Something we hear a lot about, especially recently, is how stressed everyone is. Do you ever stop to think about what that means? Does stress refer to how we act? What we say? How we think? The emotions we feel?
Oftentimes, when someone says they’re “stressed” it refers to thoughts, feelings, or behaviours that we might judge to be very negative. After viewing stress in this way for much of our life it can be very interesting to understand what stress actually is and how the stress response is critical for our survival!
Stress has been around for a while
Over thousands of years, our human species has evolved to include the stress response because it keeps us alive and functioning. For a moment, I would like you to imagine a scenario that causes you some amount of stress (ex: driving in heavy traffic, going to a job interview, watching the news, or missing a step when you’re walking up the stairs).
Pay close attention to how your body feels when you imagine this scenario. Some of our responses might include:
- increased heart rate
- faster breathing
- tingling/energy in the body (especially the outer extremities)
- nausea/loss of appetite; and
- our attention becoming hyper-focused on scanning for threats or abnormalities
These are the exact responses that helped our early ancestors be faster and stronger in the face of threats to their safety such as large predators or even competing humans. This is known as the fight, flight or freeze response.
Our response to stress hasn’t changed – Our challenges have
A problem with this response is that the type of stressors we encounter in everyday life do not ordinarily include physical threats to our safety the way sabre tooth tigers or giant bears did for our ancestors. The things that stress us out tend to relate to relationships, our jobs, money problems, or changes and transitions in our life circumstances.
Unfortunately, our biological stress response is not able to discriminate between these types of threats and does very little to help us out, but our body thinks it’s being very helpful to us! Try to imagine these shots of adrenaline and cortisol racing through your body as your brain’s way of telling you:
“Don’t worry buddy! I’m primed and ready for action! I’m here for you!”
There is nothing wrong with you when you feel this way – it means that your body is healthy and is showing up for you to take on issues at hand. Our biology just hasn’t adapted as quickly as the challenges we face in modern society – that’s all!
Fight, flight or freeze and long-term stress
Another dilemma that we have right now is that our stress response is designed for very temporary threats to our safety. For example, imagine that a car isn’t slowing down for a stop sign and you need to either honk you horn at them to get their attention (fight), speed up to be safely out of their way (flight) or slam on your own brakes (freeze). As you can imagine, this adrenaline shot that you would feel is not sustainable over time but is very helpful for quick reactions such as this.
If this response is kept up over time, we can become exhausted, develop “burn out”, or even get physically sick. Over time, our brains also adapt to being under stress and will become more stressed more often. COVID-19 is a good example of a threat to our safety that is not passing within that few second window our stress response is designed for.
Therefore it’s important to see how our responses to this stressor might be harming us in the long term. Let’s have a look at COVID-19 for examples of how the fight, flight, or freeze response might be playing out in our everyday lives below. Try to think of how each response might have helped keep our early ancestors functioning well and is designed for our survival.
Ways to manage your response & long-term stress
The great news is that there are specific actions you can take to disrupt the fight, flight or freeze response. In fact, by being aware of the physical sensations you feel during stress you are already engaged in grounding, which means that you are redirecting your attention away from stressors that may or may not be there and placing that focus on what is immediately present in the here and now.
For those who practice mindfulness or meditation this process will sound very familiar! If you are interested in exploring this as an option, a great app for an introduction to meditation is called Stop, Breathe & Think and there are a TON of other online resources out there.
Once we are aware of our current stress responses, it can be most helpful to work with the way our stress response functions instead of against it. During the fight, flight or freeze response, the area of our brain that is responsible for rational thought actually gets decreased blood flow as more blood is directed to the areas of our brain that are responsible for our survival needs.
Because of this, when stressed it can be very difficult to remember details, problem solve, or prevent ourselves from reacting to our surroundings because these areas of the brain are not as activated. This is why it is very difficult to “think our way out” of being stressed.
A much more effective route to stress management works with how our brain and bodies function by taking physical action to stop our brain from signalling the fight, flight, or freeze response. There are many ways to do this, some include the following:
Practice Deep Breathing
Slowed and deepened breathing in turn slows our heart rate and lowers blood pressure, which signals to the brain that the threat to our safety has passed and puts our body into “rest and digest” mode.
Try it out: Place a hand over your belly button and focus on your inhale expanding this area and falling with a slow and controlled exhale. Scan the outside of a door frame with your eyes and match your exhale to the “long sides” in order to extend it. You can also use YouTube and a timer/app to count your breaths for you in a slow rhythmic pattern.
Take Time to Be Aware of your Immediate Surroundings
This will allow your brain to perceive that the “danger” has passed. Some people focus on the feeling of their feet on the floor or imagine roots holding them there.
Try it out: Identify 5 things you can see, 4 you can hear, 3 you can touch, 2 you can smell and 1 you can taste.
Try Physical Soothing
This can include things like weighted blankets, a long and firm hug from yourself or a loved one, or placing your hands over your heart while speaking calming and compassionate phrases to yourself such as “you are safe” or “you can do this”.
Another useful approach is to provide an outlet for your stress response, in other words – let’s get PHYSICAL!
For those who experience the flight or freeze response getting active will not feel natural but it is highly effective. Not only does getting “into our bodies” productively use the adrenaline and cortisol accumulating in our system, but it also tends to take our attention into the “here and now” instead of focusing on unchanging threats to our safety which tends to cause the stress response.
Being physical does not necessarily mean doing a ton of push-ups and burpees (thank goodness) but to find a physical outlet that is meaningful and enjoyable for you – some examples include:
- Playing with your kids on the floor
- Deep cleaning
- Yoga (Yoga with Adriene on YouTube is free and very accessible for beginners)
- Creating Art
- Dancing to your favourite pump-up jam
- Physically active meditations such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation
For more tips on coping strategies, see our previous blog post 7 Tips for Coping with COVID-19.
The bottom line is, if you are worried or uncomfortable with stress being present please do realize that you are not alone in this. This is a very difficult time for all of us and your stress response is showing up for you because it is functioning properly and because you are human.
As always, if you’re looking for more support please call our counselling team at 306-525-0521. We have daily phone-in/video appointments from Monday to Friday and are here for you regardless of how well you think you might be coping (or not!). You are valued and your needs are important to us. 💙
Most if not all parents are well aware of the stresses that parenting can bring. During those stressful times we often relate to other parents who are experiencing the same trials and tribulations on their parenting journey. I believe as our society progresses we are becoming more interested and willing to learn about our children’s well being, and the stress in their lives. We all face stress at some point in our lives however there are different kinds of stress we experience (for example: positive vs. negative stress).
stress in children
The effects of negative stress on a child can show up in different ways, such as children struggling to sleep at night, sadness or tantrums. When children are very young it is often the job of the caregiver to help our children cope and relieve their stress by providing affection, speaking with a calm tone of voice and being a safe person for a child to exercise emotions in front of.
As children get older it is the job of the caregiver to provide their child with the tools to manage and cope with stress on their own. Seems like a heavy task if you think about it long and hard enough. However, I have a simple tool that comes from the parent program Kids Have Stress Too, created by the Psychology Foundation of Canada called The Stress Spotlight.
The Stress Spotlight is a recognizable symbol that can be used in helping our children understand how to reduce stress in the moment.
- Worried, etc.
At the Yellow Light we CHANGE and use calming activities:
- Deep Breathing
- Busy Bags, etc.
At the Green Light we GO and return to our day:
- Continue Playing
- Continue Learning
- Continue Being You 😊
COVID-19 has disrupted our lives in many ways. Due to physical distancing, we may find ourselves working from home, under financial stress, or unable to see the people we love. Our Counselling team has put together 7 healthy ways to cope with the effects of COVID-19.
It can be difficult to keep moving when staying at home, but physical activity is key to both our physical and mental health.
Try to move in a way that you find enjoyable at least once a day, whether that’s walking, dancing, stretching, cleaning, jogging, or lifting weights or other household objects (e.g., books, water bottles, cans)
Start small. Set an initial goal that you can maintain (e.g., walking for 15 minutes), then slowly work up from there.
Find some inspiration online. There are lots of free exercise videos available, here are some that we found:
- Yoga with Adriene: https://www.youtube.com/yogawithadriene
- Fitness Blender: https://www.fitnessblender.com
Sometimes when we’re feeling stressed and anxious, we withdraw from other people. But social relationships are also central to our mental health.
While we can’t see people in person at this time, we can still connect virtual means. Reach out to friends and family through text messages, phone calls, social media or video chat/conferencing platforms like FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or HouseParty.
Make it fun by coming up with creative ways to spend time together, such as watching the same show, playing a board game or video game, or eating a meal at the same time.
Self-Care: do something you find enjoyable, relaxing or re-energizing
Engaging in relaxing activities won’t change the reality that we’re dealing with right now. However it’s important to rest and re-energize when possible, so that we can continue coping with these difficult times as best we can.
When we’re feeling stressed, we may forget to take care of ourselves, especially when we’re busy caring for other people. Even if it’s just 5 minutes, try to make some time each day to take care of yourself.
What self-care includes will be different for everyone. Some common ideas include:
- Spending time outdoors
- Going for a walk
- Watching a favourite TV show/movie
- Listening to music
- Reading a book
- Working on a hobby
- Writing a journal
- Taking a nap or bath
Life as we know it has been turned upside down. It’s normal to feel like your mood, energy, or outlook have declined or are changing from day to day. Some people feel more productive right now, while others are feeling more tired than usual. People respond to stressful and traumatic situations in different ways, and that’s okay.
Practice self-compassion by giving yourself permission to feel sadness, anger, frustration, or grief as well as to find any joy and optimism when you can.
Step Away From News When Needed
It’s important to be informed, but the constant coverage of COVID-19 on news and social media can be overwhelming. Pay attention to what you’re thinking and feeling after consuming media content. Consider stepping away from your news feed if you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed.
Focus on Choices
Many aspects of this situation are out of our control, including the choices that other people make during this pandemic. It’s easy to focus on these areas, although doing so can be frustrating and overwhelming.
Instead, try to focus on areas where you have choices and can take action, such as practicing good hygiene, engaging in physical distancing, and applying the healthy coping strategies outlined in this article.
Give us a call
If you’re concerned about your stress, relationships, or mental health, please give us a call at 306-525-0521.
Our counsellors are still available for phone and video sessions, or can refer you to other resources in the community as needed.
Stay Safe, Stay Positive, Stay Connected
Amidst the closures caused by COVD-19 CFS Regina’s SHIFT Walk-In Counselling Program is still offering support to those needing counselling services, but in a different fashion.
We appreciate the community’s collective action to self-isolate and practice social/physical distancing in order to reduce transmission of COVD-19 and flatten the curve. Which is why we are taking a virtual approach to our Shift Walk-In as well as our general Counselling Program.
Rather than meeting clients in person one-on-one we have adapted our services so that they are available over the phone or through video. Self-isolation and social distancing can be very stressful and impact one’s mental health greatly, therefore we believe it’s important for us to continue to offer our “Walk-In” counselling even if it is now considered “Phone-In” services.
At this time counsellors are not visiting our mobile locations in Southey & Indian Head however anyone needing support can call us at 306-525-0521 to set up an appointment on any of our Walk-In dates.
Call between the hours of 9:30am to 3:00pm (Monday – Friday) to schedule a counselling session.
So, if you’re needing support and would like to attend “Walk-In” please phone in at 306-525-0521 and we will be happy to schedule you in. Thank you for understanding and playing your part to flatten the curve. Remember, we are in this together and we will get through it together!