First, a global pandemic. Then, figuring out how to work from home. Followed by economic turmoil, and summer of social unrest. Add mounting political anxieties and the stress of the election on top of working from home long-term, homeschooling your kids, and spending WAY too much time on Zoom… and you’ve got the year 2020.
This year has been something else. And it doesn’t look like it’s going to let up or go back to “normal” anytime soon. So how can you hope to do anything but survive in times like this?
Coping mechanisms for managing stress can help you prioritize mental health, clarity, and balance, and can help you not just survive, but thrive, even during the chaotic times in which we live.
Stress is Real, But So Is Respite
Stress has always been a part of life, but the stress of this year has been uniquely intense. It’s an invitation for us to approach mental health and rest with the focus it deserves in our lives. As Catholics, it’s important to make our focus on faith our first priority, by frequenting the sacraments, praying each day, and fostering a community of faith (even if it is virtual).
But beyond that, here are a few other coping mechanisms to help you thrive in the incredibly stressful times in which we’re living…
Go for a walk, hike, or bike. Play with your children in a park. Sit on your patio and take in the sights and sounds of the outdoors. Leave the earbuds at home and put your phone on silent with the goal of being fully present and focused when you’re outdoors.
Marianna Taylor, LCSW-C, a clinician at Alpha Omega Clinic, is passionate about integrating her Catholic faith with therapy. She is trained and certified in the Nurtured Heart Approach as well as Trust-Based Relational Intervention and works in the Ellicott City location of the Clinic. When asked about this topic, Taylor said that “there is something so grounding about being outside” in nature. We spend so much time in the digital, online world, she says, that being outside restores balance and gives us a much-needed break from staring into stress-inducing screens all day.
Unplug from Technology
Speaking of screens, it’s absolutely essential to building some time into each day where you’re intentionally not looking at a screen. Set a time limit during which you avoid scrolling or using apps, or working on a screen.
Give yourself a break from the noise and distraction of technology. This may also mean giving yourself a break from work, school, and other obligations that come with technology use. Building time into your day that doesn’t have you hunched over a screen will help you reclaim a sense of balance.
Set Limits on Social Media
On a related note, set stringent limits on social media, especially when you’re feeling particularly stressed. You can only take in and process a certain amount of information before you begin to feel overloaded and anxious, whether that is from comparing yourself to others on social media, constantly being exposed to political headlines, or becoming exhausted from endless scrolling.
Scrolling your News Feed or spending time connecting with family and friends on social media is perfectly acceptable, as is perusing news headlines. But it becomes unhealthy when you can’t or won’t set boundaries, or social media and news becomes something that causes undue stress or turmoil in your life.
Validate Your Feelings
Taylor also recommends giving your kids the space to feel and express their emotions about how hard life has been lately. But this goes for adults, too.
It isn’t healthy to suppress or ignore your feelings, or to impose that same unhealthy standard on someone close to you. Instead, give yourself and your family members space to experience emotions as they come up. We live in stressful times and uncertainty abounds. Allow yourself to feel the emotions that come from those realities, and accept that whatever you’re feeling is valid.
Find as Many “Normal” Experiences as Possible for Kids
When it comes to parenting children in the year 2020, Taylor also notes that we often say kids are flexible and adaptable but don’t fully appreciate the impact that the events of the year have had and are having upon children.
Children are still very much feeling the stress of the pandemic and all the changes it has brought about, and they can easily pick up on the stress their parents may feel over political and social issues. Be aware that stress in children is revealed in unique ways. “Normalize that things are hard and that it is okay to be frustrated and feel upset, “ Taylor said.
And in addition, Taylor recommends trying to give kids as many “normal” experiences as possible, away from the things that seem to stress them out the most. If masks are stressful, find activities at home or outdoors they can do without masks. If Zoom calls are tumultuous, build in plenty of screen-free time for a much-needed after the school break.
Above All, Give Yourself Grace
This year has been a rollercoaster for everyone in various ways. Try to employ these coping mechanisms when you’re feeling especially overwhelmed and taxed. Make them regular parts of your routine so you can prioritize your mental health and that of your entire family.
But most of all, give yourself grace. Be patient and acknowledge that you’ve come this far in what has been very difficult circumstances. You’re doing a great job!
If you’re in need of mental health support, learn more about our faith-centered psychotherapy services and clinicians at our website, https://aoclinic.org