This insane series of events that has occurred in 2020 has totally impacted every single person on this planet. Since the virus started taking over parts of Asia in early January, there has been a ripple effect of changes to our lives and our sense of normalcy both at work and at home.
Millions of people around the world have experienced challenging situations from isolation without access to loved ones, to marriage struggles, to working parents tasked with juggling work, childcare, and even teaching their school-aged children thank you all the teachers out there!). Not to mention some of the more extreme situations where people have lost jobs and financial stability, been sick themselves or lost people they love to COVID-19. Regardless of the situation people are in, they all have one thing in common – STRESS.
Now, we all have been there - having that stress-feeling before giving a presentation, or an upcoming speaking event: sweaty palms, heart racing, being forgetful. We’ve all been there, and our bodies are biologically built to handle those types of situations and keep us safe from harm. But, what about when stress is prolonged…like for a few months, or I hate to say it, but even longer? What impacts does that stress have on our brain and body?
There has been a significant amount of research done lately on the effects of stress on the body and on the brain, and the results are shocking. Prolonged stress can not only exacerbate existing illnesses in the body, it can actually create new ones such as asthma, panic attacks, or even cardiovascular disease. In addition to the physical aspect, stress creates hormonal reactions in the brain, which if ignored can lead to serious mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. And I don't think we need ANY more of those in our society!
A recent report from the CDC shows 40.9% of surveyed respondents in America reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder during this COVID-19 pandemic. And more importantly, in the shorter term, when a person experiences prolonged stress (work pressures or challenges at home), the prefrontal cortex of the brain becomes inhibited resulting in symptoms such as decreased cognitive function, inability to make decisions, poor information retention and memory, which in a work context accumulates to BILLIONS of dollars of corporate risk.
Now THAT is a major concern for companies - they need to provide innovative solutions to ensure their employee’s mental health is looked after. So, if you are a business owner or at an organization where you can make a change in regards to employee health, DO IT. Take action NOW.
If not, here are some tips to start reducing the stress and negative brain impact:
1. Throttle your Media Consumption
I'm not super big into consuming news articles, but if you still feel the need, I recommend limiting the news to less than a few times per day. Check in the morning after your quiet time and the late afternoon. But NOT before bedtime. Constantly tuning into the news increases stress and often draws attention to things that you have little control over.
2. Get Outside
The good news is that weather is cooling off from the summer, so take this opportunity to get outside and experience the reawakening of nature. Step away from your home office and take a walk around your neighborhood. If you have kids, go on a nature scavenger hunt or play “I spy” in the yard, or our favorite, dig in the dirt!
3. Control What You Can
During this time of work from home and uncertainty, take the opportunity to control what you CAN in your home environment. Get the family to pitch in for some deep cleaning. Sort through your family’s clothing and set aside any donations for when donation centers open back up. Clean out your flower garden or prepare your vegetable garden for planting this season. Accomplishing tasks such as these can be quite rewarding and get your mind off of career activities.
4. Get Creative
Using your hands and your creative brain can be a great way to relieve stress. It helps you focus on the present and create something new. If you have arts and crafts supplies on hand, use them to create something special. I always enjoy coloring with my kids or sitting down at my piano and playing for a few minutes. What are your creative hobbies?
5. Seek Help When Needed
If your stress is causing you to feel more anxious or depressed, don’t be afraid to reach out. Many experts are available to provide virtual support during these uncertain times. And it's REALLY important to get help NOW instead of let it eat you away.