Managing stress when it seems unavoidable

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For many Americans, these past months have been anything but relaxing. Even as summer comes to an end and fall looms, there is still much uncertainty regarding the future beyond the coronavirus pandemic.

Fear and anxiety about what could happen during a pandemic can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These concerns are coupled with social-distancing measures that are known to make people feel isolated and lonely, which can increase stress and anxiety, notes the CDC.

If the stress of the pandemic hasn’t raised concerns, a crippling economy, an increase in unemployment and a rise in social unrest has many feeling tense and numb to the daily news headlines.

It is no wonder this climate would make anyone on edge, myself included. As someone that once loved consuming the latest top news stories, I’ve become jaded by the cycle of social media posts and news reports that raise more questions than provide answers.

This constant uneasiness that has accompanied the outbreak also has the potential to cause changes in a person’s sleep and eating patterns, experience difficulty concentrating and cause an increase in a person’s use of tobacco, alcohol or other substances, according to the CDC. It can also have serious effects on worsening a person’s chronic health problems or mental health conditions.

Throughout this chaos, I, like many others, have had to construct a new normal, my own new way of staying calm and findings peace when the world’s issues seem to be far out of my control.

Some tips I’ve discovered that have helped make this process easier have been to build routines around my sleep habits and set goals that I can plan out and accomplish throughout the day.

This notion was also advised by Dr. Michael Brodsky, medical director for behavioral health for L.A. Care Health Plan, the largest publicly operated health plan. He spoke to U.S. News & World Report about some ways to maintain calm in a recent article.

In it, Brodsky notes that building routines helps to create a reliable and predictable schedule, which allows people to feel less stressed about all the little things that demand our attention and ground ourselves in the present. He also suggests people frame these routines around quality sleep, ideally seven to eight hours.

People can also find calmness in a digital detox from news alerts and social media updates, Brodsky observed. He recommended “building in daily breaks from cable news and the internet, especially around bedtime. Consider setting a curfew for electronics use for 30 to 60 minutes before you go to sleep.”

Apart from the peace of mind that accompanies reducing social media use, Brodsky also pointed out that exposure to the artificial light that emanates from smartphones, tablets and computer screens can disrupt our body’s ability to release enough melatonin. The hormone melatonin regulates our body’s sleep-wake cycle. Too little can make it difficult to get enough sleep.

Additionally, I’ve made it a point to incorporate more time for physical activity and meditation throughout my daily routine to help both my physical and mental health. As simple as it may sound, I’ve noticed a significant improvement in my state of mind when I take at least 30 minutes a day to focus on strengthening my body or just controlling my breathing.

The CDC also recommends people take the time to care for themselves and others by learning more about healthy ways to cope with stress during this difficult year. You can access additional resources and advice by visiting the CDC website at www.cdc.gov.

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