Everyone responds differently to stress related to a disease outbreak, financial crisis, natural disaster or another traumatic event. Health care workers and first responders, older and at-risk adults, people with mental or behavioral health conditions, or anyone experiencing high levels of anxiety and fear may respond strongly to the stress of a crisis.
Intensely stressful situations take a toll on the body, particularly when difficult circumstances extend over a long period. When the body enters "fight or flight" mode, it quickly floods the bloodstream with cortisol and adrenaline. This stress response can help you handle difficult events for short durations, and once they are over, your hormone levels return to normal. However, a long-term activation of the stress response can disrupt your body's systems.
Symptoms of stress often include
• Back pain.
• Digestive problems.
• High blood pressure.
• Shortness of breath.
• Stiff neck.
• Weight gain or loss.
The first step in coping with stress is recognizing when you are experiencing it. Next, you need to choose healthy ways to manage it. You may want to try several techniques to find which works best for you. If you can't avoid what's causing your stress, change how you react to it:
• Concentrate on the present. Stress builds up when we worry about what happened in the past or what will occur in the future — especially situations we can't control.
• Tackle problems one at a time. It's easier to work out a solution to just one problemm rather than too many.
• Ask for help from family, friends or professionals. People who care about you usually are willing to lend a hand when you need it.
• Set realistic goals. Take small, concrete steps to deal with tasks, instead of overwhelming yourself with too many far-reaching goals for busy times.
Taking care of your body
Stress often suppresses your immune system, so make sure to give your body every chance possible to stay healthy. Take care of your body and mind to alleviate some of the adverse effects of stress.
• Make time for activities you enjoy. Get away from your daily stressors with hobbies that help you unwind.
• Plan relaxing activities. Focus your mind and body on a calming activity. Relaxing may be as simple as deep breathing, petting your dog or taking a walk in the woods.
• Exercise and eat a balanced diet. Exercise releases your nervous energy, helps boost the immune system and improves sleep. It also distracts you from stressful situations and reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol. A balanced diet ensures that your body receives the nutrients it needs to fight off disease.
• Rely on social support. The support that family, friends and co-workers have to offer may be crucial in reducing anxiety. Social involvement with others also will help you avoid isolation and depression, which can increase stress — especially at this time.
Keep in mind that children can experience stress, too. Signs of stress in a child include acting out, isolation, being clingy, having a change in appetite or developing a different sleeping pattern. Children look to parents to see how they should handle anxiety. Parents should model healthy behaviors to help a child cope with those feelings.
DruAnn Keating is a licensed mental health professional at Columbus Psychiatry Clinic.