I have been seeing email after email, social post after social post, suggesting ways to best clean and sanitize. These are very important, particularly if you are in a high-risk group, but one key thing that I haven’t been seeing is ways to keep your stress at a minimum during trying times. Stress impairs your physical and mental health, including your immune function. Research supports that mindfulness and related stress-reduction skills have numerous health benefits, including enhanced immune function, emotion regulation, and well-being while decreasing anxiety, depression, and rumination to name a few. Given this, it is important to boost up your stress hygiene plan alongside your cleaning and sanitization plan.
It is important to do three things to engage in a good stress hygiene plan:
- Have awareness of your stress level.
- Utilize skills to minimize your stress—pay attention to your red flags.
- Have a good plan in place on ways to take care of yourself.
The recently published The Stress Reduction Card Deck for Teens, although directed at teens, is for everyone. And let’s face it, I think we can all use a little stress reduction right now. These fifty-two cards are packed full of quick ways to minimize your stress and help you create a stress hygiene plan.
1. Have Awareness of Your Stress Level
Noticing how you experience stress—both physically and emotionally, and recognizing when these signs and cues are elicited is an important first step. For example, when you are stressed, are you a person who gets headaches, maybe you replay your to-do list over in your mind, or cry, or have tight muscles, or maybe you are someone whose hands get clammy, or heart races? Although stress is universal, how each person experiences stress is individual. Knowing how you experience stress, and the signs and cues your body provides is very useful. Additionally, having awareness of what stressors are leading to this stress is important in effecting change in your stress level. A stressor is something that causes you stress. It is important to know what your stressors are because stress impacts your health. Also, knowing your stressors helps you manage them. You can create a list of your stressors, including the people, places, things, and events causing you stress.
2. Utilize Skills to Minimize Your Stress—Pay Attention to Your Red FLAGS
Once you have honed in on how you experience stress and what your stressors are, it is important to utilize your Stress Emergency Kit.
When you are stressed, look for red flags. These can help you get your basic needs met for safety, satisfaction, and connection.
Consider the acronym for red FLAGS.
Forgetting to do thing you love? Keep a list of them. It is important that you engage with the people and things in your life that support, nourish, and fill you up so that you aren’t feeling drained, depleted, and more susceptible to stress and illness. Even if you can’t do the things in your normal routine, get creative, and think of those people you can still interact with and the things you can do that positively impact your mood and health.
Lonely? Spend time with others in ways you can. If you have a pet, engage in extra snuggling. If you can’t spend time physically with people, use online meetings, the telephone, or apps that let you video with your friends and family. Stay connected in the ways you can. Also, if you can be around nature—in your backyard, or at a park nearby—make sure you get around nature and some clean air.
Angry or anxious? Take a mindful break or breath. It is as easy as 1-2-3. Notice your body, your breath, and your mind—both your thoughts and feelings. It can be frustrating when your normal routine gets impinged upon or when your plans get cancelled. It can lead you to feeling angry or anxious. Notice how you feel. It is okay to feel. It is when you get stuck and can’t let it go that can really impact your stress and health.
Consider if there is something you are hanging on to that you are angry or anxious about. Think about putting it in a let-it-go box. Put it on paper, place it in the box, and let it go for now. You can always go back to it later, but now that it is on paper you don’t have to hold onto it anymore.
Grieving? Ask for support. If you aren’t doing well emotionally or physically, ask those who you can for help. Another suggestion is to be of service and help others. When you are stuck thinking about and focusing on yourself, sometimes it can help to spend time thinking about and helping someone else.
Stuck? Look for options. If none of the aforementioned are working, consider the following. If you are hungry, eat; tired, sleep or nap; feeling down, reach out.
3. Have a Good Plan in Place on Ways to Take Care of Yourself
In these times, focus on what’s going right instead of what’s going wrong.
Come up with and list of two or three things that are going right in each of these areas:
- Family (including pets)
Spending time creating this list provides you with ways of creating a good plan to take care of yourself and provide for your basic needs of safety, satisfaction, and connection. If you connect with friends and family in the ways you can, you are providing for your need of connection. If you take care of your health and do the things suggested you do, you are taking care of your safety, and if you do those things that you are able to do that engage your strengths, abilities, talents, and gifts, you are engaging in your satisfaction.
If you are able to do the three things discussed above—1. Have awareness of your stress level; 2. Utilize skills to minimize your stress—pay attention to your red flags; and 3. Have a good plan in place on ways to take care of yourself; you are well on your way to a good stress hygiene plan.
Gina M. Biegel, MA, LMFT, is a psychotherapist, researcher, speaker, and author in the San Francisco Bay Area who specializes in mindfulness-based work with adolescents. She is founder of Stressed Teens, which has been offering mindfulness-based stress reduction for teens (MBSR-T) to adolescents, families, schools, professionals, and the community for more than a decade.