Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
If you’re anything like me, the last few months have been an emotional roller coaster. You know the “seven stages of grief”? I’ve gone through the seven stages of global pandemic.
Shock, denial, acceptance, depression, conspiracy theory, outrage, revolutionary fervor. Or something along those lines.
While my day-to-day life has changed little, in a true testament to life in the digital era, the upheaval has been very psychological. I’ve always worked at home and homeschooled, so no change there, but I also happen to write around a dozen news stories a day for a living, so it’s been impossible to unplug or turn my mind off from the chaotic flow of information surrounding this unprecedented global crisis/bizarre collective psychological trial.
As I have been pretty interested in natural hormone imbalance and brain health over the last year (Dr. Sara Gottfried’s The Hormone Cure and Brain Body Diet were two of my favorite reads last year and really helped me turn my health around for the better), I was already working on natural stress management before the crisis hit.
So I’m pleased to say I think I’ve done a pretty good job staying on top of things, for the most part.
Simply being aware of your own stress level and taking steps throughout your day to head-off or reduce general stress can work wonders, no fancy supplements, trips to the spa, or crying sessions with a fancy psychologist required.
I thought I’d share some of the very small, but hugely effective, changes I’ve made to manage stress as I cope with the realities of a post-COVID world daily.
It all begins, of course, like any real regimen to reduce stress must, with making sure I am staying in touch with Him upon whom I can cast all my anxieties.
Worship and Prayer
There is something truly profound about starting each day in genuine praise and worship. For a long time, I’ve been the sort of person who begins each prayer like a fast-food order. “Dear Lord, please help me to…” However, while I strongly believe God hears all of our prayers, no matter the format, the helpful way that the book Mama Bear Apologetics lays out how we should pray suggests beginning with worship.
This has made a huge difference in my mindset, as has actually, well, singing praise and worship to God each morning! I have begun the habit this year of popping open my iPad first thing every morning (I try to keep my phone on airplane mode until after I’ve prayed and read my Bible) and putting on a playlist of some of my favorite hymns and worship songs.
Staying In The Word
This is probably a no-brainer for any Christian, but it goes without saying. I will say, that for me, this hasn’t taken on the form as sitting down and reading my Bible every single day, as much as I would like it to. Sometimes things just don’t work out, and I’ve got to hit the ground running when I get up in the morning. On days like this, I’ve really been enjoying the She Reads Truth app. They have many plans, all of which give you a short Bible reading to do that day. Just anchoring my thoughts for the day on God’s Word go a long way.
Now, I get it may seem like a cop-out for a Christian to say, “just pray and read your Bible to reduce stress!” However, if you’re the kind who appreciates how secular science backs up the Word of God, you’ll appreciate that scientific studies often show that spiritual practice reduces stress, like this one.
Now, as I mentioned, sometimes I know that getting in a full Bible study before I need to feed my menfolk is not always practical, as are many of the regular habits I wish I could cultivate.
I think now more than ever, we need to be realistic about the goals we set for ourselves. It’s good to aim for healthy habits, but I’ve learned that a very unhealthy habit I have is setting up a bunch of unrealistic goals for myself and then feeling bad about myself that they never happen.
I keep a habit tracker, but I’ve trimmed it down to the most realistic expectations for myself. I’ve learned that only aiming for things that I know I can get done is far more rewarding than piling on ten things I’ll never do.
Being kind to yourself is a big part of stress reduction, so make sure that you’re not setting yourself up for failure. Keep it simple.
Diet and Exercise
All that said about being realistic, we need to talk about diet and exercise. I am a huge proponent of pursuing a healthy lifestyle, but doing so includes, again, being realistic.
I’ve learned that I need to aim for a fitness routine that is achievable, as well as a way of eating that I’ll actually stick with. Right now is not a good time to pig out on all the junk we want, no matter how much we crave comfort food. It’s going to go downhill really, really quickly.
But now is also not the time to go from eating whatever you want to committing to a long-term vegan-paleo diet, either.
I have found a lot of balance in just aiming to get my steps above 8,000 every day, fit in a workout whenever I can, and avoid pointless snacking. These cassava flour brownies have been a really weird hack for me; when I keep a batch in the fridge, for some reason I can avoid all other snacks if I have one or two each day. Otherwise, I do well at just eating meals that are mostly, but not exclusively, paleo/whole foods based. Don’t ask me why, but it’s what works for me.
Find the hack that will help you to not overeat without setting you up for failure. Do you, for example, love big salads at lunchtime and do OK avoiding sugar, but not gluten? Go with that. Do you want to quit coffee but can’t bear the thought of giving up caffeine completely? Switch to green tea lattes in the morning. Whatever it is, I bet you have the tools you already need to both satisfy cravings and avoid overeating.
Routine, Routine, Routine
Most of what I’ve addressed already has to do with routine. Like children, adults also often thrive on a reliable routine that anchors their day.
My husband, an ex-Marine, said that they were taught that should they ever end up a POW, they should stick to a daily routine of hygiene and movement and that prisoners who did this were shown to have a higher survival rate in camps.
My mother, who is a psychotherapist, says that she teaches her clients the same. So whether you’re a prisoner of war or just of your own mind, routine can help keep you keep going, no matter the circumstances. And let’s be real--we all feel a little like prisoners right now, don’t we?
I’ve already addressed how I start my day, but the rest of my day is pretty routine as well.
After breakfast, I consult my habit tracker and move on to tasks like cleaning the kitchen and bathroom, showering, getting dressed, making the bed, and making sure my kids’ beds are made as well.
Then I get started on homeschool and work tasks. I have the rest of the day to finish these (again, be realistic, give yourself room in the day to get everything essential done), stopping for lunch.
I aim to be finished with everything by dinner, or if work gets backed up, by 7:30. Most days, I’m finished by 4, and I can spend time outside with my kids (getting those steps up!), my husband, FaceTiming, or chatting on the phone, or let’s be real, vegging out with some costume dramas or Facebook.
I make sure to always start dinner by 5. I have an alarm set on my Apple Watch for just this. No matter how many kitchen hacks I try, for some reason, I never seem to manage to be done with cleaning up after dinner before 7, so I’ve learned to just go with it. I do enjoy cooking and I want to feed myself and my family well and hey, homecooked meals do take a bit more time.
By 8:00, my kids are watching a show in bed, and I take a bath. I either read or watch a show in the bath. Then at 8:30, my kids are done with their show. We all pray together with my husband, then I read them an Aesop’s fable (takes literally five minutes) and tuck them in.
By this time, I make sure to put my phone on airplane mode. No more texting, email, work tasks, and certainly no more social media. I also turn off the bright overhead light in our bathroom and turn on my Himalayan salt lamp.
This is key to stress management. It’s important to actually start to decompress at least an hour before going to bed. If you can turn off the TV and all electronics, awesome. If you’re like me and your husband prefers to have a show on (it’s Hannity every night and hey, it’s become part of the routine!) that’s OK. Just let yourself unwind otherwise. If you avoid using your phone, your brain will start to relax.
I usually stretch before getting in bed and reading. I chat with Nick and watch bits and pieces of Hannity as well, but I am mentally preparing for rest.
By 9:15 or so, we’ve usually turned off the show and I’m reading. This is always my “bubble bath book” (as Pam Barnhill would say), something light and easy to read. Right now it’s Agatha Christie. I’ve also read YA books and other light mysteries.
At around 10:00, if I haven’t already, I’m ready to turn the light out and start all over again!
Stress management doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does have to be mindful. It could be as simple as taking a walk every day, or waiting until after you’re done with your tasks for the day to log on to Facebook. Know your triggers, and what soothes you.
You’d be amazed at what a big difference small changes can make!