A Reflection on Managing Your Personal Wellbeing during the COVID Crisis
April 16, 2020
By: Dennis Ensing, Executive Director, Equation – SWO Angels
All right – we are now four weeks into our collective response to battle this virus induced pandemic and it’s time to take a personal check-in, especially if you haven’t already. Last week I admitted to myself (finally) that I was feeling stress, so took some time to reflect.
I won’t delve into the sources of this stress here – they are obvious. We are deeply impacted by the hard decisions necessary daily – and possibly hourly at times – on top of having an impossible number of pressured deadlines. Even the most minor could be causing stress right now without you even knowing it. Just don’t trivialize sources of stress.
Instead, I will highlight the one thing we, who are generally classic Type As, are all afflicted by – and probably thrive on. We mistakenly think that if an activity is exciting or challenging, it’s not stressful. That’s because the chemical our body uses to help us cope with the challenge, at least initially, is deceptively addictive.
Adrenaline. Yes, our fantastic stress response system that mobilizes our bodies’ defenses against hostile, threatening, or even challenging events around us. You have heard it characterized by our fight or flight response – your heart beats faster, digestion speeds up and many other hormones are released.
But, enough medical context. Adrenaline is only problematic if we are repeatedly held in a constant state of alarm. I recognized it in myself last week when it dawned on me that I was running out of steam and motivation, precisely when I needed even more with which to lean in. Check-in time!
The analogy that occurred to me at this point was a race. I am a swim-bike-run age group athlete. Translated: non-competitive triathlete. I compete with myself, just not a spot on the podium. This is an endurance sport. The worst time to have too much adrenaline is right after the horn sounds at the start of the swim. In every race I have participated in there are participants being picked up by the lifeguards on paddle boards within the first couple hundred metres. When I personally have experienced panic in my swim, it is always when I went out too hard.
Our current battleground is going to be at least a middle-distance race, if not a marathon. We sprinted hard out of the gate and still have a way to go. Yes, it was necessary. But now is the time to begin to settle in with a good pace that will get you to the finish line – and beyond. It doesn’t mean we won’t push hard at points, but we MUST balance the intervals with good recovery built in.
I listened to a podcast earlier this year that featured an interview with Dr. Archibald Hart who has done a lot of research in this area. Here are some ways he suggests that we can stress bust our life by monitoring the state of our adrenaline arousal and, if we don’t need to be in state of emergency, then quickly relax our body and quiet our mind.
Set boundaries – Dr. Hart says that your body needs to “be told” when there is an emergency and when there isn’t. Therefore, be clear in your mind whether you are working or relaxing. Way back in week one, my wife caught me checking email when I was supposed to be relaxing. So, she dug out a puzzle we could work on together when I took even short breaks (without my phone nearby). We have finished four puzzles!
Resolve conflicts quickly. No emotions are more stressful or stress producing than anger and resentment. If you allow a conflict to stay with you into the night, it is going to disturb your sleep.
Sleep. We need all the sleep that we can get. If you wake up in the night, don’t get up unless you absolutely have to – revel in the luxury of just lying there.
Take care of unpleasant tasks first and get them out of the way – Procrastination doesn’t keep you in a low-stress mode – it increases your level of stress. Getting difficult things out of the way sooner will get your body back into a lower-stress mode sooner.
Take more breaks (recovery time) during each day, particularly after high-stress situations, and at least one full day a week.
Maintain open and healthy relationships. More than ever we need one another and to have those around us we can rely on in moments of crisis. Stay connected with regular Zoom, Happy Hours or Houseparty games.
Say no. Your no gives meaning to your yes. More than ever shed the things that are just busy time and eat into opportunities for renewal – spiritually, emotionally and physically.
Exercise. I am a morning person and there’s nothing better than a good workout (remember – swim, bike or run) to get my day off right. Not these days. I need a good flush late in the afternoon to manage the long hours, prepare for the next day and sleep better. Every other day my wife and I walk 5km together – combining the benefits of more than one of these stress-busters into one activity.
Tap into your spiritual resources – Dealing with stress is not just about putting into effect more discipline for your mind and body. On those foundations build a spiritual tranquillity for a fully balanced life. Only then can you create within you a real sense of deep calm and peace despite the storms that rage all around.
In closing, we have heard a lot in recent days about the mental health consequences that will build during the course of the upcoming weeks and months, then carry over once the cloud has lifted. Start with your own personal check-in, try some of the suggestions outlined above, then share your experience(s) with your team. Your vulnerability and learnings will be an important source of strength for them.
Excuse me, now that I’ve experienced some stress writing this article, I need to go for a run . . .
Hart, Archibald D. Adrenaline and Stress Thomas Nelson, 1995.
Hart, Archibald D. The Anxiety Cure Word Publishing, 1999.