“Doing What Matters in Times of Stress” is a WHO stress management guide for coping with adversity. There are many causes of stress such as personal difficulties, problems at work, or major threats in your community. Personal difficulties include conflicts with loved ones, loneliness, lack of income, worries about the future. Problems at work include conflict with colleagues, job insecurity. Threats in your community include violence, disease, and lack of economic opportunity.
This guide is for anyone who experiences stress ranging from parents, health care workers, people facing pandemic directly or indirectly and anyone living anywhere who is experiencing stress can consider using it. Everyone experiences stress in their life but high levels of stress can affect the body in ways such as headache, back pain, heavy chest, tight muscles, and upset stomach. It impacts our thought processes, emotions, sleeping and eating patterns, thinking about bad experiences from the past or fear for the future. The current situation of global pandemic has led to stress because of community problems, personal issues at home, job loss, uncertainty about the future and quarantine.
There are certain ways to deal with stress which are as follows:
- Awareness Exercise: The difficult thoughts and feelings which we experience during stress pull us away from our values and we get hooked to them. It impacts our behaviour. To deal with it we need to learn to focus, engage and pay attention.
- Drinking awareness exercise is an exercise in which one is taught to focus and engage fully in the task of drinking. For example, if you are drinking tea or coffee, pay full attention to it. Notice the drink with curiosity as if you have never encountered such a drink before. Observe its colour, savour its smell, and sip it slowly. Let it sit on your tongue, feel it on your teeth and savour the taste. Try to drink it as slowly as possible, savouring the taste, noticing the temperature. Pay attention to the movements in your throat as you swallow and note the taste fading from your tongue, as you swallow and drink each mouthful in the same way. You can practice it whenever you get hooked with negative thoughts or emotions.
- Grounding exercise: Sometimes we experience something known as “emotional storm” which means when an individual experiences intensely difficult thoughts and feelings which can be overwhelming and difficult to control. They are like a mighty storm, and can easily overpower you. Sometimes the storms are long and sometimes they pass too quickly. This can be controlled by performing grounding exercises.
The steps for grounding exercise 1 are as follows:
- Notice how you are feeling and what you are thinking.
- Slow down and connect with your body. Slow your breathing. Empty your lungs completely. Then let them refill as slowly as possible.
- Slow press your feet on the ground.
- Stretch your arms slowly, or press your hands slowly together.
- The next step in grounding is to refocus on the world around you. Notice where you are. What are five things you can see?
- What are three or four things you can hear?
- Breathe the air. What can you smell?
- Notice where you are and what you are doing.
- Touch your knees, or the surface beneath you, or any object you can reach. Notice what it feels like under your fingers.
- Notice that there are difficult thoughts and feelings appearing and there is also a world around you that you can see and hear and touch and taste and smell.
- You can also move your arms and legs and mouth.
- If you want, you can act in line with your values.
It helps you to engage in life, move towards your values and helps you behave like the kind of person you want to be. It requires continuous practicing.
The shorter grounding exercise/ grounding exercise 2 to practice that takes 30 seconds. The steps are as follows:
- Notice how you are feeling and what you are thinking. Then, slow down and connect with your body. Slowly breathe out. Slowly stretch. Slowly push your feet into the floor.
- Now refocus on the world around you. Pay attention with curiosity to what you can.
- Now have a good stretch. Engage with the world. Notice where you are, who is with you, and what you are doing.
In the same way you can practice grounding exercise 3 which is 5-10 minutes longer.
Unhooking: The difficult thoughts and feelings we are hooked to can worsen coping mechanisms and can lead to substance abuse, overeating, arguing, yelling and many others. Unhooking can help to get away from those difficult thoughts and feelings for a short duration of time.
The steps in unhooking are:
- Identify the difficult thoughts and feelings. Notice the change in your body
- Name difficult thoughts and feelings
- Refocus in the present.
This exercise is called notice and name exercise.
- Acting on values: During these difficult times you can’t change what is happening around you but you can act upon your value to deal with it. To act upon your values you need to make an action plan. For example, pick a relationship and identify what kind of values you want to live with them. Then make an action plan of what action you will take this week and what you will say to that person. Change what can be changed, accept the pain that cannot be changed, and live by your values.
- Unhooking from unkind thought exercise: Do this exercise to notice and name these thoughts. Then practise grounding and engaging with the world.
- Making room exercise: It starts with noticing and identifying the thoughts while breathing in and out. Next, consider the painful thought as an object. Then breathe in, around, into and around the pain to make room for it.
- Being kind: Be kind to yourself and others.
This guideline helps to deal with stress through self-care methods of awareness, grounding, unhooking, acting on values, making room for self, and being kind. The audio and visual illustration of the activities is given in detail on the official website of WHO. These guidelines are helpful to deal with the stress of the current situation.
“Everyone is capable of helping each other. Every human is capable of accepting oneself and loving oneself. Every soul is capable of being kind. It starts with the feeling of unity and connection with the universe.” – Shubhangi Singh
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