Six ways to deal with stress and anxiety while stuck at home
As the MCO continues indefinitely in many states in Malaysia, the more we remain cooped up at home. Home sweet home? Not exactly. In the current pandemic, the Ministry of Health has recorded more than 37,000 individuals calling into mental health hotlines in 2020 alone. 53.3 percent of calls were related to psychological and emotional distress. This distress understandably comes from many factors; social isolation, economic uncertainty, unemployment, COVID-19 and so on. As we are still in the midst of a pandemic, here are some essential tips to keep manage your stress and anxiety during these uncertain times.
- Breathing exercise
- Practice mindfulness
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Talk to someone you trust
- Setting a schedule
Breath in……..breath out………
Breathing is something most of us take for granted. Air in, air out. That’s all……right? In fact, breathing helps reduce our body’s response to stress by returning our elevated body functions back to normal resting rate. This includes slowing our beating heart, reduce sweating and shivering as well as even lowering blood pressure.
Let the air enter your nose by breathing in slowly for 3 seconds until you can fill your lungs expand. After that hold your breath for another 3 seconds. When exhaling, allow yourself to breathe through your mouth for another 3 seconds. Continue to do this for at least 5 minutes or until you feel calm and relaxed.
A simple yet effective trick.
Practice some mindfulness
Mindfulness is often confused as some mystical or perhaps even spiritual. The concept of mindfulness actually involves being present and aware of what you’re experiencing and sensing at that very moment. Find a quiet and peaceful place. Position yourself in a comfortable posture/position and close your eyes. Allow yourself to observe any bodily sensations or feelings. These sensations can range from the wind blowing on your cheeks to how the clothes you’re wearing feel on your body or the tension in your neck, arms and legs. After that, allow your mind wander to whatever thoughts may come without judgement and criticism. Naturally come and return between your bodily sensations and thoughts until you feel content. I recommend at least duration of 5 minutes for this practice.
Journaling may sound a little like a hassle or unappealing given our busy schedules and lives or even seem unnecessary. That is simply untrue, as journaling one’s thoughts, feelings and significant events can lead to great introspection and understanding of one’s self. By writing down our feelings and thoughts throughout the day, you let yourself see where these thoughts and emotions come from and how we react to them. Journaling also helps us be more conscious of habits that might be unbeneficial or detrimental to us, motivating us to healthier changes. An easy way to begin is to just simply start writing! You can start out writing something as simple as how your day went, what interesting things happened that day, what you had for lunch that day and how these things made you feel and react. Don’t just journal what went wrong in your day, remember the good things as well! Doing so helps us shift our mindset from focusing on the bad to the good over time.
Talk to close ones
Usually when we’re feeling stressed and emotional, we tend to look for others we can talk and relate to. Whether it be friends or family, letting those around you know how you’re feeling and why you feel that way helps regulate our emotions and lets us see our problems from another perspective. However, the pandemic has disrupted our everyday life, forcing most of us to be cut off physically from one another. The loss of our daily routines and social contact in turn can lead to greater depression, anxiety, stress, boredom and irritability. It’s more important than ever to stay connected. There are many ways to keep in touch with separated friends and family via Whatsapp, Zoom, Google Meets and other apps. Even separated, you can still plenty of fun things to do together online! For example, eating lunch together through Zoom call, watching a movie on Netflix at the same time and playing online social games together.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is another useful technique to alleviate stress and anxiety. Similar to the breathing technique, this technique goes one step further by requiring you to clench each muscle group in your body. You begin at the forehead and end at the feet. Simply put, as you breath in, clench each muscle group for 15 seconds. The, immediately unclench your muscles as you exhale. Easy enough right? I will take you step by step.
- Forehead- Try clenching and raising your eyebrow as hard as possible. As if you’re making an angry face
- Cheeks and jaw- Now extend your mouth and jaw as wide as possible and hold them in position.
- Shoulders- Raise and tighten you shoulders. Try to keep them as close as possible
- Arms and hands- Put your hands to your chest and clench your fists, biceps and forearms
- Stomach-Suck in your stomach and until its tenses up and hold
- Back- Straighten your back and clench your back muscles
- Hips and buttocks- Press your buttocks firmly together
- Thighs and legs- Squeeze your thighs and lower legs together. Curl your toes downwards as far as you can.
How does this help? Simply put, when you become anxious, your muscles tend to tense up. By relaxing these muscles, you alleviate the tension. Which then cues the relaxation state for your body, reducing anxiety and stress. Once your good enough, you can just practice with the muscles that tend to tense up when you’re stressed out. Making it a quick and easy technique that can be used anywhere!
Setting a schedule
Even though most of us are home, it doesn’t mean we’re any less busy. As more people are working from home during this period, it is getting harder to separate work from personal life. This comes as home is now the new workplace. In fact, some individuals report working longer hours or having heavier workloads while at home. This in turn can cause significant distress and anxiety as home is no longer a place to retreat from work for the day. As Dr Rusdi Abdul Rashid, consultant psychiatrist at Universiti Malaya Specialist Centre told the News Strait Times, “A confusion of roles will occur at home and this will give rise to stress and depression not only among employees but also their family members including children.” Some parents who are forced to work from home find it difficult juggling between their family and work, with barely any time for themselves. This in turn leads to further stress and anxiety as well as one’s confidence to manage their lives. That’s why its important to schedule your day effectively.
Set a clear limit on working hours while at home. If you’re having difficulty being productive for long hours, set fixed breaks at regular intervals for yourself. Make yourself a drink, take a short walk or even a 15-minute power nap. Also, try setting manageable goals, whether it be work, family or yourself. Don’t try to get everything done in one day. Once you’re done and have time for yourself, do something fun or relaxing for yourself! You can watch a film, exercise, play a game or even practice of the tips and techniques in this article.
We may be stuck at home, but it doesn’t mean we have to stay stressed out and miserable. It’s important to manage your stress levels during uncertain times. By keeping calm and collected, we enable ourselves to make rational decisions and see the silver lining in every situation, even in a pandemic. If you are in need of further help or need to speak to someone, feel free to contact us at Mentalogue. Our goal is to help you connect to a qualified and experienced therapist of your liking across Malaysia with comfort and ease.
- The Covid-19 mental toll on Malaysia: Over 37,000 calls to help hotlines - https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2020/11/19/the-covid-19-mental-toll-on-malaysia-over-37000-calls-to-help-hotlines/1924062
- Breathing Techniques for Stress Relief - https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-relief-breathing-techniques
- What is Mindfulness? - https://www.mindful.org/what-is-mindfulness/
- The downside of WFH - https://www.nst.com.my/lifestyle/heal/2020/07/608398/downside-wfh
- Loneliness and social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7306546/
- Stress Management: Doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation -https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2225