How the pandemic stress impacts health and what to do about it

Stress is a natural part of life and unfortunately, most people sooner or later, experience stress. But it's not all bad news - in fact, stress can sometimes be a good thing

With everything 2020 had in store for the world – COVID-19, lockdowns, restrictions, unemployment and even toilet paper shortages – it’s no surprise people are more stressed than ever. It's been said that we might even be stressed about things that just a year ago, would never have crossed our minds. What’s more, stress has the potential to impact every part of our lives including: how we feel about work, how we feel about our family and loved ones, and perhaps most importantly, how we feel about ourselves. With 2021 now upon us and 2020 finally behind us, it’s the perfect time to prioritise health and look at ways to deal with the stresses in life. 

But first - what is stress?

Most of us know what stress feels like, but what exactly is stress? Stress is your body releasing hormones to help prepare you to handle a worrying situation. Much like the ‘fight or flight’ response your body has to danger, stress hormones set your heart racing as your breathing accelerates and your muscles tense, ready to spring into action. It places your body on high alert.

Stress can be a useful thing if you’re about to ask your boss for a raise, confront a teenager arriving home at 3am, or escape a hungry lion stalking the entrance to your cave as it keeps your body on high alert, and ready to respond to a difficult or even threatening situation. Historically, stress is what helped keep the human race alive, meaning that (long story short) stress is nothing new!

However, long term stress can lead to more severe health impacts such as insomnia, depression, headaches and anxiety. These symptoms are not good for your overall health. The good news is, there are a few simple things you can do that may help to stop your stress in its tracks. 

Keeping healthy

Eating well can help to decrease your stress levels. Eating a balanced range of healthy, nutritious foods will make a world of difference if you’re feeling the effects of day to day stress. Make sure that you’re drinking around 2 litres of water a day and aim to get in at least 30 minutes of physical activity as well. Also try to get enough sleep each and every night to make sure you are living your healthiest life. 

If you want to stay healthy and reduce the stress in your life, the basics are the best place to start.

  • Food: we all know the deal. Eat plenty of the good stuff like veggies, grains and fruit, and include a bit of dairy and some meat or fish. Limit non-healthy foods such as those with a poor health star-rating as much as possible.
  • Water: we’re lucky enough to live in a country with a constant supply of fresh, safe drinking water, so there’s no excuse for you not to be drinking the recommended 2 litres of water every day, or more in some cases (depending on your age, for example).
  • Exercise: doing any type of physical activity is better than doing nothing and you should aim to be active most days of the week. Anywhere between 150 to 300 minutes of moderately intense activity every week is ideal.
  • Sleep: while everyone is different, the average adult needs seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
    If you’re having trouble with any of these things, there’s a range of apps that can help you track your food intake and your sleep. You could consider buying yourself a bigger water bottle to help make sure you stay on track with your water intake.

If you'd like further advice you can check in with your medical professional.

Let’s talk about stress

As we all dealt with the blanket coverage of the ongoing changes of 2020, it became easy to want to escape inside ourselves. This meant that many of us bottled up our worries and concerns about our lives, and even the lives of those who relied on us. Despite this, talking about our feelings – the good, the bad and the ugly – is one of the best ways to deal with stress.
If you have a partner, try to make time to sit down and talk about what’s causing you both stress. You might be worried about the kids, your jobs, the mortgage, lack of financial safety guards like a will or life insurance, not getting enough sleep; or even the little things; like forgetting your Netflix password, and other niggly thoughts at the end of the day. If something is stressing you out, it’s worth talking about.
If you’re not partnered or seeing anyone right now, talk to your friends. We’ve all had to deal with restrictions and lockdowns of some sort, so we all get it, and we all understand. So, now that we can get together once more (even though many restrictions are still in place in some areas), it could be time to book a table at your favourite haunt (you’re also scoring bonus points for supporting local business). So, sit down and talk. Chatting with friends and sharing your thoughts and concerns is good for the soul.

Take a breath, take time out for yourself

Making time to spend with friends is just one way to carve out precious ‘me’ time. Time that’s just for you. If you’ve suddenly had to work from home, if your partner has had to do the same, and if the kids are now sometimes schooling from home. It’s all stressful.

Not to mention enduring hard lockdowns or the stress of not being able to see loved ones. In fact, scientists in 2020 called for a need to enhance children and adolescents’ access to mental health support services so that they could develop healthy coping mechanisms during the pandemic crisis.

It's not just children that were affected by prolonged stress in 2020. Your partner may have felt, or may be feeling, just as stressed. This is just another reason to open the lines of communication and talk.

Arrange some alone time to do whatever it is you like to do. Read a book or watch a movie. Walk through the park, run along the beach or amble down by the creek. Do whatever you can, and get some time to take a breather, and recalibrate. This can help you face the challenges of the new year ahead. Time outdoors can lead to a reduction in stress levels, so get out into the great beyond when and where you can, provided there are no restrictions in your area. 

Every cloud has a silver lining

It's important to have strategies in place for when things might go wrong, as not everything in life will always go to plan. This could be another excellent reason to have a life insurance policy you can trust. 

So, for 2021, it’s essential to stop and enjoy the little things in life - because they’re the things that really matter.