We as mankind are going through one of the worst fearful periods of this century when each and every nation is fighting to keep their people away from or contain the spread of the deadly Coronavirus or try to save those people from death, who are already infected with the virus. With no cure in sight for many days for the pandemic, the life of the citizens of any country is even more stressful. In India, as we are going through a compulsory lockdown of 21 day’s we will today take a close view on what is mental stress, how it is developed and how it can be mitigated.
The modern human mind is so very much controlled by various media viz. the print media (newspaper and magazines), TV news, and most importantly the social media. All these only transmit so negativity in the minds of the people in these stressful times of the pandemic, that even a normally cheerful person may get depressed after reading the news or watching the TV news.
How can you recognize that you are in Stress?
Stress manifests in several mental and physiological sensations and it requires a great amount of self-awareness to confront it. Mental sensations include getting overwhelmed, a feeling of uneasiness, having a feeling of being irritated, bad-tempered, cranky, precarious, etc. Physical sensations include headache, ache in the neck back and shoulders, tightness on the stomach, sweaty palms, dizziness or shortness of breath. In extreme conditions of anxiety and fear, you may also experience disrupted sleeping patterns, loss of appetite, heartburn, and various other types of body aches and pains. We will get into the depth of these in the following paras.
Many of us in these periods lockdown due to Coronavirus may go through mood swings and have depressive thoughts and anxiety. There can be thoughts about ‘what if I get infected with the virus?’ ‘What will happen to my children after I am gone?’ ‘Will I be able to save my job once my company starts after the lockdown’? ‘This is too much for me to handle’ ‘How do I get out of this?’ ‘I wish my problems would just get disappeared’
It is very important to understand what are the changes that happen inside our bodies and what can be the long-term physical, mental and emotional consequences of stress on our body. But before that let’s get into the basics- what is stress exactly?
Stress is the body and mind’s response to any event that happens externally which disturbs the equilibrium or normal life. It occurs when we don’t get what we want or something which happens which we never wanted to happen. We get stress when we are not able to manage the reaction of these disappointments. Our body is tuned to some physiological and psychological equilibrium keeping us in sync with the outer world. If this equilibrium is disturbed for a long time it may result in various diseases and make us feel sick.
What happens when a stressful event (like the one of say, fear or anxiety some of us are feeling due to lockdown) occurs? The brain perceives the stress and responds by triggering the release of specific hormones from the pituitary and adrenal gland. The stress also triggers the adrenal gland to release stress hormones called adrenaline and cortisol. The sympathetic nerves which are present all across our body are stimulated to release more adrenaline throughout the body. When they are stimulated, your heart rate increases, your colon gets activated (which may cause diarrhea) and many other harmful changes inside the body happen. Short term release of adrenaline rush in the blood can give you the power of say fight in road rage or run after seeing a tiger in front of you (the fight/flight response). However, if the stress is for a sustained period of time, these stress hormones are pumped on a continuous basis in the blood. Some of the ill effects of these hormones being pumped in blood, on our body are as follows:
- Increase in the level of triglycerides, which are fats in the blood.
- Blood sugar increases
- The thyroid gets overly stimulated
- The body produces more cholesterol and remain at higher levels.
- Insulin levels in the blood increase and remain at higher levels.
- Too much cholesterol may increase the bodyweight (mainly in the midriff) which may further trigger heart ailments.
- Too much cortisol can deplete bone of vital calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
- Impaired immune functions
The high levels of cortisol can remain hours after the trigger i.e. a stressful event and will continue to do their damaging work.
So, is it worth taking all the stress for these temporary testing times that we all are into? Certainly not.
How to deal with this stress of lockdown and perceived negative emotions of fear, anxiety, and frustration?
- As the first step just accept the situation and acknowledge that you are not the only one going through it and that you can hardly do anything about it. Convince yourself that this is the best alternative that the government has taken in the larger interests of the people of the country. Don’t blame the system or anybody else as it will be of little use. One has to survive this scare of coronavirus to be able to rebuild your career, money, etc.
- Look at the positives of this situation, instead of whining about it, think what all things that you can do which you were only dreaming all these years, with plenty of time at your disposal. Watch that comedy TV serials (available on youtube /Netflix/etc.) again you enjoyed in your childhood like Charlie Chaplin, Lucie, or old comedy Hindi films. Just keep yourself and your family in good humor.
- Since you cannot go out anywhere, this is a good time to exercise at home. Join some online Yoga class and start practicing yoga, (which is not only good for your body, but it also helps regulate the breath & concentrates mind) and pranayama regularly. Learn specific asanas and mudras for anxiety and fear.
- Just dig deep into self and ask what is the anxiety or fear that you have? If it is say, loss of a job, think that in case that happens, God has given you an opportunity to find a new and a much better job, if it is the loss of business, then you are not the only one, perhaps hundreds are going to lose much more than what you may and if it is the anxiety that what if the virus catches me- hammer into your mind that it cannot as you are taking all the necessary steps of staying at home all the time (except for going out to buy essentials), washing hands with soap thoroughly at regular intervals, increasing immunity by having hot beverages like tea, coffee and gargling with warm water, with salt/turmeric powder.
- Recollect some of your old memories like your honeymoon, vacations with your loved people, and dig deep into those pleasant memories and relive those beautiful moments by taking out and re-visiting old photograph albums. Have your spouse and/or any other person in the family for the company. Just thinking of those moments will release the happy hormones in the blood and you will feel much positive. Best is to play with your children inside the house with games like, chess, carrom, cards, snakes and ladders, etc. They will really appreciate that you are spending so much time with them which will enhance and strengthen the love bond you have with them. Any misunderstanding that they may have all these years of, parents not spending enough quality time with them, will be erased within just a couple of days and they will love you even more.
- Sit with family and make some beautiful plans say, as and when the situation normalizes, you all will go on vacation for a week. Decide, destination, all the activities, and fun that you all have as a family. Plan everything except the dates.
- Don’t see, read, or listen to any media. i.e. newspaper, TV news, or any negative news on corona, even social media, etc. as all these normally will radiate only negativity, panic and add to the depressive environment.
- Consider this time as a godsend as this will give you plenty of time to work on your relationships, and call other relatives whom you have lost touch with, due to being too busy running the race of life.
- Give positive affirmations to your subconscious mind in the morning and as you go to bed in the night.
- Think when did you get such a free time and talk to yourself that you are going to miss this godsend lockdown once you go back to your fast-paced life.
- Go Spiritual: Keep aside at least one hour daily to get connected with self and any god of your faith. You may recite some mantras, japas, and read some holy books which you always wanted to all these years.
- Enroll yourself to some free/paid online courses which you always wanted to learn all these years.
- Help your spouse in cooking, cleaning, washing utensils, setting up the washing machines, etc. since the maids too are under lockdown.
And the list goes on and on… Don’t be surprised that you are busy in this period as well and at the end of the 21 days, you may actually start loving this period.