Activities to manage pandemic stress
Maintain well-being for the long haul
Written by Jennifer Hanson
Almost nobody has escaped unprecedented levels of stress during the spread of coronavirus. Even if you haven’t noticed that you’ve been stressed, chances are it’s shown up in your body in some way. If you’re feeling a little worse for wear, here are some ways to make stress more manageable in your day-to-day life.
Chat and confide
It’s completely reasonable to feel isolated with pandemic protocols in place. The lack of social interaction might have left you floundering if those regular meetups also helped you de-stress. However, it’s important to remember your loved ones are still emotionally present.
If you recognize that pandemic isolation is a big issue for you, remind yourself to reach out
to your network! Social support networks have been found to ease stress,1
so start with a text if you’re feeling vulnerable and work up from there to a phone call, video chat or distanced hang-out. Checking in and chatting will most likely work wonders for both parties. If there’s something you need to chat about, bring it up after some small talk. Keeping stress bottled up isn’t healthy, and you might gain some helpful advice in the process.
Considering how widespread isolation is during a pandemic, it’s fair that your friend might have some issues to vent about as well. Studies have shown gratitude leads to higher levels of social support while lowering stress and depression,2
so make sure to remind your loved ones how thankful you are for their love and advice!
Sitting at home has become far more common whether or not you had a consistent practice before quarantine. There’s obvious concerns about maintaining distance from people in a park or gym, but a lack of movement also means more pent-up stress. Anyone can get cranky without a good outlet for their excess energy, so attempting some semblance of an exercise practice is a great idea.
Additionally, physical activity has been shown to be protective against the stress experience3
and prevents negative impacts on the immune system.4
Exercise can also help you feel better about yourself because it protects against more severe mental disorders like anxiety and depression5
as well as lowering the risk of stress-related mental health issues.6
If you already know your favorite form of exercise, you’re off to a great start! If not, don’t panic. You don’t have to run a marathon your first time working out. Start by taking a walk around the block to get some fresh air. Walks serve to remind you that you’re not confined to your dwelling (even though it might feel like it), while allowing you to zone out and enjoy your own company.
Daily walks are great exercise and there’s no pressure to do more if you’re not feeling it. However, there are many options for expanding your workout at home if you want more. YouTube has thousands of free workout videos for any sort of routine that might appeal to you. Want to try kickboxing, pilates or yoga for the first time? There’s a video for that! Spend a bit of time sorting through the workouts you like and generate a playlist. You can return to it later for no stress workout plans. Get dressed, click a video and you’ll be on your way to staying healthy!Sex
can be another excellent source of busting stress during a pandemic. Higher stress in daily life is associated with lower levels of sexual activity and satisfaction as well as relationship satisfaction.7
Sex can also be a cardio activity depending on how vigorously you’re going at it. And there’s evidence that sex contributes to a positive mood the day after,8
so the endorphins will do you both some good. If sex hasn’t been your first priority lately (no shame!) have a chat about it first. Remember to go with the flow of the conversation and not push your agenda
since effective partner communication has been shown to boost sexual satisfaction.9
If you’ve been confined with your partner especially, intimacy
can be a necessary preparation for open and honest sharing.10
Initiating sex in a new room of the house, or adding an element of novelty, can help boost desire, arousal and sexual function if things have gotten a little one-note.11
Remember that sex is about more than momentary satisfaction! There’s proof that great sex
leads to more rewarding relationships12
and enhances cognitive function.13
Overall, sex and intimacy can be great ways to solidify your relationship while also eliminating stress.
Mindfulness and nature
Being in nature is a time-tested way to relax. Be aware that some places might be crowded though, as many other people have the same idea. Make sure to come equipped with a water bottle, mask, hand sanitizer and some headphones to ensure you’re prepared for anything, and remember to maintain social distancing as much as possible. We recommend taking a less-traveled path as long as the trail is well-marked. The combination of physical activity, better air quality and stress reduction can do wonders for your well-being.14
If nature walks aren’t an option, mindfulness can be practiced at home. Try adding some yoga or meditation videos to your exercise playlist for when you’re feeling extra stressed. You’ll be in the comfort of your home, so there’s no need to feel anxious if you haven’t tried these activities before.
Yoga encourages focus on steady breathing while stretching and strengthening your muscles, and it has all sorts of associated health benefits that are helpful for managing stress. There is proof that yoga is an effective stress reduction tool,15
in part because it decreases blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol. Yoga also influences metabolic changes in the brain, nervous system function and adrenal regulation.16
Even feelings like self-compassion and positive affect
can be altered with yoga.17
These healthy changes can lead to a better outlook
even in the thick of pandemic stress. Certain poses might be difficult at first, but practice makes perfect. Yoga is often paired with the practice of meditation, which can result in higher levels of overall mindfulness.18
If yoga’s not your thing, meditation doesn’t have to be practiced with yoga to be effective. The goal of meditation is to quiet the mind and rid yourself of all the burdensome stress that you’re carrying around (who doesn’t want that?). Both meditation and yoga require mindfulness, time and patience, but they both help immensely with quieting the mind and achieving inner peace. The exercise of being present in the moment can be extremely rewarding if you have the commitment to practice it regularly.
Get a hobby
While all of the above can be excellent ideas, setting aside some time for hobbies might be what you need to combat stress. The same intense focus that’s involved in meditation starts when you achieve a distraction-free existence because you’re wrapped up in a project. Finding calm from hobbies isn’t just a theory: there’s evidence that leisure activities are linked with superior health and well-being.19
Finding an activity you enjoy can help you let go of what’s stressing you out.
If having a hobby is a foreign
concept though, don’t panic! There are plenty of avenues to research online before committing to any specific activity, and with many stores opening up for curbside pickup or delivery, the options are endless. Watch videos or read reviews if you’ve been curious about a certain activity and start small. This process is supposed to be fun and help eliminate stress, so don’t take it too seriously.
Make no mistake, the pandemic is going to change our “normal” way of life for a long time. Having the ability to adjust to these changes and remain positive is the best anyone can do. The end result is the same whether you find this peace in hobbies, exercise, sex, nature, or bonding with loved ones. A healthier mindset leads to less stress and a healthier self, and that’s something anyone can appreciate.References:
- Pierce, G. R., Lakey, B., Sarason, I. G., & Sarason, B. R. (Eds.). (1997). Sourcebook of social support and personality. New York: Plemum Press.
- Wood et al. (2008). The role of gratitude in the development of social support, stress, and depression: Two longitudinal studies. Journal of Research in Personality 42 (2008) 854–871.
- Tsatsoulis A., and Fountoulakis S.: The protective role of exercise on stress system dysregulation and comorbidities. In Chrousos G.P., and Tsigos C. (eds): Stress, obesity, and metabolic syndrome. New York, NY US: New York Academy of Sciences, 2006. pp. 196-213.
- Fleshner, F Physical Activity and Stress Resistance: Sympathetic Nervous System Adaptations Prevent Stress-Induced Immunosuppression, Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews: July 2005 - Volume 33 - Issue 3 - p 120-126.
- Goodwin R.D.: Association between physical activity and mental disorders among adults in the United States. Preventative Medicine 2003; 36: pp. 698-703.
- Gerber M., and Pühse U.: Review article: do exercise and fitness protect against stress-induced health complaints? A review of the literature. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health 2009; 37: pp. 801-819.
- Bodenmann, G., Atkins, D. C., Schär, M., & Poffet, V. (2010). The association between daily stress and sexual activity. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(3), 271–279.
- Burleson, M.H., Trevathan, W.R. & Todd, M. In the Mood for Love or Vice Versa? Exploring the Relations Among Sexual Activity, Physical Affection, Affect, and Stress in the Daily Lives of Mid-Aged Women. Arch Sex Behav 36, 357–368 (2007).
- Kristen P. Mark & Kristen N. Jozkowski (2012): The Mediating Role of Sexual and Nonsexual Communication Between Relationship and Sexual Satisfaction in a Sample of College-Age Heterosexual Couples, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy.
- Prager & Roberts (2004). Deep intimate connection: Self and intimacy in couple relationships. Handbook of closeness and intimacy.
- “Role of Partner Novelty in Sexual Functioning: A Review.” Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, vol. 41, 15 Sept. 2014.
- E. Sandra Byers (2005) Relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction: A longitudinal study of individuals in long‐term relationships, The Journal of Sex Research, 42:2, 113-118.
- Leuner, B., Glasper, E.R., & Gould, E. (2010). Sexual experience promotes adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus despite an initial elevation in stress hormones. PLoS ONE 5(7): e11597.
- Hartig, T., Mitchell, R., Vries, S., & Frumkin, H. (2014, March 14). Nature and Health Annual Review of Public Health. Retrieved May 19, 2020, from https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-032013-182443
- Chong et al (2011). Effects of yoga on stress management in healthy adults: A systematic review. Alternative Therapies, 17(1).
- Pascoe & Bauer (2015). A systematic review of randomised control trials on the effects of yoga on stress measures and mood. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 68, 170-182.
- Rile & Park (2015). How does yoga reduce stress? A systematic review of mechanisms of change and guide to future inquiry. Health Psychology Review, 9, 379-396.
- L. Gaiswinkler, H.F Unterrainer (2016). The relationship between yoga involvement, mindfulness and psychological well-being. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 26, 123-127.
- Pressman, S. D., Matthews, K. A., Cohen, S., Martire, L. M., Scheier, M., Baum, A., & Schulz, R. (2009). Association of enjoyable leisure activities with psychological and physical well-being. Psychosomatic medicine, 71(7), 725–732.