No matter where you live, what your current job situation is, or what your current health situation is, you're very likely to be currently trying to handle the stress of the pandemic. I have heard from a number of people that they feel guilty about their stress. They are working from home, they are in a relatively unaffected area, they're not having trouble paying their bills, but they're still feeling stress.
That is absolutely natural. These are not normal times. We're all living with a general level of fear of what will happen next. We're also all dealing with a bit of depression from the losses we're suffering, both big and small. And though you may feel ridiculous for being sad about a cancelled vacation while others are being hospitalized, it's okay to acknowledge that in the big picture, a missed vacation is small, but you're still bummed about it. Being sad about one thing doesn't minimize the other thing.
So what can you do about your stress level during the pandemic?
Accept That You Are Stressed
The first thing to do is that you should accept that you are stressed. Everyone is stressed. My cat is stressed that I'm home all the time. Acknowledge it and don't feel guilty about it. And understand that everyone around you is stressed too. A lot of us are trapped at home with family members, and the added stress plus the constant togetherness can definitely cause a lot of friction. Just being aware of all of these facts can help you get through it.
I recently learned about allostatic load. Basically, our stress hormones are just constantly going, and it's hard on our bodies. It's why you feel exhausted even though you don't feel like you've done anything. Friday night, around 7:30, I was unloading the dryer and suddenly got hit with some overwhelming exhaustion. I couldn't figure out why - I hadn't done that much during the day. Eight hours of telework, a few chores, and an hour on my stationary bike. On a normal day, that's nothing. But because of the accumulated stress, my body just needed a break. So I took one.
Accept That You Don't Have to Do It All
I've seen a lot of people talking about all the things they're accomplishing now that they have all this free time. First and foremost, if you are at home with children, you have no free time. Zero. Just accept that. If everyone is alive and fed and bathed once a week, you are doing a great job.
I don't know about you, but I don't feel like I have a lot of extra free time. Yes, I'm saving time on my commute and on getting ready for work in the morning (I roll out of bed less than 30 minutes before I sit down at my desk), but it doesn't seem like I suddenly find myself with all sorts of time.
Then I see posts from people who have taken up a new hobby, are working on major home projects, have decided to Konmari their house, or any number of things. And I think that I must be doing something wrong.
Handle this situation however it works best for you. Some people thrive on being busy. If taking an online guitar course makes you feel good, then by all means, go for it! But if you can't motivate yourself to use this time to work on a home improvement project, that's okay too. You're trying to reduce the stress of the pandemic, not increase it.
And know that small things are good as well. Next weekend, one of my projects is to clean out the guest room, which has become a bit of a haven for clutter as of late. I may not finish it, but I'm at least going to start. Whatever gets done is good enough.
Look For Ways to Relax
Try to take some time out for you and reduce that cortisol permeating your body. Maybe you want to try out a new tv show or re-watch an old favorite. Check out some free meditation apps. Try yoga (I like Yoga with Adriene - she's got a large variety of videos, short and long, beginner and more advanced, they're all free, and her dog shows up sometimes). Go for a walk if it's safe where you live.
If nothing else, take a few moments every day to check in with your body. Are your shoulders hunched up towards your ears? Make an effort to relax them. Take a few deep breaths.
Reach Out to Others
We are all isolated, and that leads to added stress during the pandemic. I know that I personally am getting "Zoomed-out," meaning that I can't handle Zoom happy hours multiple times a week, but I am enjoying doing some one-on-one interactions with friends, be it a phone call, an email, or just a quick text chat. It's nice to have a quick moment to check in on someone else, share some jokes, enjoy the company, even though we're far apart. I know I often feel better after a quick gif-filled text with a good friend.
We're currently living through a weird time, and by acknowledging that and doing whatever we can, we will be able to handle the stress of the pandemic and come out the other side. The world will likely look different, but we will meet it when it comes.