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For many, these past two years have been defined by feelings of extreme stress and grief. The “Stress in America” survey conducted by the American Psychological Association showed that the stress people experience during the current crisis is so extreme, in fact, that 32% of adults struggle to make day-to-day decisions –– such as what to eat or wear. Another 49% said that pandemic stress has made planning for the future seem impossible.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental, physical, and emotional health may also persist long-term. Psychology experts have even noted that individuals who lost their outlets for social interaction during the pandemic experienced measurable declines in cognitive health; prolonged social isolation impaired the brain’s ability to recall, focus, and multitask.
Though vaccine rollouts have improved the world’s resilience against the virus and improved our outlook for the future, many still struggle with managing the lingering trauma of these past two years. To help, we’ve listed a few steps people can take to manage overwhelming stress and minimize future stressors.
Limit Social Media Usage
Though it’s good to stay updated on what’s currently happening in the world, overexposure to disasters, tragedies, and other upsetting events can take a toll on your mental health. This phenomenon has come to be known as “doomscrolling,” and experts describe it as the habit of dedicating an excessive amount of time to absorbing negative news on the internet. The anxiety people get from doomscrolling can impair sleep, appetite, and even relationships.
In order to stop doomscrolling, people need to limit their social media usage. Staying off social media for just 72 hours or so can help you refocus your brain. If this is not possible, start small, and reduce the amount of screen time you get each day. Every little bit can help.
Acknowledge Negative Feelings
Though unnecessary exposure to negative events can damage your mental health, that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to ignore negative feelings when they arrive. Negative feelings provide valuable information. Fear and anger alert you of perceived threats; grief reminds you of what you value. When you force yourself to stay positive, you miss out on key information, which leaves you unable to address the root causes of your unpleasant feelings.
You shouldn’t obsess over negative thoughts, but you shouldn’t ignore them either. Instead, learn to unload negative emotions in a healthy way. It can help, for instance, to vent to someone you trust. Venting releases pressure and gives you the opportunity to have your feelings acknowledged and understood. You can also put your feelings in writing by journaling. When you translate thoughts into words, you will have an easier time examining them, which in turn helps you start to work on solutions.
Build Good Habits Slowly
Discussions about promoting mental wellbeing often revolve around building good habits –– like eating nutritious food, engaging in regular physical activity, doing yoga, or meditating. But while it’s undeniable that these activities have their benefits, getting started can be overwhelming.
To establish and maintain good habits, you need to set goals that are both concrete and realistic. If your goals are too vague, you may end up ignoring them; if they are too ambitious, you increase the likelihood that you will fall short and feel discouraged.
Know your limits and work around them. For example, if you want to get into the habit of exercising regularly, you can start by including a 10-minute walk in your daily routine. When that 10-minute session starts to feel natural, you can add another 10 minutes. With consistency, it will get easier and easier to push your limits and structure your day around good habits.
In times of crisis (and afterward), it’s important for people to show themselves compassion. By building good habits, avoiding unnecessary stress, and processing feelings in a healthy way, you can build the strength you need to navigate the challenges of the new normal.
Words by Polina Rosie
Exclusively written for drdaleatkins.com