I started 2020 feeling energized and hopeful. Then, COVID-19 hit, and everything changed. As the months ticked by and hurdle after hurdle appeared, I began to feel tired, stressed, scared, and worried.
Now, over 18 months into the pandemic, I’m exhausted, and I know I’m not alone.
Stress levels are high!
Signs of Stress
Are you feeling...
- Exhausted? Perhaps you are struggling with constant fatigue despite plenty of sleep. This exhaustion can be both emotional and physical.
- Distracted? Do tasks seem to take twice as long right now? You might be feeling sluggish, and find yourself spacing out or struggling with poor concentration. You might be feeling ineffective in your life.
- Apathetic? Is your mood best described as “blah”? Perhaps you are feeling emotionally detached and finding it hard to muster up enthusiasm.
In addition to these more traditional strategies, here are a few tools to add to your self-care toolbox.
Float on Quicksand
When faced with difficult situations that are outside our control (such as COVID-19), sometimes the most helpful approach is to simply acknowledge the stress.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) has a quicksand metaphor that applies well to stress. When you are stuck in quicksand, the more you struggle to get out, the deeper you sink. Instead of struggling, try lying on your back, stretching out across the quicksand, and floating. You will still feel the quicksand under you, but you are on top of it, and it is not enveloping you.
Once you realize that you are no longer sinking but floating instead, you can look around and focus more clearly on the situation. The quicksand is an obstacle, but it is not insurmountable.
With most stressful life situations, you have options. You can continue to float on the quicksand, you can start to struggle, or you can simply roll-off. It is empowering to know that you have a choice!
When you are carrying a heavy burden, you need to rest. It is OK to float and rest until you can fill your depleted energy stores.
“Not every day has to ‘count’. Some days, your purpose is to make it to the next one, and that counts too.” - Courtney Hammett
The Here and Now
When dealing with stress, it is also helpful to stay grounded in the present. Do not look too far ahead, or you might get discouraged. Focus on one day at a time.
Several times throughout the day, stop and pay attention to the life you are living. Hit pause and notice what you are hearing, seeing, smelling, and touching. As you explore your senses, take a minute to think about the good in your life. Daily use of mindfulness is an empirically validated stress and mood management tool.
While you focus on the present moment, try the half-smile, a technique used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to assist with distress tolerance and finding serenity. With relaxed lips, begin to smile, but stop when you notice a small amount of tension at the corners of your mouth.
The half-smile is very subtle, and if someone were looking at you, they might not see anything different about your facial expression. Hold this smile for a few minutes and notice the effect it has on your mood.
The last eighteen months have felt like an ultramarathon where the organizers forgot to set up the refueling stations. Take it one day at a time, and remember that you have the option to float instead of struggle and that every day is a fresh start. We’ve got this!
Please follow me for more articles on healthy living, stress management, and personal growth.