It’s impossible to avoid stress. But the weight of your worry may feel heavier now that the novel coronavirus has upended your routine. Overhauling the way you live is bound to cause anxiety, and you may need some easy ways to relieve the discomfort.
Lousy days are inevitable, but you can make them more manageable, says Janet Kennedy, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor.
“It’s absolutely normal to be distressed,” she says. “Our culture is very focused on bad feelings being wrong.”
Instead of fixing every problem now—which isn’t always possible—Kennedy recommends doing things that counteract negativity. Your problems won’t go away, but you’ll sleep better and feel less overwhelmed, she says.
Try these tactics when you need a sense of calm:
Build a birdhouse
Exploring something new can take your mind off your worries, says Alice Boyes, Ph.D., former clinical psychologist and author of The Anxiety Toolkit. Pople who got crafty for 45 minutes had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, according to a 2016 study in the journal Art Therapy
Practice deep breathing
Kennedy recommends breathing exercises for patients who are plagued with a tight, heavy feeling in their chests. Deep, abdominal breathing can relieve the pressure you feel internally, she says.
Not sure how to start? Meditation apps like Headspace or Calm have guided sessions that are easy to follow. Or you can try this practice recommended by the University of Michigan:
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly directly below your ribs.
- Breath deeply through your nose and allow your belly to push your hand out.
- Breathe out with pursed lips. You should feel the hand on your belly go in. Use this hand to push the air out.
- Repeat 3 to 10 times.
Do yoga daily
People who practiced yoga for 10 weeks reported less stress and anxiety, according to a 2007 study published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine.
Boyes recommends beginning a 30-day yoga challenge for consistency. She particularly likes restorative yoga because the movements are slower and alleviates pressure on your body.
“It’s what I go to when I’ve had really bad news,” she says.
Writing is a structured activity that allows you to process your thoughts, says Boyes. If you’re worried about a particular problem, spend 20 minutes a day—over four days—putting your feelings into words.
Think about the worst case scenario
Chances are you’ve already nailed this if you’re anxious. Now, you just have to consider the best and most realistic outcomes, too.
“Usually when people are stressed out it’s because their thoughts are going to the worst thing that can happen,” says Boyes. This method helps you understand that a small mistake won’t ruin your career or to realize there are many reasons why your email has gone unanswered.
Go for a run or walk
You hear it time and again: fitness is good for your mental and physical health. People who exercised regularly were happier during stressful situations, according to a 2014 study published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.
And you don’t have to run for hours to benefit, according to Boyes. She recommends going for a quick evening or morning stroll to ease your mind. Pick a familiar route to avoid making decisions about your destination—this only adds more stress.
Play video games at breakfast, lunch, and dinner
Or do something else you enjoy at least three times a day. The point is to regularly boost your mood with activities that are fun and provide a sense of accomplishment.
“You shouldn’t have a horrible day and think that doing something pleasurable in the evening is going to cut it,” says Boyes.
Own your feelings
We spend a lot of time denying stress, which isn’t productive, says Kari Leibowitz, Ph.D. (c) in psychology and graduate fellow at the Stanford Mind & Body Lab.
“If you’re stressed about paying your bills, trying to reduce that stress won’t make the stressor go away,” she says.
Leibowitz encourages you to reflect on specific fears caused by a stressor, then look at how you’re handling the situation. Ask yourself, “Is my response facilitating my true goals and things I care about?”
If the answer is no, brainstorm ways to take action. Activities that offer a sense of achievement can bring you pleasure, says Boyes.
Realize you’re not alone
Of course, some stress may be difficult to manage on your own. Check out Open Path, Talkspace or BetterHelp for affordable counseling if you don’t have access to therapy through your insurance.