Stress. Everyone has it.
Stress is a normal physiological response to something that upsets your equilibrium, like a threat or a challenge. It’s your body’s ability to protect you.
Sometimes stress can be good for you (it’s called eustress), motivating you to meet deadlines at work and exercise (which is itself another form of good stress). Good stress is short-lived and infrequent, and leaves you better off than you were before you encountered the stressful time.
But stress can sometimes be bad for you, especially if you’re not managing it well. Bad stress lasts a long time, happens frequently, and leaves you worse off. This kind of stress collects and collects, piling on to your brain.
Since 1992, April has been Stress Awareness Month. Sponsored by The Health Resource Network (HRN), a non-profit health education organization, Stress Awareness Month encourages people to educate themselves about the dangers of bad stress, learn coping skills, and recognize prevalent stress myths.
During self-quarantining due to the coronavirus pandemic, everyone is feeling significant amounts of stress, mostly bad. We don’t know when the need to self-quarantine will end, and we don’t know if we will catch the coronavirus ourselves. Many of our friends and family may already be infected.
We’re also worried about our financial futures. We may have to work at home. Millions of Americans have been laid off. Our kids’ schools have closed, and no one knows when they will open–or even if they’ll open for the rest of the academic year.
All this uncertainty adds up to a stressful time for everyone.
Celebrate Stress Awareness Month with these 7 frugal, proven ways to destress while you’re stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic.
1. Breathe Deep
Taking breaths doesn’t sound like it could help as much as it does. Inhaling expands your chest and shoulders, releasing tension. Plus, fresh oxygen improves your brain’s ability to remember things, alleviates stress, and keeps cells healthy.
Try this exercise, given to me by my therapist over eight years ago:
- Close your eyes, if you feel safe enough to do so.
- Inhale deeply through your nose, preferably into your abdomen, while counting to 3.
- Hold for 3-5 seconds.
- Exhale, releasing the air from your mouth over a period of at least 3 seconds.
This rarely fails to relax me.
Exercise can help you manage your stress in a low-cost, high-impact way. Studies show that exercise can improve your mood. A simple, 20-minute jog around your neighborhood, which releases feel-good chemicals like endorphins, can improve your mood for a whopping twelve hours.
You don’t have anything to lose by working out. Try to get some exercise today, preferably outdoors in the sunlight. Anything that gets your heart rate up—jogging, boxing, yoga—is an excellent way to manage your stress levels.
3. Eat a Small, Healthy Snack
When people are stressed, they sometimes turn to food for comfort. Like exercise, food is one easy way to force the brain to release feel-good chemicals. And nothing is more stressful to the brain than starving it.
But you don’t have to make stress eating a bad thing. Even eating a small, healthy snack is a scientifically-backed way to destress.
Try half an avocado, or a stick of string cheese, or a handful of almonds. You want a snack that is full of protein or heart-healthy fats.
The way you eat your snack is also important. Take your food somewhere distraction-free. Sit down with your feet shoulder-width apart. Breathe deeply (tip #1), and focus on your food. Feel the texture of your food on your tongue.
Try to divorce judgment from eating. This is a snack which is good for you and will help you destress.
4. Get Enough Quality Sleep
Sleep is crucial for you to function on even a basic level, but even more so if you have mental illness like bipolar disorder. Getting enough sleep may help prevent manic episodes and helps regulate depressive episodes.
If you don’t get enough sleep, your brain will hold onto your stress. Quality, restful sleep starts in the bedroom. Make sure you have a dark, quiet environment to catch some Zs.
For a post on how to handle insomnia and other sleep disturbances while you have bipolar disorder, click here.
5. Detox from Your Smartphone
A study done by British researchers showed a clear link between rising stress levels and compulsively checking emails and social media on a smartphone.
Unplug from your electronic devices, and marvel at how much your stress dissipates after only an hour.
6. Keep a Gratitude Journal
Appreciating what you have rather than focusing on what you don’t has been proven to reduce stress, and improve physical and mental well-being.
Writing an entry in a gratitude journal is a low-cost way to feel better about the world and your place in it.
7. Do a Full-Body Check In
If you’re feeling stressed, your body will show signs of the negative feelings. Your shoulders can be tense, your stomach may churn, and your lower back might be sore.
But how you feel physically can also add to stress. It’s a vicious cycle: you feel stressed, which affects your body, which in turn raises your stress level, and so on.
Nip the cycle in the bud. Check in with your body.
Sit or lie down somewhere peaceful. Starting with your toes, mentally examine each body part. Are you sore anywhere? Tense? Hungry? Thirsty? How’s your stomach feeling? How are your shoulders? Do you have enough oxygen in your system (tip #1)?
Examine your needs, and then go solve them. If you’re hungry, eat a small, healthy snack (tip #3). If you’re tired, take a nap (tip #4). Check in with your body, identify issues you might be facing, and practice self-care.
Destressing is a form of self-care. Taking the time to relax yourself will have untold benefits for your physical body and mental state. Destressing helps your mood, outlook, and ability to handle future stressful situations.
Celebrate Stress Awareness Month. Destress with one of these practical, scientifically-backed tips today.
I wish you well in your journey.
- National Depression Awareness Month: My Experience and How to Get Support
- National Prevention Week: How I Prevent Oncoming Bipolar Mood Episodes
- Shot Through the Heart, and Bipolar Disorder’s to Blame: You Have a Higher Risk of Cardiovascular Disease if You’re Bipolar