the experts and develop behaviour patterns which increase our levels of safety. We know what these are, make only necessary journeys, maintain social distancing, wash your hands, follow coughing and sneezing hygiene practices. Use your common sense and act responsibly. This can reduce our levels of Stress as we will feel safer.
  2. Find your own sanctuary or safe space where you can relax and be unafraid. This could be your bedroom, sitting room or a nice spot in your garden.
  3. Learn to live in the Present Moment. The Coronavirus crisis has thrown us into a time of great uncertainty about the future. We don’t know what lies ahead or when life may return to some degree of normality. The sensible approach is to try to take life one day at a time. 
  4. Acceptance is crucial at a time like this. Though we are in an extremely difficult situation our ability to accept life as it is now will reduce our Stress. We need to work on learning to accept things as they are now.
  5. Find space and time to do something pleasant. Occupy your time and your mind through reading, listening to music, playing games alone or with your family circle, do a jig-saw, paint a picture, learn something new. Feed your healthy curiosity. Explore your family or local history. There is so much you can do to take your mind away from what is terrible.
  6. If you have a garden enjoy it, plant flowers or shrubs, and keep weeding. It is amazing how weeding can become so absorbing. And it makes a difference.
  7. One of the strong recommendations we keep hearing about during this crisis is to take exercise. Plan your day so that you have time for a walk or whatever exercise suits you. Exercise generates positive feelings and it is free.
  8. If you have a pet enjoy the company of your beloved animal, stroke your cat or play with your dog or be mesmerised by the fish swimming around the fish-tank.
  9. Pray, Meditate, Practice Yoga, nurture your Spiritual side. Here you can find peace and hope. 
  10. When we find ourselves very stressed it is good and healthy to talk to somebody about our feelings. It is important to choose the right person. The late poet John O’Donoghue recommends “Stay clear of those vexed in spirit. Learn to linger around someone of ease who feels they have all the time in the world.” 

Hope 

Hope is the belief in a better future. 

As human beings we have great creativity and resilience. We will succeed and overcome this virus. Though we will know much loss, change and uncertainty, we will rebuild our lives and our world again. 

It is essential that we believe that a better future exists and is possible. We cannot afford to lose Hope and Confidence as we have lost so much already.

“Hope is seeing light despite being surrounded by darkness.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu.