Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Healthy Resistance to Stress

If you are like most others, you were probably trying to just wait out the COVID-19 pandemic in hope of things eventually just getting back to "normal".  But it looks like whatever it is we are experiencing now "is" the new normal, and accepting that is really most of the battle regarding the stress that this real change brings. 

It's symbolic and synchronistic, I suppose, that all of this comes near the edge of seasonal change, as Fall is right around the corner and the unknown continues to lie ahead of us all.

Many folks are still sitting on another kind of edge as well, and that is the one between human survival and just trying to flourish in this life.  How do we sort out how to scramble for employment, income, safety, and basic needs while also trying to find peace, joy, harmony and a stress free life for ourselves?  For some the reality of having tied one's ego up in a job title has hurried in hard existential questions about identity, purpose, and meaning.  The problem is that to cling to anything at all--be it a job, job title, marriage, house, business, project, money, or even health--is a big mistake.  None of these will stay the same even if you manage to keep them.  Never-the-less, it's only human nature for us to do what we need to do to survive and once survival needs are met, only then do we bother to notice the stress that surviving has put on us.  

So, the way we respond to stress is very important.  It was Hans Selye who created the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) model to help us understand the stress response.  It has three stages:  The Alarm stage in which a stressor is introduced to our environment.  The Resistance stage in which we do our best to cope with that stressor (sometimes not in the healthiest of ways).  And finally the Exhaustion stage.  

Many of us are still in the Resistance stage regarding the stress brought on by COVID-19 and something that is important for us to realize is that this stage cannot be maintained forever.  If we are not coping well, then all of our resources will eventually become depleted and we will reach the stage of Exhaustion, which puts us at risk for a weakened immune system and vulnerability for illnesses we were initially trying to avoid.  Therefore, it's crucial that we work to have the healthiest coping styles we can muster up during the Resistance stage of stress.

Fall brings with it cold and flu season, the one thing none of us want to take risks with, especially this year.  So you can start now to strengthen your coping styles for dealing with whatever stressors COVID-19 has brought your way.  Here are some ideas to notice about your own coping right now:

  • Are you eating well, taking in healthy foods?  Or are you going for the sugar and junk food?
  • Are you drinking or using other substances more?  Or using natural relaxation techniques?
  • Are you coping by shopping and spending?  Or are you journaling about your frustrations?
  • Are you closing the world off?  Or reaching out to talk with others who are also coping?
  • Are you getting enough exercise?  Or planting in front of the awful daily news stories?
  • Are  you asking for help?  Or trying to do the impossible all by yourself?
  • Are you searching for available resources?  Or playing the victim and deciding it's hopeless?
  • Are  you seeing and appreciating the possibilities around you?  Or giving up?
What's important here is to not let yourself reach the stage of Exhaustion where the immune system falls below homeostasis (that neutral place of normal functioning).  The holidays and winter can bring with them feelings of depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and lowered motivation.  So prepare now by upping your game to include better and healthy coping styles.  At least give yourself the upper hand to cope in the best way you possibly can.