Nobody could have guessed that we would still be talking about the coronavirus and the stress it has produced in our society. What we thought was going to be temporary and would quickly disappear has come to stay, taking over 200,000 lives so far, and this number is expected to increase with winter’s arrival. In the end, we have lost sight of what is “normal.” And, in addition, our biggest concern now, according to Faucci, is the probability of not going back to normal until 2022.
In the midst of this pandemic, then, a question is raised: what are the people who are surviving this pandemic doing in order to survive this crisis? The answer is simple and complex at the same time. One of the things these people do is learn how to handle the stress this pandemic is creating.
What is stress? It is a feeling of physical or emotional tension. It can come from external or internal experiences that make a person feel frustrated, angry, or even nervous. God, in His wisdom, created us in such a masterful way that our bodies are designed to react to any challenge or demand, and, this happens through stress. That means stress is a positive thing in our bodies, since it allows us to avoid dangers or fulfill important tasks we have in life.
Stress itself is not a bad thing. The American Psychological Association compares it to the tension of a violin string. If there is little tension, the sound will come out weak and out of tune, if there is too much tension, it will be strident, or the string will break. They also mention that, “Stress can be the kiss of death or the spice of life. It is really a matter of how to handle it.”
Acute stress is the positive stress we experience. It is the short-term stress that disappears quickly. The best-known reaction to acute stress is the “fight or flight” reaction that arises when you perceive a threat. In these situations, your reaction allows your brain to secrete hormones (for example, cortisol and adrenaline) that allow the pulse and breathing to increase, the muscles to tense, and the brain to consume more oxygen and increase its activity. The purpose of this kind of stress is to help you survive. You can feel it when you have to turn in an assignment on a specific date, when you step on the brake because a car got in your way, or when a dog starts chasing you. This kind of stress helps you control dangerous situations.
But, the problem is when stress lasts a long time and becomes chronic stress. Any kind of stress that continues over the weeks or months is chronic. The dangerous aspect of this whole process is that the body gets used to it and does not realize the toxic stress it is experiencing. The body produces a higher level of stress hormones and does not have enough time to recover from it. These hormones build up in the blood and cause serious health problems.
Chronic stress affects the digestive system causing stomach pain, since it takes more time for the stomach to empty after eating, and it can also lead to gastritis and even ulcers. It affects the person’s weight, sometimes leading to obesity because the level of appetite increases. The immune system is also affected because stress weakens it, which makes the person more susceptible to catching a cold and developing other infections. The nervous system also suffers due to chronic stress, producing anxiety, depression, loss of sleep, and lack of interest in physical activities. It also affects the cardiovascular system, leading to increased blood pressure, heart rate, and fat in the blood, which produce serious cardiovascular problems.
Now, why have I decided to talk about stress this week? Because four out of five people say they have stress due to this pandemic. Fear and anxiety regarding the pandemic and what could happen to us produces a feeling of uncertainty in people and it can be overwhelming, generating strong emotions in both adults and children. The isolation measures that have been put in place to control the pandemic make many people feel isolated and lonely, and it is likely that stress and anxiety could also increase due to these factors.
How do you know if you are experiencing chronic stress in the midst of the pandemic? Generally, chronic stress manifests itself in several ways: digestive system diseases, skin diseases and heart problems, feelings of uncertainty or feeling unsafe, and learned helplessness. It can also cause insomnia, anxiety, depression, emotional fatigue, and even alcohol and/or toxic substance abuse.
A new study developed by the clinical psychologist Emily Kroska at the University of Iowa shows how people can reduce stress during the coronavirus pandemic. The study was called: Psychological Flexibility in the Context of COVID-19, and it was published in the Contextual Behavioral Science Journal. The study found that people who assessed their emotions as sadness, anxiety, fear, loneliness and similar, and then managed those emotions with conscious actions such as calling a friend or a family member, reported having lower levels of stress compared to those who did not want to assess the emotions they experienced.
The steps to follow in order to deal with and overcome the negative feelings and emotions we may be feeling due to the current situation are:
Step 1: Normalize your daily routine. It is advisable and very important to have good habits and routines in the times we are currently living in. Try to get enough sleep, eat healthy and regularly, and try to maintain order and hygiene in your house. This will help you feel better and in a better environment. Even if we do not believe so, when we are facing stress, we tend to neglect even the most basic things. Keep in mind that they are the basis of survival.
Step 2: Pamper yourself a little. Do simple things like eating the food you like, bathing at the temperature you like best, listening to your favorite song, talking with your friends. Spend at least 15 or 20 minutes on one of these activities and you will see that you will get wonderful results.
Step 3: Seek to communicate with God. It is the most important thing, what we should pursue the most when starting our day. A day entrusted to God is an entirely different kind of day. You will have a more positive perspective through which you will walk with God’s company and support. He is the source of love and understanding and He will understand everything you are going through. He will be your rock to whom you can hold.
Step 4: Do not read all the news. Learn to filter and screen excessive information. It is good to be informed and updated, but it is not good to feel overloaded with pessimistic news and overwhelming events. Use the time to go for a walk and make the best out of it, take deep breaths of clean air, play with your children, and whenever you read the news, read reliable sources.
Step 5: Seek professional help if you need it. What happens with other organs also happens with the brain: it gets tired, it gets sick, it becomes unstable. If you feel that what is happening now in this pandemic exceeds the emotional tools you have to be able to face and overcome stressful situations, do not hesitate to seek professional help. Mental health professionals are fully trained and able to provide people with the support, tools, and techniques they need in order to move forward. You will see that your mental and physical health will improve significantly.
Step 6: Help others. I will briefly tell you one story that caught my attention.
Nieng, who lives in Cambodia, has suffered several tragedies in her life. In 1974, she was hurt by a bomb that exploded at an airport. A year later, her two children, her mother and her husband died. In 2000, she lost her home and other possessions in a fire and three years later she lost her second husband. She reached a point when she thought about taking her own life.
Fortunately, Nieng found a way to cope with her situation. She also read the Bible, and what she learned helped her in such a way that she wanted to share it with others. Her story confirms the findings of a study developed by British researchers in 2008: in order to deal with stress, you will have to “do things for others.” And this is a “piece of advice that was written long time ago in the Bible” (Acts 20:35).
Nieng also took refuge in the hope of a better future, in which all of the problems humanity has are eliminated and peace will fill the earth (Psalm 72:7,8).
She found a way to face her situation and move forward. You can do the same. When we take God’s hand, nothing is impossible for us. We will be able to face all difficult situations, even this pandemic.
My friend who is reading this post today, I advise you to follow these steps so that you can move forward in the midst of this situation we are facing today. Do you know any other way to face situations like the one we are living today and move forward? Share it with us in the comments section. God bless you.