By Kristen AmietA couple of years ago, many of us would have said staying at home 24/7 was the least stressful thing we could do. In fact, we might have even said we desired it. But fast-forward to 2021 and almost everyone is feeling the effects of neverending lockdowns. We’re exhausted by uncertainty and stressed by the thought of staying home for an indeterminate amount of time. Many of us are mourning years lost to the virus and longing for a return to a life that involves open borders, pub lunches, and family celebrations. The truth is, the COVID-19 pandemic is the longest and most consistent period of stress many of us will face in our lifetimes. But that doesn’t mean we just have to grin and bear it – there are ways to reduce lockdown-induced stress and anxiety as we edge ever closer to life as we knew it.
There’s a reason you always feel better after blowing off some steam in a boxing class or running around your neighbourhood: exercise is one of the most powerful tools available to us in the management of our mental health, and particularly in reducing stress and anxiety. And the best news is, you don’t have to be an elite athlete to reap the benefits. Virtually any form of movement floods your brain with feel-good neurotransmitters known as endorphins and reduces levels of cortisol (AKA the “stress hormone”) in your blood. The result is better moods, boosted confidence, and improved focus. Provided you’re following your local government’s COVID-safety guidelines around mask-wearing and social distancing, pick an activity you actually like (which makes it easier to stick with) and run with it!
Put a Weight On
When you’re feeling weighed down by stress and anxiety, it seems counterintuitive to add more to your load. But research has shown weighted blankets like the Therapy Blanket are actually super effective at helping us find some calm in the proverbial storm. When we’re stressed or anxious, our heart rate speeds up. This is why we often feel panicked, even if there’s no immediate threat to our safety. The Therapy Blanket places weight on the body, mimicking the soothing effects of a hug and ultimately helping our bodies return to a calmer “rest state”. Likewise, the Therapy Pod can help to regulate moods – particularly in special needs children – by taking pressure off joints and provide proprioceptive sensory input that helps to calm the nervous system. The best part about these game-changing products is, you don't need to wait until you're feeling stressed to use them. You could use your Therapy Pod to meditate or as a reading nook, or spend your lunch break under the Therapy Blanket while you take a break from a busy day spent working from home.
Lockdowns are particularly hard on people who live alone or are geographically separated from their support networks. And, with some Aussie states only just introducing “singles bubbles”, many have been going it alone for close to two years. But finding ways to connect with loved ones and medical support, even if it’s virtually, can have a positive impact on our mental health. A recent study out of The University of Texas at Austin found chatting to someone over the phone for just 10 minutes, multiple times a week, dramatically decreased feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression in the study’s 240 participants.
While connection is so important in helping us through lockdown, conflict can send our stress and anxiety levels through the roof. And while this isn’t necessarily a suggestion that you simply cut off contact with people who stress you out (though nobody will judge you for setting boundaries if the relationship is doing more harm than good), it is a good opportunity to resolve relationships that have turned sour. We’re less able to appreciate other people’s perspectives when we’re stressed and tired, so a professional relationship counsellor, like the ones at Relationships Australia, can help you work through stressful or toxic relationship dynamics and arm you with the tools you need to start repairing them.
Put Big Decisions on the Backburner
Lockdown is already stressful enough without trying to decide if you should quit your job, move states, or break up with your significant other. That’s why, unless it’s causing you harm, you have permission to put any big decisions on the back burner until things are a little more predictable. Research shows our decision-making ability is significantly hampered during times of prolonged stress because our brain basically reverts to the basics in a bid to just get us through the day. So it’s not a great idea to make big, complex life decisions when those higher cognitive functions are kaput.
Take a Deep Breath
Among many, many other things, mindfulness and meditation practices have been proven to help improve sleep, increase focus, reduce stress, and make anxiety more manageable. And effective meditation isn’t like anything you’ve seen in the movies: you don’t need hours of silence or a completely clear mind for it to help you through lockdown. Rather, you just need a couple of minutes, somewhere comfy to sit, and an app to guide you through the motions. Oh, and an open mind.