Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, we have been living through a time of continuous grief, trauma, and exhaustion. Everything has seemed to shift, from how we work, socialize, and go through our daily routine.
For many of us, it has been difficult to cope with all of the changes and heavy emotions associated with the pandemic, as well as uncertainty about the future.
According to a 2021 survey published by the American Psychological Association, the events of the past year and a half have taken a drastic toll. As a result of increased stress, 61% of adults stated that they experienced undesired weight changes since the start of the pandemic.
Sleep patterns also seem to be affected, as 2 out of 3 Americans reported that they are sleeping either less or more than they would like to be. The survey found that 23% of adults have increased their alcohol consumption as a way of coping with the stress they are facing.
These results are alarming, indicating that many Americans may be turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as overeating and binge drinking in order to deal with high levels of stress.
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The Many Consequences of Prolonged Stress
Chronic stress that goes unmanaged has the potential to wreak havoc on an individual’s physical and mental health.
According to psychologists, stress can spur physical symptoms such as gastrointestinal distress, headaches, muscle aches, dizziness, and skin rashes. It is also possible for stress to exacerbate existing chronic health problems. Mental health professionals state that each individual’s body tends to respond to stress in unique ways.
The data shows that many adults are overeating or using substances as a way to manage their daily stressors. Significant weight gain, which commonly occurs as a result of stress, can increase an individual’s risk of developing health conditions such as heart disease and type II diabetes.
Using drugs or alcohol to cope has the potential to lead to many consequences, such as substance dependence, issues at work or in relationships, and physical health problems.
Mental well-being is also heavily connected with stress. Ongoing stress can manifest in increased anxiety or irritability, difficulties concentrating, trouble sleeping, and feelings of overwhelm or burnout- all of which can significantly impact one’s ability to carry out daily activities.
Stress can also trigger the onset of a mental disorder (particularly for those who already have a genetic predisposition to these conditions). For individuals already living with depression and anxiety, stress can exacerbate the intensity of symptoms, increasing challenges with daily functioning.
For more information about mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders, visit BetterHelp.
5 Strategies for Healthy Stress Management
Psychologists emphasize the importance of not trying to ignore or minimize the presence of stress in your life. Instead, they advise being intentional about managing stress for enhanced mental and physical health. Here are five strategies for coping with stress that you might try during this overwhelming time.
1.Take a break
Don’t be afraid to take a break when you need to, whether it’s taking time off from work for self-care or unplugging from social media or news sources. Stay in tune with your body and mind, and learn to recognize when you need to step away for a bit in order to take care of yourself.
2. Prioritize taking care of your body
The benefits of a nutritious diet, regular physical activity, and adequate sleep truly cannot be overstated. Taking care of your physical health can keep your stress levels in check. It is also important to limit or avoid use of alcohol or other substances which may seem to help you relax in the moment, but can actually increase stress and anxiety in the long run.
3. Engage in calming activities that you enjoy
Whether it’s spending time with a pet, watching funny movies/TV shows, drawing, listening to music, writing, reading, or meditation, carve out time each day to do something that helps you to feel calm and centered.
4. Spend time connecting with others
Leaning into our support system is so important in times of ongoing stress. Being able to share about the challenges and stressors we are facing is so beneficial for reducing the intensity of our distress and helping us to process.
5. Seek out professional support if needed
Maybe you find yourself coping with stress in unhealthy ways or having significant mental or physical symptoms due to prolonged stress. If chronic stress is causing difficulties in your daily life, consider seeking out the support of a mental health professional.
They can work with you in order to identify your stressors and develop a plan for managing your stress in healthy ways. Remember that you are not alone; there is help and support available.
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About the Author
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.