In any given year, 1 in 5 Americans have a diagnosable mental health condition ¹ and year 2020 being totally unpredictable year proved to be the worst year for the mental health of millions of Americans. In one survey, one fourth of the respondents reported symptoms of TSRD (Trauma and stressor-related disorder) related to the current pandemic ²
Whatever the reasons for experiencing stress are, whether they are crisis and losses caused by current pandemic, personal difficulties, problems at workplace or any type of threat in one’s community; chronic stress really worsens the health of the individuals experiencing it.
Stress is actually a feeling of physical or emotional tension, caused by anything or thought that makes you frustrated, angry or nervous. A little bit of stress is not considered a problem, its normal part of life. But yes, it’s a big problem if it becomes chronic; and it turns into chronic one when you experience it for longer period of time i.e. for several weeks, months or even years.
While dealing with stress our bodies release hormones, that’s fine anyway as it’s a sort of mental and bodily preparation towards handling the difficult situation. But it gets overwhelming for our health if it lasts for long time.
Chronic stress is the major reason behind today’s most common health problems including:
Hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obesity, anxiety, depression, heart diseases and many other hormonal problems
People experiencing chronic stress have hard time focusing on things and experience lack of positive energies towards the things they intend to accomplish as a result they are not able to:
- work properly,
- maintain healthy relationships and
- handle negative thoughts and threats about future happenings.
If you are experiencing chronic stress, it makes no odds because millions of individuals around the world are trying to fight with it, you too can. Here is how:
Following are 5 techniques laid down by WHO’s mental health professionals that are quite helpful in coping with stress:
Whatever the threats are behind your high stress levels (like someone did something really bad to you, violence in family, illnesses, no means of getting education, homelessness, no means of earning or currently unemployed, community violence, family fights, future uncertainty), its really bad for your overall health; you cannot focus; you can’t manage healthy relationships; your overall performance at work declines and most importantly thoughts about our past experiences and future fears always surround us. These powerful thoughts are a part of stress and whenever we experience stress these thoughts hook us. Hooking means these powerful thoughts successfully trap us and we find it very difficult to get rid of them
So, when powerful thoughts hook us, they pull us from our values. Values here means our desires for the sort of person we want to be like i.e. how do you want to treat yourself and others and the world around you.
For instance, being a son or daughter, what are your responsibilities and what kind of person you want to be? Surely, you want to be respectful, caring, loving, responsible etc and the biggest evidence that you are a caring person is you are just interested in the ways to deal with stress and right now reading this post. You care for your parents, you care for your family and you care for your own well-being. That’s example of acting on one of your value i.e. caring
But that’s not simple, in difficult moments you are get hooked by negative powerful thoughts and feelings. Difficult thoughts hook us and our behavior changes completely; we engage in arguments, fights and conflicts; sometimes we want to stay away from our loved ones, and at some instances we spend a lot of time in bed. These behaviors are actually ‘away moves’ as they move away from our ‘values’
But the good news is you may come out of this situation by focusing and engaging. This seems straightforward but its not that straightforward, difficult thoughts overpower us again and again and we have to refocus and reengage again and again.
At times difficult thoughts and feelings are so much distressing that they overpower you and tend to be like mighty storms and you are not able to get out of these feelings. So how will you deal with this mighty storm?
Whenever a storm is there, first of all you need to make sure that you are at ground so that you may deal with it successfully; as you can help yourself and others during storm when you are at secure place. Similarly, when difficult thoughts overpower you, first of all you need to ground yourself and then you will be able to do anything else
But how? Simply by refocusing and reengaging; here are some tips to refocus and reengage every time an emotional storms appears:
- Notice your feeling and thoughts
- Stop and make connection with your entire body
- Refocus using your five basic senses, notice the stuff around you whatever you can see, hear, taste, touch or smell at that moment
- Use your hands, arms, legs, head, and even mouth moments to get out of the difficult feelings and thoughts
All these activities are not meant to completely get rid of emotional storms or difficult thoughts and feelings but as you practice them you are able to manage your stress better and you are able to focus and accomplish your day to day tasks better.
Second technique to manage your stress better is unhooking. While managing your stress, be realistic enough about getting rid of stress i.e. your difficult thoughts and feelings can never go away, you simply can unhook yourself whenever they overpower you. If you struggle to get rid of them your life even gets worse so the better way to deal with them is to unhook yourself again and again. Here is some tips to unhook yourself from these negative thoughts and feelings:
- Notice and name
- Refocus, engage and pay full attention
Difficult thoughts and feelings unhook us more when we are unaware of them, when we notice and name them, it’s relatively easy to unhook from them. Just think what do you feel when there is a difficult thought what happens inside your body (whether you feel tightness in your chest, pressure in your forehead, stretchiness in your throat muscle etc) and what changes in your behavior occur and which mood swings you encounter. And most importantly what exactly difficult thought is (are you anxious about future, is there any bad memory from past, or the biggest regrets of your life make you worried)? Once you notice and name, you do refocus, reengage and pay full attention whenever the thought and feeling (you noticed and named) hooks you.
3. Acting on your values
Next technique to cope up with the stress is acting on your values. You might have set goals in your life but due to stress you are not able to take steps to accomplish those goals. Although you are not able to act to accomplish your goals, still you can act to adhere to your values.
- Find ways to act on your values
You have to find ways to act on your values, you have to prepare an action plan to put your values into action. When you do act on your values, you are taking little steps towards managing your stress and these little steps when taken constantly matter a lot to a stressed and depressed person
4. Being Kind
Difficult thoughts and feelings that hook you are usually thoughts that make you feel and think very bad about yourself, you tend to blame yourself (its my fault, I am not eligible, I cannot do it, I would not have done that), then you tend to be unkind to you. No matter whatever the biggest regrets of your life are, you have to start living your life fully again. So first step towards coming back to life again is being kind to you. What you did in past and what happened in past cannot be changed so stop blaming yourself and be kind to yourself. Once you are kind to yourself, you become kind to others and steps like this really matter in managing your stress better
5. Making Room
To this point you have noticed that you cannot get rid of difficult thoughts and feelings, you can just control them when they overpower you so you have to make room for these thoughts and feelings in your life. With the help of different techniques, you can unhook from them and when you practice these techniques more and more you will notice that you are able to deal with your stress better and better over time.
Stress management techniques that you have read about so far are interlinked, interconnected and somehow hierarchal. But merely knowing about them is not enough, you have to practice them every day to manage your chronic stress. For more information about skills and exercises about dealing with chronic stress, you may read WHO guideline “Doing what matters in the times of stress”.
Think differently and go for changing that, that is changeable and acknowledge that that cannot be changed and make sure to adhere to your values.
 RESULTS FROM THE 2017 NATIONAL SURVEY ON DRUG USE
AND HEALTH: DETAILED TABLES
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