It’s time to start paying more attention to our mental wellbeing, particularly our stress levels.
A recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that Americans are collectively more stressed now than ever — the study was conducted in 2019, and part of the reasons for the increasing stress levels include the mass shootings, the state of health care, and the coming election.
The American Institute of Stress also found that:
- 77 percent of people go through stress to the extent that their physical health is affected.
- 73 percent of people go through stress to the extent that it affects their mental health.
- 48 percent of people go through stress to the extent that it makes it difficult for them to sleep.
- 33 percent of people are extremely stressed.
Now, while those might be some very scary statistics, it is important to realize that they were all done prior to 2020; in other words, the above statistics were compiled before the whole COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the whole world on lockdown, people being forced to stay at home, businesses being forced to shut down, stock markets crashing all over the world with no sign of reprieve, and with so much uncertainty about when all these will end, you can only imagine how much more stressed we are right now.
Thankfully, we have science! Below are five pretty simple ways to deal with stress according to science.
1. Regulate the news, or turn it off completely
There’s so much going on in the world right now that it feels as if you must have a minute-by-minute pulse of what is going on by tuning in to the news at all times. Except this is highly detrimental to your health.
If you’re constantly grabbing your phone, tuning the TV, asking around, or using every source around to try to get news of what is going on, then you’re probably damaging your health by heightening your stress levels.
Take a moment to carefully analyze what is going on right now with the whole COVID-19 pandemic: the reality is that nothing has changed. The news is the same and will most likely be for the time being: more and more people are getting infected and dying, and we’re probably on the verge of a worldwide recession.
Having to read every news headline won’t help you. Instead, it will do the opposite. In fact, science has a name for this obsessive compulsion to know what’s happening: it is called headline stress disorder and it can affect both your physical and mental health.
2. Get more sleep
While you might be looking for more complicated advice, the reality is that alleviating your stress is sometimes as simple as getting some rest. There’s a reason why the respected Arianna Huffington wrote an entire book on the subject!
Sleep really does affect your stress levels. A study by researchers from the Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at The Rockefeller University found that sleep deprivation not only contributes to stress levels but the resulting stress could lead to impairment of brain functions.
At this particular time in history, you need a lot more sleep than before — and with most of the world on lockdown you have no reason not to get much needed sleep.
3. Develop a meditation habit
If you haven’t been meditating, this might be a good time to start; thanks to technology, it is easy to meditate by taking online classes, following instructions from books and articles, and/or using mobile apps.
Science has repeatedly linked meditation to alleviation of stress levels. In fact, a study of over 3,500 adults found that a particular style of meditation known as mindfulness meditation reduced the inflammatory response caused by stress; these inflammatory responses are responsible for disrupting sleep, promoting depression, increasing blood pressure, and clouding your thinking. Meditation, on the other hand, reduces this response and as a result leads to other positive health benefits.
4. Consider therapy
Stress can lead to serious impairment not just of your mental capability but also your physical health, as such it is important to take advantage of therapy if you’re struggling to deal with it on your own.
Research has linked several different forms of therapeutic practices to long-term reduction in stress levels — and this explains the rise of online therapy services during the coronavirus pandemic due to the current lockdown and restrictions to physical association. A particular study by researchers from the University Hospital of Basel in Switzerland found that a form of therapy known as Cognitive Behavioral Group Therapy (CBT) resulted in reduced stress and improved quality of life in patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Another study published in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association found that art therapy, even if it’s just 45 minutes of creative activity — regardless of your artistic experience or talent, can yield significant reduction in stress levels.
5. Develop a giving habit
Finally, you can reduce your stress levels by developing a giving habit.
Learning to give is especially important during difficult times like this one the whole world is currently going through due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You do not necessarily need to give money or physical things; you can give your time, your counsel, your support, and your kind words of encouragement to people who need it.
- A 2015 study published in the Clinical Psychological Science journal found that performing acts of kindness, no matter how small, contributed to a reduction in the stress levels of the study participants.