Coping with chronic stress doesn’t mean you need to add more to your life: more self-care activities, more responsibilities, more work. In fact, for most people, this is the time to let go and do less.
As we settle into the realization that our lives are going to remain disrupted for some time to come, many of us are left feeling exhausted, drained, and depressed. The uncertainty about what our future will look like weighs heavily on our minds. Add to this the stress of financial insecurities, health concerns, and social isolation and it’s no wonder we struggle to maintain a positive attitude or drum up motivation to be productive.
This low mood isn’t necessarily a steady state as we ride through different emotions throughout our days. We might have moments of feeling pretty good. We may find ourselves laughing or having a burst of energy to take on a little project. But at baseline, on a daily basis, many of us are feeling overwhelmed, down, and adrift. We have a hard time recognizing ourselves or our lives right now.
The chronic nature of this stress may likely be at the root of many troubling symptoms:
Our bodies are excellent at responding to brief stressors that quickly resolve. The very nature of our current situation with COVID-19 has the effect of causing chronic stress on our nervous systems. We feel out of control, scared, uncertain about our futures, struggling to make decisions with little to look forward to.
When we think of coping with chronic stress, most think about ADDING stress management tools to our lives. We expect experts to tell us to sleep more, exercise regularly, drink lots of water, meditate, start a new dietary cleanse, stay socially engaged, try yoga, go to therapy. And these strategies can certainly be helpful at different times and in different doses. But most fail to consider what we need LESS of in our lives, in our minds.
Perhaps the most important aspect of coping with chronic stress is to LET GO of that negative voice in your head constantly judging you, saying you’re not good enough. It’s time let go of all the unhelpful pressures you place on yourself. Let go of expectations that you’ll accomplish major household projects or start creative activities right now. Let go of the negative thoughts in your head that say you are failing or coming up short. Let go of scrolling through social media and comparing yourself to everyone who seems to have it all together right now. Let go of toxic people or news stories that cause you to worry about things outside your control. Let go of unrealistic daily goals that leave you feeling like a failure. Let go of the idea that you need to take care of everyone’s emotional needs. Let go of social obligations that leave you drained.
This is a time to shed the unhelpful and unhealthy inner voice that piles on messages of shame by criticizing ourselves for struggling. It’s painful enough to be struggling. It’s tough enough to endure emotional lows and hold it together to get through the day. Adding any sort of criticism or shame to this struggle is something we can all do better without.
When you give yourself permission to let go of all this unhelpful pressure and judgement, you just might find more energy and hope. You may discover that beneath it all you are already doing your best. You can recognize your strength and resilience. You can trust yourself to get through tough times. You can feel worthy of compassion.
If you find yourself struggling to really let go of this negative voice in your head or simply can’t keep up with the daily routines of self-care, then it may be a time to reach out for professional help. Mental health providers have moved into the virtual world and are providing telehealth services. Connecting with a trained professional may help you create your own individualized plan to cope with this challenging time. You are not alone. Many are struggling. Finding help is important.
Written by Suzanne J. Smith, Ph.D. for Lakefront Psychology Blog. If you are interested in more original articles about mental health, wellness, perinatal mood, relationships, or parenting, please subscribe to the blog using the button below. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment at Lakefront Psychology, LLC for a psychotherapy consultation, please call 216-870-9816.