After enduring nearly a year of this pandemic, there are a lot of reasons why we might be feeling stressed. We continue to face economic uncertainty and a constant public health threat which doesn’t look like it’s going to completely go away anytime soon (even with the rollout of vaccines). Add to that extreme winter storms sweeping the nation, and it’s understandable that we might not have a lot left in us to manage the continuing stressors of work, friends, family, and day-to-day obligations. A lot of us are probably in need of things to do to relieve stress right now, but it can feel hard to take on a major stress-mitigating task with so much happening.
I reached out to Christine Luu, Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), for expert advice on easy ways to relieve stress for those of us who are burnt out and need an easy win. Here are five small goals you can set yourself to reduce stress and manage your mental health during these unprecedented times.
Get quality sleep
“Turn off electronics, have a good sleep environment (no noise!) and set a bedtime. Good sleep can reduce anxiety and stress,” Luu says.
Good sleep hygiene is so important as it promotes mental health and allows our minds and bodies to recharge and be better equipped to deal with all of the challenges we might be experiencing. It can feel like a double edged sword if stress is what’s keeping you up at night and preventing you from getting good sleep. If that’s you, we’ve got you covered with tips for getting good sleep during the pandemic.
Eat regular meals
Often when we’re stressed, we can find ourselves slipping out of our typical meal patterns. Some of us find ourselves unable to stomach much and others turn to comfort food like donuts and mac n’ cheese.
Unfortunately, neither of these approaches is going to serve you in the long term. Luu encourages us to stick to our healthy diets during times of stress stating that “eating food that makes you feel good and avoiding foods that make you feel groggy can help with your mood and stress level.”
Resist the urge to give into those stress cravings, and focus on nutrient dense foods during times of stress. This will properly fuel your body to be able to attack the stress head on.
Get sun exposure
Who else is guilty of telling themselves every excuse not to go outside? Whether it’s too cold, too windy, or you’re too busy, it’s easy to slip into a pattern of not leaving the house—especially while many of us continue to work from home and have things like groceries delivered.
However, “increasing sun exposure can improve your mood and decrease stress,” Luu says. So make it a priority to see the sun for at least a few minutes each day. Even if you aren’t able to go for a long walk or are snowed in, set a goal to at least stand outside your front door or open the window for a few minutes. Any amount of time outdoors boasts benefits including vitamin D, elevated mood, and improved concentration, all of which can help you tackle whatever stressor is currently weighing you down.
“Move your body!” Luu says. “Exercising and moving your body for just a few minutes can instantly make you feel better and relieve stress.”
Exercise boosts endorphins and prepares our bodies to respond adaptively when life throws stressful situations our way. Set a goal to move your body every day, even if it’s just an extra 15 minutes around the block with your pup on rest days. And make it a goal to get in some longer workouts throughout the week as well, which you can do from the comfort of your living room if going to the gym is outside your covid comfort level.
Lastly, Luu advises to “set boundaries for yourself for work and relationships to prioritize yourself and decrease stress levels.” Like I said, we’re living in an incredibly stressful time and for some, it might take all of your mental effort just to get up and complete the most pared down version of your to do list every day. That’s why it’s incredibly important to set boundaries and not bite off more than you can chew.
Little things like setting boundaries between your work and personal time while working from home can have an enormous impact on your stress levels by giving you the time you need to relax and manage your stress. So, don’t be shy to turn down Zoom happy hours or disconnect from your work laptop during non work hours.