Coping in Challenging Times

Acknowledging Mental Health Week May 3 - 9, 2021

The incredible state of uncertainty foisted on us by the Covid Pandemic is taking an enormous toll on our mental health. In a 2020 worldwide survey, Gallup Research found that roughly seven in 10 people are struggling or suffering in their lives.

To begin, I invite you to take a few minutes to check your current Stress Index using this Canadian Mental Health tool https://cmha.ca/whats-your-stress-index  The purpose of the tool and this article is not to increase your worry but rather to provide strategies for mitigating ongoing distress.

Every individual needs an optimum level of stress to enhance performance. Both too little and too much stress can be detrimental to a person’s health. Following the Stress Response being triggered in our brain we experience a “fight, flight or freeze” reaction. In the ideal situation our body quickly returns to a fully relaxed state after that arousal.

However, when a state of “chronic stress” goes on for weeks or months, the normal functions of our body’s systems are inhibited, with the buildup of stress hormones Adrenalin and Cortisol contributing to mental and physical health issues.

The good news is that chronic stress overload is both preventable and reversible. And that requires consistent and intentional action on the part of the individual. Consider this quote from the Canadian Institute of Stress. “It is easier to act your way into a new way of feeling than to think your way into a new way of acting.”  

I hope you will find some of the following action ideas helpful.

Practicing Acceptance

Not accepting the reality of what is, can keep you in a perpetual state of conflict with yourself. Life is too short to waste time trying to change what is simply not within your power to control. Determining “what matters most” and then acting about that can bring peace of mind, despite uncertainty. Give yourself permission to make peace with whatever it is you cannot change and apply that focused energy on what you do have the power to control.

Reducing News and Technology

Two realities in our current context are information overload and technology exhaustion. Judiciously choose what you are exposed to by limiting television news, internet surfing and use of email as a communication tool. Nearly 60% of e-mail content is misunderstood. If it is critical, try a phone conversation instead. And if you are spending several hours a day on Zoom or other platforms, build in time for calm and healthy distractions. Our brain cannot tell the difference between a threat that is real or perceived, so the stress response is being triggered by any or all these conditions every day, all day long.  

Connecting With Others

The power of human contact cannot be underestimated. Research has shown that friendships ignite the part of the brain that makes us feel good and has also proven that friendship can extend life expectancy. Quality friendships help us deal with stress, make good choices, and rebound from setbacks. Friendships also reduce mental health problems like anxiety and depression. Despite the current Covid restrictions we must find ways to stay connected with our close friends and others we love. Regular phone calls and other ways to connect need to be built into our daily routines. I recently bought AirPods for easy conversations with friends or family while I'm walking - works great!

Nurturing Your Essence

Essence is the real and ultimate nature of the individual—the yearning of one's heart and soul. Being true to one’s essence brings meaning to our daily lives. The following list may be ways to nurture your essence. Add your own ideas to the list and then reflect on each item. 

  • Knowing what it is I am meant to do and be.
  • Having a sense of belonging, caring and mattering.
  • Realizing what brings me peace and joy.
  • Finding my voice.
  • Connecting to my vulnerability
  • Being playful. Having FUN!

Controlling Perfectionism/Idealism/Drivenness Through Self-Awareness

I am a self-declared “workaholic on a healing journey” following burnout 20 years ago. The red words in the heading above could all have been used to describe me at that time. There is an interesting belief in the burnout literature – “You can’t burnout if you were never lit up in the first place.” It has taken years for me to learn to wake up and slow down.

What I understand now is that I must be persistent and consistent about implementing measures to guard my physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. Along with meditative walks in nature, one of my favourite tools, is regular therapeutic massage.

The following information comes from my very wise massage therapist Louise Gunn:

“When you are self-aware, you are totally focused on what is happening in that moment, not thinking about yesterday or tomorrow, not regretting or worrying about the future. Your breathing slows, your mind calms and your body relaxes. Practicing self-awareness is important because it helps us cope with negative emotions and feelings such as impatience, anxiety, anger, and fear, which in turn reduces stress. Massage is just one way to practice self-awareness – a slow walk in the woods, a hot bath, sitting quietly in daily meditation or yoga are also ways to connect with yourself.”

Louise Gunn is a Registered Massage Therapist. She works at Joral Hair Design and Massage in Edmonton. Hours and days are flexible. Rates range from $90 to $125 for 60 and 90-minute sessions. You can get in contact via call or text Louise at 780-906-4088.

There is only one of you on this earth; take respectful care of yourself.

           Love Kathleen

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