It’s no secret that people are stressed out right now. The number of Americans contracting COVID-19 continues to grow, and on top of health-related fears are those concerning financial security. Add to the mix the inability to leave one’s home and you’ve got a recipe for crippling stress and anxiety — conditions that can have detrimental, long-lasting effects on our bodies and minds.
Ginger, a company specializing in on-demand mental health care, announced new data late last week on the mental health of U.S. workers before and after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, revealing a dramatic uptick in U.S. employee stress levels, a significant drop in productivity and an increase in the use of virtual mental health care for support.
Some of the numbers reported by Ginger were dramatic, with 88 percent of workers reporting moderate to extreme stress levels felt over the past four to six weeks and 69 percent of workers claiming this was the most stressful time of their entire professional career, including major events like the 9/11 terror attacks, the 2008 Great Recession and others. Also reporting extreme levels of stress were the vast majority of employees working from home at nearly 92 percent.
Right now everyone has their own reasons to be stressed, but what doesn’t change is how that stress manifests in our bodies, costing us our health and reducing our productivity at work. The good news is that there are ways to combat these negative responses while staying safely indoors, from keeping active to developing healthy coping mechanisms that allow our minds and bodies to be functioning at maximum capacity while we weather the storm.
Stay active indoors
It’s never been more important for us to be mindful of our health and the effects that stress may have on it, as 43 percent of U.S. employees have recently reported becoming physically ill as a result of work-related stress.
Maintaining a level of physical activity while indoors has an entire range of benefits, from ensuring a more restful night’s sleep to naturally raising our levels of feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin.
“Physical activity is paramount to maintaining a healthy immune system, now more than ever. It’s important to take care of ourselves, our bodies, and each other. Aside from the health benefits it also has a significant impact on mental health,” says Joey Gonzalez, the owner of popular fitness boutique Barry’s. “For me, exercise has always been the best way to clear my mind, relax, and reset.”
Surround yourself with life
If you’ve so much as wandered down your street for some fresh air lately you may have noticed something new: Everyone is walking around with dogs. You aren’t going crazy for thinking it — shelters around the country have been reporting an exponential growth in the numbers of pets being adopted right now.
A spokesperson for Best Friends Animal Society in Atlanta recently told US News and World Report that the Georgia site normally sees about 10 pets placed in foster care in any given week. From March 16-20 she saw 62 dogs and cats find foster homes.
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There’s a scientific reason why people are more inclined to adopt or foster a pet right now too (besides shelter-in-place related boredom), as studies have shown that interacting with a friendly dog reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Just the sensory act of stroking a pet also lowers blood pressure and consequently reduces stress.
If a new pet isn’t in the cards for you right now, stress relief can also be found in the simple act of adding more live plants to your space. Studies suggest that even just looking at green plants can do wonders for your stress levels, and research has shown that owning indoor plants has the added benefit of natural air filtration. It’s also easier than ever to get plants, when online services like Bloomscape and The Sill send live greenery directly to your doorstep.
Get some deep, restorative sleep
Have you been having bizarre dreams lately? If so, you’re not the only one. Thousands of people have been sharing their peculiar #pandemicdreams on Twitter, many of which involve disease, fear or strange new surroundings.
Experts say that these dreams are a normal response to stress, and that our brains may also resort to searching for a less stressful scenarios while we sleep — a solid explanation for those suddenly dreaming of their past.
Another side effect of coronavirus-induced stress is lighter sleep, which psychoanalyst Robert Bosnak suggests may be the reason why we’re remembering all of our intense dreams from the night before. In fact, a recent survey of 1,000 people revealed that 22 percent of adults have been experiencing worse sleep patterns during the pandemic.
According to UCLA Professor Jennifer Martin, our bodies are created to stay awake during danger and so in a stressful situation, like a pandemic, you may remain on high alert which interrupts your sleep.
This increase in lighter sleep is doing us no favors during day time hours, as deep sleep is crucial for physical renewal, hormonal regulation and growth, according to the Harvard Business Review. Without deep sleep, you’re more likely to get sick, feel depressed and gain an unhealthy amount of weight.
Try cutting caffeine at least 10 hours before you plan on nodding off, and create a healthy routine that’ll set the mood for you to fall asleep faster with less stress on your mind. This might mean leaving your cell phone out of the bedroom before bedtime, staying away from the news at night or setting up a peaceful environment to promote rest — a completely darkened room and white noise playing. Sleep trackers like the Oura Ring and Whoop can also provide you with key insights into how peacefully you slept the night before, helping you to understand your levels of wakefulness the next day.
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