About 8.3 million American adults reported “serious psychological distress” in 2017. And with the current COVID-19 pandemic, that number has skyrocketed even higher. Americans are stressed out of their minds, concerned about lost jobs, overloaded hospitals and clinics, reduced availability of supplies, and extremely limited social contact. Now more than ever, it’s time to chill out. Here are five positive coping strategies for stress now and whenever you need it in the future.
Learn Cognitive Restructuring
You’ve heard of meditation and guided imagery, but have you ever heard for Cognitive Restructuring? Cognitive restructuring identifies negative thinking patterns in your daily thoughts, and then works to break this bad habit.
The first step of cognitive restructuring occurs as soon as you have a strong feeling of stress, fear, anxiety, or sadness. When this happens, pause and ask yourself, “What’s going on here?” This puts your emotions on pause and gives you a chance to take back control.
The second step is to identify what triggered that feeling. Start by thinking about the Who, What, When, and Where of the situation. That should enable you to identify a likely culprit.
The third step is to start taking note of your automatic thoughts. These are the first thoughts that pop into your mind after encountering a trigger. Automatic thoughts are fast and mostly operate on a subconscious level. Your job here is to become aware of them.
The fourth step is to identify exactly what emotion those automatic thoughts are triggering, and how intense that emotion was on a scale from 1-10. In some cases, you may experience multiple emotions at once.
The fifth step is to come up with alternative thoughts to replace your automatic thoughts. Rather than being reactive and reflexive, this exercise rewires your brain for positivity and flexibility.
Finally, the last step is to re-rate the intensity of your emotional response. It will take practice, but the rating should be lower after using alternative thoughts than it was initially.
Change Your Dietary Habits
When we’re stressed out, the first things we usually reach for are our coping mechanisms — and for many of us, that takes the form of a food or beverage. Here are the two big ones to avoid when you’re not feeling emotionally stable:
Alcohol. When you drink when you’re under stress, you become at higher risk for developing a substance abuse disorder. Stressed people also tend to drink excessively, which can be hard on your liver and can cause damage to your brain, heart, pancreas, stomach, intestines, bones, and reproductive organs.
Sugar. Sugar can give you a temporary mood boost because it spikes your blood sugar levels. But after the spike comes the crash. This makes you moody and emotionally unstable, which is an inherently stressful state of mind. Excessive sugar intake also puts you at risk of chronic inflammation, heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Instead, incorporate more of these stress-fighting foods into your diet to see both your mental and physical health improve:
- Brazil nuts
- Chamomile tea
- Citrus fruits
- Dark chocolate
- Dark leafy greens
- Fatty fish
- Mint tea
- Pumpkin seeds
- Red bell pepper
- Rooibos tea
Try CBD Hemp
CBD and hemp are trending as America’s new favorite way to de-stress. Many people perceive hemp as synonymous with marijuana, but that is not the case. Both are members of the Cannabis genus, so they are closely related, but that’s about where the similarities end.
Marijuana contains both CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is the compound which gives marijuana its famous psychoactive properties. Marijuana is primarily used recreationally.
Hemp, however, is extremely low in THC and contains more CBD instead. Instead of making the user feel “high,” hemp flowers may be able to aid with issues like anxiety and PTSD, which makes it ideal for therapeutic use. Hemp flowers are even being researched as a safe alternative to expensive pharmaceutical drugs.
You can use hemp in either its flower form, CBD oil, or in edibles. The flowers are typically smoked for their benefits, but they can also be chopped up and used in edibles. CBD oil is highly refined and can contain as low as 0% THC, and can be mixed into just about anything, making it extremely versatile.
Talk to Friends
Humans are incredibly social animals. When we are deprived of social interaction, we become depressed and more likely to feel consistently stressed out for “no apparent reason.”
It’s hard to get social interaction when COVID-19 has you stuck inside. But there are ways to combat the loneliness:
- Download a video conferencing app and reconnect with your friends and family members. One to three face-to face interactions per day can make a huge difference. Texting doesn’t count!
- Watching people on YouTube can also be fulfilling, especially if it’s a live broadcast. The important thing here is to make sure you feel connected and fulfilled by the interaction.
- Try journaling. Journaling is a great way to get to know yourself better and introspect. If you don’t know where to start, focus on the things that you’re grateful for first, and you’ll start feeling less stressed almost immediately.
- Practice self-massage. This one can really help with a lack of physical touch. While it’s still not a replacement for the real deal, it’s a good way to focus on your own needs and help your body stay healthy by stimulating circulation.
Make Exercise a Priority
Stress causes fatigue, and when you’re tired, exercise is the last thing on your mind. But exercise has been proven to reduce stress and improve mental health. Experts aren’t quite clear on exactly why yet, but we do know that it works. Plus, exercise helps you sleep better, which further reduces stress.
If COVID-19 has you stuck inside for the time being, don’t let this time turn you into a couch potato. There are lots of great ways to exercise in the comfort of your own home:
- Home exercise machines
- Jumping jacks
- Mountain climbers
If you’re not sure about how to get started, there are lots of exercise videos and classes you can participate in on platforms like YouTube and Instagram.
If you’re able to get outside, try these activities for exercise. Just make sure to stay well away from other people, and if possible, plan your route along less-busy areas:
- Brisk walking
Stress doesn’t have to rule your life. Take your life back today.