The COVID-19 crisis has in many ways led to a dramatic overhaul in our day to day lives. Old routines have now been replaced with new and more cautious ones. A year ago, nobody had heard of the now-popular phrase known as ‘social distancing’, which has recently become the norm in an effort to try to save lives.
We have spoken to the experts on simple yet effective ways to manage stress at home without spending a penny. From tips on mindfulness and health advice, to apps you can download, you can find them all in this helpful guide.
When lockdown measures were first introduced in the UK at the end of March 2020, searches for stress tips and other related queries went up by 25% compared to the same period in 2019. Searches for “why can’t I concentrate” also rose by 22% up from the previous year.
What happens to us when we are stressed? Experts say that the most active part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, shrinks during a stressful episode. It also disconnects from other areas of your brain, so if you’re finding it difficult to focus, this is probably why.
How can you take care of your wellness at a time like this? Five experts give us their top tips.
Nick Davies, Hypnotherpaist (www.ndhypnotherapy.com)
Before trying to tackle stress, it’s important to spot the signs and symptoms first, says Nick. We’re often so preoccupied with everyday life that a change in mood or an unusual symptom can be forgotten about or brushed off.
Physical symptoms of stress can include, but are not limited to:
- Sweating (particularly palms and forehead)
- Shaking hands and limbs
- Breathing difficulty/Out of breath
- Lump in throat/Dry throat
- Chest tightness/pain
- Diarrhoea/Frequent urination
- Fatigue and weakness
- Poor Concentration
Psychological symptoms of stress can range from:
- Instability of mood
- Low confidence
- Poor emotional control
- Inadequate feelings
- Feelings of uncertainty
- Hiding feelings
- Exaggerated thoughts and feelings
- Feeling emotionally exhausted
Nick suggests using the L.I.M.A protocol when you feel a stressful episode coming on, or when you’re in the middle of one.
- Loosen – As soon as you recognise the symptoms; shortness of breath, fast heart rate, shaking etc. make your body go as loose, limp and floppy as possible, sit back in your chair, lie down, relax every muscle from the top of your head down to the tips of your toes. Now this essential step is not easy as the gremlin (stress) doesn’t want to lose its grip on you, so it will bombard you with irrational thought to get you moving and panicking in order to feed its addiction, ignore every thought and focus on this relaxation and step 2 your breathing.
- Inhale – It’s important to breathe diaphragmatically as we do this when danger has gone and it activates the ‘parasympathetic nervous system’ in the brain which is responsible for returning the body to rest, relaxation and recovery. Instead of breathing where you expand your chest and lift your shoulders, push your stomach out to breathe all the way down to the bottom of your lungs, hold the breath then dump the breath in a way where it’s like you’re letting out a loud sigh, continue for 10 breaths.
- Meditate – focus on a single point on the wall or ceiling whilst you are doing your breathing until your peripheral vision begins to blur, this is a sign that you are in a state of eyes open meditation, you can keep your eyes open or closed for the next step.
- Affirmations – Now repeat the following phrases 5 times each in your mind s-l-o-w-l-y – “I am calm and relaxed”, “I am safe and well”, “I’ve got through this before and will again”.
“The most effective way I found of overcoming stress is not to fight it. If you imagine stress as a small gremlin intent on making your life as uncomfortable as possible, it starts small but it grows every time you pay attention to it or try to fight it, so it’s important to know how to keep it as tiny as possible.”
Su Orosa, Mental Health & Wellness Coach (suorosa.com)
One of the many downsides of lockdown isolation is the pressure to be productive. The idea that people are now at home for the majority of the time, or are able to work from home has meant that people are being compelled to learn new skills and potentially even shamed if they come out of lockdown without honing one.
Su’s background as a mental health and wellness coach means that she has devised techniques to help people counter their inner critic.
Here are her top six tips on how to keep yourself grounded when you are stressed:
- Make it a priority to check in with yourself at least once an hour to gauge what ‘state’ your body and mind are in.
- If you find yourself worrying, write down all of the worries that are making themselves present to you – all of them. Don’t get caught up in them as you write – just write them all down.
- Now breathe, take a deep breath in…
- …and pause, then see if you can take a tiny bit more air in and then breathe out for 7 gently, till all of the air is out. Repeat twice more.
- If relaxation isn’t your thing, then try releasing some energy physically – sometimes just moving can be enough to help you start shifting your perspective on a problem that won’t seem to go away. You could for example stomp about in your living room or kitchen or play some music loudly and dance your heart out. Whilst you’re doing that, your brain’s not able to focus on the worries. This in itself will help to relax you and will create space in your head and body for different and more positive thoughts to come in.
- Return to what you wrote about earlier and ask yourself whether the statements you wrote are really as bad as they seemed earlier. Keep testing your reality in this way and allow your inner knowing voice – not the negative thinking one – to have some air time.
William Michael Forbes, Life Coach (http://www.williammichaelforbes.com/)
As mentioned before, focusing on your breathing really does help, according to William. Being slow and deliberate with your breathing tells your body that it can relax, which does two things:
- Causes your heart rate to slow down
- Tells your brain to start releasing endorphins
William also suggests that technology can be a potential trigger. He suggests that you should stay off your phone whilst you’re eating. “This gives you at least a few moments in the day where your thoughts aren’t being flooded with news and you can focus on doing something good for your body”, he adds.
If you do want to check the news, nominate a few minutes of the day to do so. Ideally, you want to create an atmosphere free of constant notifications and reminders. It’s good to switch off!
Taking up guided meditation can also help to relax you during stressful moments and to distract yourself when you feel overwhelmed. There are plenty for you to choose from on YouTube, too.
Finally, William suggests that staying social is also key in managing stress, even when you feel like shutting yourself off.
“It helps to find situations, circumstances and social settings that stimulate a relaxing feeling. This will naturally keep your mind and body distracted from the things that stimulate fear.”
Try gathering your friends and family on a group video call for a games night or catch up with a friend regularly to touch base. Looking after yourself is important, but the feeling you get from looking after others simply by asking how they are and lending an ear can make you feel better as well.
Sarah Griffiths, Therapist (https://www.sallyg.com)
Sarah advises taking to the humble pen and paper and writing down your thoughts when facing stress. Journaling, according to Sarah, can help you to spot common patterns in your thoughts and can be useful when you are trying to determine the causes of any stress, which can be difficult to make sense of when you’re in the middle of a hard time.
Here are some tips on journaling from Sarah:
- On a sticky note, write down “I am just going through a bad time”, or whatever works for you. Put it anywhere you might see it to reassure yourself, maybe on your bathroom mirror, or on your bedside table.
- Don’t use fear-mongering words like “panic”. This can create panic, you’re already telling your body and your mind you are already feeling anxious. Whatever the mind is creating, the mind can uncreate.
- Keep a journal of your cycle and pattern. Notice what you’re doing, thinking and feeling and make a note of them. It will reveal to you there are common denominators. You’ll then be able to collect your thoughts, organise your day and feel totally refreshed.
Ailsa Frank, Hypnotherapist (https://www.ailsafrank.com/)
Specialising in helping her clients overcome stress and manage worries, author and hypnotherapist Ailsa Frank has shared her five tips with us below:
- Visualise your week going well as what you see in your mind creates a train of thought. If you see your week going well with you relaxed and in control, you are more likely to achieve this in reality. Imagine it is the end of the week, you are looking back at a successful and calm week behind you. Say to yourself ‘what if it is amazing?’
- Accept this is a phase. Try to accept where you are in life. There may have been disappointments along the way at times or you may be under pressure right now, but surrender to the phase you are in. Throw your hands up in the air, say to yourself ‘This is where I am.’ Life is changing all of the time so learn to go with the flow.
- Put gentle movement into your daily life. Moving your body whilst you brush your teeth, taking the stairs instead of the lift, mimic slow tai chi movement first thing in the morning or after work to focus your mind and relax your body. When your body is relaxed your mind will follow.
- Breathe by inhaling in for 3 counts then blowing out for 5 counts, repeat this 3 times and do this every hour throughout the day. By exhaling out for longer than you inhale you will automatically feel relaxed and calm.
- Prepare the night before by looking after yourself better so it is easier to cope with work or home life demands. Try perhaps a shower after your working day, change into comfy clothes, take time to drink herbal tea, hit a bucket of golf balls at the range or whatever will relax you. Write down a plan before bedtime so your mind knows what needs to be done in the morning. Listen to bedtime hypnosis downloads or meditation tracks to help you sleep, offload worries and recharge.
- Write a list of the issues that stress you the most about work and home life. Then make a plan to improve each area e.g. If you struggle with work presentations for instance then get help to overcome the fear. If you worry about deadlines, plan in advance to be more prepared. If you fight with your partner or children find solutions, if you have social anxiety visualise yourself popular and surrounded by people who like you.
- Reassure yourself by stroking the knuckles of your left hand with the fingers of your right hand to reassure yourself that everything will be okay. Then say to yourself ‘I am safe’.
Dr Deborah Lee (https://www.doctorfox.co.uk/womens-health.html)
Stress can also impact your immune system, says Dr Deborah Lee. There is much medical evidence to support the fact that stress has a negative effect on the immune system.
Acute stress leads to an outpouring of inflammatory mediators, which then tends to go away when the stress is dealt with. However, ongoing stress, such as the stress due to COVID-19, is chronic stress.
Chronic stress means the immune system stays inadvertently ‘switched on’ – this is called chronic systemic inflammation – and is very important as it underpins the development of so many serious diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and dementia.
De-stressing is vitally important for health. Being at home on lockdown reduces your options for how to do this, however, one suggestion is to take regular, hot or cold baths or showers.
Take a cold bath or shower –
Did you know immersing yourself regularly in cold water boosts your immune system? The cold stress increases the numbers of T lymphocytes and Natural Killer cells in your bloodstream. In one study, taking regular cold swims over a 5 week period increased levels of tumour necrosis factor-α, IL-2, IL-6. These are all pro-inflammatory cytokines, important cell-signalling molecules in the inflammatory response.
Take a hot bath or shower – or use a hot tub/sauna
Balneotherapy – using a natural spa – is associated with a reduction in C-reactive protein – a marker of chronic inflammation.
In a group using a Swedish sauna, after a sauna, subjects were immersed in cold water. They were shown to have increased numbers of white blood cells – neutrophils, lymphocytes and basophils.
Immersion in a hot water bath was shown to reduce T lymphocytes but increase the CD8 count and Natural Killer cells. This was thought to be due to an increased production of growth hormone – which stimulates cell growth and proliferation.
Take note –
If you try cold water therapy, you do need to build up to this gradually. If you are not used to it, the shock can be dangerous, so don’t go the whole hog – take it slowly and build up your tolerance.
One suggestion would be to take a cold bath or shower – building up slowly to immersing yourself in cold water for 5 minutes a day.
The benefits of cold water swimming are cited on the IPRS website. This is an increasingly popular sport.
Browse our saunas and add it to your de-stressing routine now!
Let’s face it – we live in the age of the internet, and being connected to the world via our phones, tablets and laptops is inevitable. What you can do is manage how you approach technology when it comes to managing stress at home. Altering your relationship with tech for good can do wonders for your mental health.
Clear Your Inbox
We’ve all at some point probably allowed a flurry of emails to pile up in our inboxes. Whether its work emails, or a mailing list you joined years ago, keeping on top of your inbox can help you feel more in control. A handy app to help you manage this is Cleanfox, an inbox de-cluttering app that reduces your carbon footprint by reducing unwanted emails and works with WeForest to plant trees with usage. It’s a win-win for both your wellness and the environment, too.
Less Scrolling & More Meditating
This study found that mindfulness meditation reduced anxiety and feelings of tiredness that are often associated with being stressed. Put social media to one side and tune into Music Zen, an app that provides interactive guides on breathing exercises, relaxing games, calming meditations and calming scenes.
Physical activity is also another proven way to tackle stress. Exercise releases feel-good hormones called endorphins which can boost your mood and alertness.
David Wiener, Training Specialist at Freeletics runs through how exercise can reduce stress:
“Stress is a part of everyday life and is often unavoidable, but there are definitely ways in which we can reduce it. Exercise and other physical activity can be the best way to reduce stress. In fact, studies have shown that just 20 minutes a week of any physical activity, such as cleaning or gardening, can have an effect on your mental health, such as stress, depression and anxiety. Exercise won’t make your stress disappear completely but it will help to clear your head and allow you to make decisions calmly.”
Here are David’s top tips on how to get yourself moving:
In the current climate of working at home, it is often quite hard to motivate yourself to go out and do some sort of exercise.
- Putting music on can be an amazing mood enhancer. Upbeat, fast-paced music and songs with inspiring lyrics can help to motivate you and put you in the mood to exercise. Frequently updating your playlist and adding new songs can also make you motivated to workout, even if it’s just to hear some songs which will lift your spirits.
- As well as music, simply putting on your gym gear can drastically change your motivation, mindset and mood. If you’re tempted to miss a workout, put your gym clothes on first thing in the morning. If you look the part, there’s no reason not to exercise, even if it’s just for 15 minutes!