COVID Support VT Workshop Promotes Recovery Through Daily Wellness
Stress happens. There’s no way around it. It’s a part of our lives that most of us can’t avoid for too long. But even if we can’t escape it, there are steps we can take to limit its negative impact. Making stress management a daily practice equips us to better cope when the inevitable stressors of life come knocking.
What does it mean to make stress management a daily practice? Essentially, it means taking care of yourself. “Self-care,” as some call it, is akin to applying oxygen to yourself first in the event of an airplane emergency. If we feel cared for and secure, we are better equipped to help and support others in our lives.
Evolutionary Role of Stress Key to Survival
Stress itself isn’t a bad thing. In contemporary times as with primitive humans, stress can serve a vital purpose. The fight-or-flight response that acute stress kicks off floods the system with adrenaline, cortisol, and other powerful stress hormones. The heart pumps faster, rushing blood to where it’s needed in the moment. And the brain gets hyper-focused on what needs to happen to survive.
As a result, acute stress can actually improve cognition in the short term. A little stress may motivate us to do something we’ve avoided or sharpen our focus enough to get a task done. That’s why some people work better under pressure.
Not Built for Daily, Chronic Stress
Still, the stress-response system was built for emergencies, like escaping saber tooth tigers and the like. Pandemic stress is different. It’s slower and it simmers. It’s riddled with uncertainty and unknowing. Financial hardships, concerns about safety, worries about children or the elderly – these are not one-off events. When stress becomes constant or repeated, it can take a toll on our mental and physical state.
Too much cortisol damages brain cells, for example. Over time, chronic stress disrupts the pathways between the more primitive fear-processing parts of the brain and the thinking part of the brain in the prefrontal cortex. In contrast to acute stress, chronic stress inhibits clear thinking. Fatigue and mental fogginess are common. We may react emotionally, become moody or irritated. We may be physically tired, and our immune defenses are down. We’re more likely to catch colds and flus.
Create a Daily Wellness Plan
In the same way that chronic stress is not a one-off event, nor is managing stress. It takes attention to what we do daily that supports or detracts from our mental well-being. A daily wellness plan is simply a tool to better understand what makes us feel good in our day-to-day routines.
Nate Reit, a COVID Support VT counselor, calls it a way to “make our future self feel good.” By consciously attending to the goal of doing things for our emotional wellness, we can build resilience both to the challenges we may currently face and those that may lie ahead.
You can find a downloadable Daily Stress Management Plan on COVID Support VT’s website. With it, you can track your activities across the week. It’s also helpful to give some thought to how you’re feeling and record that as well. Then, you can compare what you’ve done with how you feel and assess how well your plan is working. Over time, you can adjust or try different approaches.
What’s in Your Daily Plan?
What should be in your daily wellness plan? That depends on you, of course, and what makes you feel good. In a recent workshop, Reit outlined eight strategies to consider as part of your wellness plan. These are meant as guidelines to inspire. Your job is to customize them to your life and your needs.
- Have fun. Unwind by doing something you enjoy, every day.
- Be still. Pause for a moment. Allow your mind to stop.
- Be social. Connect with someone outside of your own home. Someone you will enjoy seeing.
- Check it off. Do something from start to finish. This is especially helpful if you’re someone who has a long to-do list. Check something off and acknowledge yourself for it.
- Move your body. Exercise for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
- Sleep well. It’s cliché, and it’s worth repeating: get plenty of rest. Use good sleep hygiene. Limit screen time in the hours before bedtime.
- Eat well. Stress eating is real. Nourish yourself with real food. A diet of healthy fruits and vegetables, including berries, supports brain health and mental wellness.
- Say thanks. Practicing proactive gratitude is a great way to engender positive emotions and find the learnings in challenging situations.
Commit to Try
Reit encourages workshop attendees to “commit to try” something new daily. Write down three to five different things you can put into place to ease your anxiety, starting today. Examples are taking a walk most mornings, or jotting down what you’re grateful for at night. Or maybe you can commit to buying some healthy snacks the next time you shop for groceries. How about turning off your cellphone after 8 p.m.?
Learn More and Find Resources
Download the Daily Stress Management Guide. Print it out and fill it in to track your progress.
Visit COVIDSupportVT.org for support and resources for stress management, including one-on-one counseling via Vermont’s 2-1-1 system (option #2).
Find daily self-care tips and resources on our Take Care page.
Learn more about stress and take our Stress Triggers Quiz.
Need to Talk?
Call 2-1-1 (in Vermont) for assistance.
If you or someone you care for is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can: call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-825; text VT to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor 24/7; connect with your local community mental health center for 24/7 support.
Find resources and tools for coping with stress at www.COVIDSupportVT.org.
Find your local community mental health center by visiting Vermont Care Partners.
COVID Support VT is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency, managed by Vermont’s Department of Mental Health, and administered by Vermont Care Partners, a statewide network of 16 non-profit community-based agencies providing mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disability services and supports.