The Chronic Stress Survival Guide: How to Live With the Anxiety and Grief You Can’t Escape

At a time when all life’s challenges have been amplified by the pandemic – and awareness of burnout, at home and at work, has never been higher – stress might seem to be our baseline condition. For most of us, these periods of pressure pass relatively quickly. Even serious stress can be temporary and, given the chance to recover, we usually will.

Many of our everyday challenges have been amplified by the pandemic and its consequences for the economy and society. Those living with financial hardship, health conditions, or caregiving responsibilities, in particular, may feel there is no end in sight. But even if stress seems essential to your circumstances and you don’t have the option or the resources to change them, there are ways you can support yourself.

Take your stress seriously

Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child distinguishes between positive, tolerable and toxic stress (the terms refer to the effects on the body, not the stressful event or experience itself – though questions of context, intensity and duration are relevant). Toxic stress response can result from strong, frequent or prolonged adversity without adequate support – and the health effects can accumulate and last for a lifetime.

When your situation is so overwhelming, protecting your wellbeing can seem irrelevant or even impossible. But it’s important to take whatever steps you can.

Be aware of the bigger picture

Much prolonged stress is a product of poverty, financial struggle and health conditions and exacerbated by cuts to benefits and support services. So any discussion of ways to cope must acknowledge that the solution lies in structural societal change, such as welfare reform, more protective labour laws and more support and resources for caregivers.

Try to approach your stress with curiosity: what triggers it and what makes you feel better? Rachel Boyd, from the mental health charity Mind, suggests taking time to reflect on your specific experiences, either alone or with a friend. “You might be surprised to find out just how much you’re coping with at once.”

Don’t underestimate the basics

We all know the importance of movement, nutrition and sleep, but it’s not always easy to do something about it, especially when resources are stretched.

If making time for sleep or exercise feels self-indulgent when others are depending on you, reframe it as what you need to do to be an effective provider or caregiver for them.

Surround yourself with support

Not only does asking for help lighten your load, it will make your situation feel more tolerable. Individuals’ biological response to stress is moderated by genetics, over which we have no control – but also the availability of supportive relationships, which we do.

Whatever your situation, treating yourself with compassion will support you. Paul Gilbert, a clinical psychologist and the founder of the Compassionate Mind Foundation suggests taking whatever breaks possible from your stressors, doing breathing exercises and practising acceptance.

Allow the emotions, but not the spiral

Understandable feelings of frustration, such as about making a mistake or not getting a job, can often escalate to a sense of: “I’m useless”, “Nobody’s ever going to want to hire me”. “Deal with the emotion without then having the second hit of self-criticism,” says Gilbert.

The three to become familiar with are anger, anxiety and grief. Some stress may result from permanent life changes, says Gilbert: “If you learn to deal with the ‘big three’, it helps you to come to terms with them.”

Do the most helpful thing

Practising self-compassion is not necessarily comfortable or easy at the best of times, says Gilbert. “People often say, ‘It’s about being kind to yourself.’ Well, sure, but the key is how you find the courage and the wisdom to deal with your situation … rather than doing the things that will temporarily make you feel better.”

Excerpted from “The Chronic Stress Survival Guide: How to Live With the Anxiety and Grief You Can’t Escape” in The Guardian. Read the full article online.

Source: The Guardian | The Chronic Stress Survival Guide: How to Live With the Anxiety and Grief You Can’t Escape, | © 2022 Guardian News & Media Limited

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