If you’ve turned on the news lately, you may have noticed fewer stories about the pandemic. It seems Covid-19 restrictions, safety protocols, and urgent fears are being tossed out rather quickly. It’s nice to start to return to “normal,” see faces again, and engage in previously enjoyed activities such as dining out, traveling, and gathering with friends. But after two years of pandemic stress, is it really that easy to just let it all go? For those of us that have been living in what may feel like a constant state of stress, it’s not so easy to just shift gears.
You may also find your mind drifting back to what the past two years have been like. Seriously, what just happened?
From being glued to news stories, social media, and other sources for updates, working from home and buying “work pajamas” to suddenly having no choice in homeschooling your children, losing your job; and dealing with the stress of being home with your family all the time, we’ve all experienced pandemic stress.
With that in mind, let’s try to break down the aftermath of Covid-19 and the stress that formed as a result.
What is Pandemic Stress?
First, let’s talk about the effects of stress in general. Do you remember hearing about that “fight or flight “ thing? Since we are biological beings designed with survival in mind, we all have the fight or flight mechanism. But as time passed and our need to escape large predators like saber tooth tigers had been eliminated, our fight or flight mechanism started to be triggered by other sources.
Stress is a big one.
Stressors can trigger this biological response, plunging our body into a state of either being ready to fight the source or run from it. Either way, changes in our bodies occur.
To sum it up, our body experiences a surge of adrenaline- the energy needed to either fight or run. While this could enhance our productivity in some way, typically the extra cortisol in our body that is not being expelled through literally running or fighting makes us feel all sorts of things we don’t want to. It might feel really difficult to unwind, calm down, sit still, or quiet your mind to focus on a task at hand or a conversation.
The American Psychological Association tells us that high levels of prolonged stress reported by Americans have been directly linked to the pandemic. This stress has taken quite a toll on mental and physical health, leading to weight gain, sleep loss, and alcohol use.
So when we talk about prolonged pandemic stress, we’re talking about two years of continuous stress. We have all experienced the stress of contracting the disease, financial worries, and a significant decrease in social activities. We felt a constant sense of unease, restlessness, and were unable to feel calm or relaxed.
Before the pandemic, we may have gone to the gym or enjoyed a night out with friends in an effort to decrease the mental and somatic feelings brought on by stress. However, the pandemic greatly restricted these fundamental forms of stress relief.
How Might Pandemic Stress Manifest?
The American Psychological Association reports that there has been an increase in weight gain, changes to sleep, and an increase in alcohol consumption since the pandemic started. Yet, these are not the only ways that stress can show up in our lives. Stress can also cause :
- Feeling fearful, angry, sad, anxious, numb, or frustrated
- Changes in appetite, energy levels, desires, and interests
- Headaches, body aches, and stomach issues
- Changes to sleep including trouble sleeping and nightmares
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Mental health issues becoming worse
- Physical health conditions becoming worse
- Increased use of tobacco, alcohol or other substances
There is so much information out there about mental health issues, including an abundance of commercials and radio ads. It’s actually easy to think you might be suffering from one with all this inundation.
While the availability of this information and the normalcy surrounding mental health issues effectively reduce the stigma around seeking help, it can also take away from normalizing some of the effects and feelings that come with the territory of being human beings.
Is It Time to Treat Pandemic Stress?
So how do you know when it’s time to seek some help for your pandemic stress? How do you know it’s reached the level of “pandemic stress”? Let’s take the “live, laugh, love” test.
If your stress or other mental health concerns and issues are impacting your ability to . . .
- Live: go to work, take care of yourself, shower, eat, sleep, pay bills, grocery shop, communicate with others
- Laugh: be able to turn off your “serious” side for a bit, enjoy a funny tv show, be able to laugh at jokes and/or tell them, feel like you are able to participate in light hearted activities and conversations, everything does not feel like “doom and gloom” every minute.
- Love: engage in relationships, show and receive affection, participate in activities you enjoy, feel good about the life you are living
. . . Chances are it’s time to seek treatment for your stress.
What Can I Do to Combat Pandemic Stress?
If you think you are suffering from pandemic stress and it has impacted your ability to live, laugh, and love, reach out to a professional or seek help from support groups.
Other helping ways to cope with pandemic stress include:
- Turning off the news or staying off social media for a while. Take a break from the constant influx and free flow of purposefully shocking and eye-catching headlines and news stories. Being kept informed about what’s going on in our world can be helpful, however with social media and 24/7 news channels, we’ve become inundated. A true overflow and overstimulation of information is occurring. Many of the stories and headlines are sensationalized to get you to click on them and read more, so it’s often like a “panic button” is constantly being triggered.
- Take care of your physical self by taking some time out to breath deeply, meditate, stretch, or even listen to relaxing music.
- Take a look at your food and beverage intake. Try to focus on healthy foods and beverages that serve a positive purpose to your health and body function (not your mood!).
- Make quality sleep a priority. Creating a sleep routine that allows your mind and body to slowly wind down can be helpful. Start about an hour before you’d like to be asleep and turn off electronics, engage in relaxing activities such as stretching, meditation, cuddling with your furbabies, reading,taking a nice shower etc. Your sleep routine can involve a few of these low key activities. When done regularly, they will signal your brain that it’s time to get ready to fall asleep. Soon you will find yourself falling asleep easier and having a more restful sleep. If you find it’s hard to settle your mind down, try journaling before you begin your sleep routine.
- Take an assessment as to whether or not you are using alcohol, tobacco, or other substances excessively. If you think you might be, don’t be afraid to talk to someone about it who can help offer some objective and supportive feedback. If you need further assistance in reducing use of substances, reach out for professional help.
Bright Harbor Healthcare is Here
As we enter a time where most pandemic restrictions are being lifted and a sense of normalcy returns, we truly hope you are on your way to living well, healthy and happy. However, we also recognize the fact that these past two years have been tough, difficult, and trying.
Pandemic Stress is real. If you’re currently being affected by it, Bright Harbor Healthcare is here to support you and the community. We offer a host of outpatient programs to help you address all of the stresses associated with the pandemic. If you’ve been experiencing intense depressive episodes over the past two years, TMS may also be an option. Additionally, we offer substance abuse treatment if you are currently struggling with addiction.
Whatever the case may be, let Bright Harbor Healthcare be your refuge as we move forward from the pandemic together. Connect with us today to build a better tomorrow.