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7 Tips For Dealing with Continued COVID-19 Pandemic Stress

From individuals who continue to show up every day for their communities to those working at home with blurred lines between personal and professional lives, after two years COVID-19 burnout has become almost become an epidemic itself.

According to the American Psychological Association, burnout is at an all-time high in all professions. About 79% of employees experienced work-related stress during the month prior to the survey, and 3 in 5 workers reported negative effects including lack of motivation, energy, or interest at work. The number of people reporting cognitive fatigue has increased by 36% since 2019, emotional exhaustion increased by 32%, and physical fatigue increased by 44%.

There's no easy way to deal with burnout, especially when it's so extreme as many people are experiencing right now. Regardless, we should rethink our personal outlooks and strategies in the midst of a cold winter and as the global pandemic continues to impact our daily lives.

1. Ask for help.

It’s no secret how crucial it is to turn to your support systems, such as friends and family, during stressful times. In fact, according to research, social support is one of the most effective stress-relief tools.

It's important to let your people know that you're struggling in the midst of the ongoing pandemic. Of course, this is more difficult as in-person interactions aren’t as frequent as they were prior to 2020. However, even if it’s through a text or video call, asking for help is a simple and powerful way to increase your happiness and work through your feelings. Just remember to be direct and honest.

Also, if the pandemic is causing high stress, anxiety, and depression to the point that it’s interfering with your daily life, then it may be time to seek out professional help.

2. Use the 5-5-5 technique.

Using 5-5-5 breathing, also known as Box Breathing, is a method for reducing anxiety and stress by inhaling, holding breath, and exhaling. Navy Seals actually use this technique to reduce their anxiety and stress during combat. And, what’s more, it’s an incredibly simple technique that you can practice whenever you need to reclaim your calm.

  • Take a slow, deep breath through your nose for five seconds.

  • Count to five while holding your breath.

  • Breathe out for 5 seconds through your nose.

  • Take a deep breath again and hold it for five seconds.

  • Repeat this cycle for one minute or 5-10 times.

As you decrease your anxiety, your mind should calm down. And, you should be able to refocus your energy and attention elsewhere besides COVID-19.

3. Take action.

By moving your body, like stretching or walking, and deliberately seeking out positive news, you can shift your mindset from gloom and doom to hope. Finding pleasure in everyday activities, preferably those that really matter to you, during times of lifestyle disruption impacts health and well-being significantly. This is the philosophy behind behavioral activation, an evidence-based treatment for depression and stress.

Engaging in any type of physical activity can decrease stress and improve mood by providing positive reinforcement. Even if you aren’t able to attend, or enjoy, your gym anymore, there are plenty of alternatives. It could be a 10-minute walk with a friend or family member or any online gym glass that you can do from home.

As an added bonus, physical activity is a healthy distraction. And, even better, it prevents you from doomscrolling.

4. Manage stress through the lens of VUCAD.

Akhila Satish, CEO of Meseekna, advises people to manage stress by applying the acronym VUCAD, which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity, and delayed feedback. As a result of the pandemic, people seem to be experiencing the following five factors of stress.

Here’s how that breaks down;

  • Volatility can be defined as life's unpredictable highs and lows that we experience in real-life.

  • Uncertainty is experienced by people who are waiting for COVID test results.

  • Complexity is encountered when trying to understand new information about the pandemic.

  • Ambiguity is the feeling that people have when they make plans and miss out on life experiences.

  • Delayed feedback is when we question whether or not we’ll see the end of the pandemic.

To better understand stressful situations, you can use the VUCAD Planner.

5. Identify three good things.

At least once a week, set aside 10 minutes and “write down three things that went well for you today, and provide an explanation for why they went well,” suggests the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. “It is important to create a physical record of your items by writing them down; this can be more helpful than simply doing this exercise in your head.”

It can be a simple everyday event or a significant milestone (e.g., "my partner made the coffee today," "I brought groceries to my grandparents," "I earned a promotion," etc.). “To make this exercise part of your daily routine, some find that writing before bed is helpful,” they add.

6. Implement micochillers.

“Mindfulness microchillers are some of the best tools to stay calm and balanced and sharpen concentration and performance amid pandemic uncertainty,” writes Bryan E. Robinson Ph.D. in Psychology Today. “They are quick, portable, and easy to build into the day while on the run.” Five-minute microchillers can be practiced in several different ways and with different levels of depth.

One way to achieve this is through open awareness throughout the day. For example, you could practice deep breathing when stuck in traffic or waiting in line at the grocery store. After lunch, you could stretch and “let yourself fully feel the stretch, noticing where tension is held and released,” he adds. Shake the parts of your body where you feel tension. As you continue to stretch, pay attention to the parts of your body that remained tight. Imagine the tension in your body evaporating as you bend over and touch your toes.

Another suggestion would be imaging you entering your workplace for the first time after you’ve had to quarantine. For example, taking note of the architecture, office decor, smell of the plants, or greeting your co-workers like it’s the first time you’ve met them.

7. Avoid watching the news for too long.

Yes, it is important to stay on top of things. At the same time, it can be overwhelming. As such, it’s important to unplug daily -- even if it’s just for a few minutes. This is especially true before you go to bed.

When you do check the news on the latest COVID-19 updates, choose trustworthy news sources, such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control. After all, it's hard to distinguish between myths and facts due to the abundance of misinformation.

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