For many couples, and individuals, the Covid Pandemic has added a good deal of stress to their lives. Job loss, businesses closing, not working, no going for coffee or to the gym, kids at home, homeschooling, daycare closed – there are a lot of ways life has been turned upside down. In the midst of all this turmoil, is there anything one can do to relieve the stress?
For years I taught the Stress Management course at St. Clair College. Two ideas or practices come to mind that proved helpful to my students down through the years and might perhaps be helpful for you today. The first was an acronym we used: REDS – rest, exercise, diet, and spirituality. The students were on a 14-week schedule, many with heavy school work loads. Often they had jobs to help pay their way and some also had families, so it was a busy, and often stressful, time for them. REDS encouraged them to take better care of themselves because if they didn’t, it just made everything worse. My questions to them were: are you getting enough sleep, are you exercising regularly, are you eating well and finally, the spirituality piece, wasn’t necessarily religious, although it could be, for example, prayer or meditation or going to church, but more broadly speaking, what were they doing to take care of themselves. Often they would know how to take care of everyone around them but didn’t always take time for themselves. This piece could take the form of exercise, or listening to music, or yoga, or reading or going for a walk, but it encouraged them to take the time to do something they enjoyed doing, just for themselves.
The second practice was one that the students consistently found very helpful, although there was often some bellyaching at the onset of the assignment. The idea was to choose one stress-relieving activity and then commit to doing it 4 times a week for 4 weeks for at least 15 minutes a day. They also had to keep a journal of their progress. Because I was their instructor I had some leverage over them and while there was the usual moaning and groaning when I assigned the homework, consistently over the years, it was a very helpful exercise, because it forced them to take action – to actually do something about their stress.
We would begin by brainstorming as many stress-relieving activities we could think of. Inevitably one of the first ones was getting drunk, but eventually, we had a list they would choose from, and off they went. The exercise was successful because they actually started doing whichever activity they might have chosen – exercise, meditation, yoga, walking, jogging etc. The entries in their journals attested to the fact that in a relatively short period of time they benefitted from what they were doing because it forced them to take action.
A further modification of the assignment was to have those folks who were more active to choose a quieter form of stress relief while the more sedentary students would choose a more active form. Again, they benefitted from stretching out of their comfort zone.
It looks like Covid is not going away soon. There is not much we can do about that, but what we can do, is take the actions we need to take to lower our stress levels. Remember it is not what you possess but how you deal with it that is important. I always use the example of Terry Fox, the young Canadian man, who lost a leg to cancer and decided to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. Another young fellow might have the same affliction but sit there and complain, life is not fair. They both possess the same thing but use it quite differently. Fox couldn’t do anything about the loss of his leg or the cancer but what he chose to do was pretty impressive. So with us, we can’t do anything about the Covid pandemic but how we decide to handle it, we have more choice over.