It is no secret that a lot of society is experiencing higher levels of stress amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Our home lives, work lives, and leisure lives all look different as we each try to create a new normal. The effects of increased stress for an individual can lead to many unwanted side effects. This is why it is important to remember to take care of ourselves during a time of increased stress.
What is stress? MedlinePlus (2020) defines stress as, “a feeling of emotional or physical tension. It can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous”. Stress is one of the body’s reactions which can be positive in short spurts to avoid danger. However, when stress is prolonged it can harm our health.
When our bodies experience chronic stress they stay alert, even when there is no danger. This chronic stress releases hormones, one of which being cortisol. If an individual has too much cortisol in their bodies it can lead to a number of health issues. Some of these include; anxiety and depression, headaches, heart disease, memory and concentration problems, digestion issues, sleeping problems, weight gain, and more!
Even though stress is hard to escape these days, there are ways we can all take care of ourselves and combat the effects it can have on our bodies. Self-care is crucial, but what exactly is it? Self-care is whatever you make it. As long as it brings a sense of relaxation, and joy. It can help in reducing those effects of stress.
Your self-care routine may look different from the next person’s. What is important is finding something that works for you. Some ideas for a good self-care routine include; exercise, meditation, yoga, relaxation, healthy eating, time management, hobbies, socializing, and seeking support from a mental health professional.
Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and high cortisol levels. Physical activity produces chemicals in the brain called endorphins which act as natural pain killers. These endorphins also improve a person’s sleep patterns which in turn reduces stress and cortisol in the body. Along with exercise, meditation, acupuncture, and breathing deeply have also been found to release the same endorphins.
Ask yourself, “What can I do today to take care of myself?” Maybe it’s going for a walk over the lunch hour, sitting down in a quiet place and listening to a meditation on YouTube, or maybe it’s having a good conversation with a friend. Whatever it may be make it something enjoyable and relaxing for you.
Stress is very common today, and as humans we are resilient. So quickly we use that resiliency to live continuously within that stress, and that can become our new normal. We need to prioritize our own self-care as a way to combat those effects stress can have on our physical and mental health.
Today I encourage you to identify ways you can implement self-care into your daily routine. Exercise, meditation, socializing. Whatever it may be make it something you enjoy and look forward to. Fight against those high cortisol levels. Take care of you. Because you deserve it.
Jessie Szmanda, MA, LADC
Individual and Family Therapist
Lakes Center for Youth and Families