By Michelle Carbery, Corporate Wellness Specialist, Independent Health

Over the past few weeks, we’ve all had to adjust and adapt to significant changes in our everyday life. No morning coffee with your neighbor or catching up with your office colleagues around the water cooler. Perhaps your weekly book club or running forum are now off limits. You may live alone and are feeling the impact of “social distancing.”

As a result, many of us might be feeling more stressed than usual. Stress in small doses isn’t a huge concern, but when it doesn’t go away or creeps up on you several times a day, it can hurt your overall health. Too much stress can negatively affect your immune system, upset your digestive and reproductive systems, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and speed up the aging process. It can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.

Depending on your current situation, here are some steps you can take to help ward off stress and keep yourself healthy:

Work-related tips

  • If you are working from home, consider adding in a short walk before and/or after your work shift to help your mindset get ready to start and end your day. Exercise is also a great way to increase production of endorphins, which are known as the “feel-good hormones.”
  • Make sure you take a lunch break. It’s easy to work straight through your breaks when we are home, as we don’t see our co-workers getting up & heading out to the favorite take out place around the corner. Take that time to log off and give yourself a mental break.
  • Are you finding yourself visiting your refrigerator or pantry on a regular basis?  Too much sugar or too much fat can have an impact on your mental health as well as your waistline. Consider packing your lunch instead, just as you would normally for work, and limit your eating to just what is inside your lunch bag.
  • If you are part of the essential workforce who is helping to keep people and businesses up and running, you may be under some additional stress. Be sure to do frequent self-checks on your physical and mental health and communicate with your leadership about any serious concerns that arise. Pace yourself to help reduce the chance of burnout.
  • If you are currently not working due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this may be an opportunity to increase your skill or learn something new. Take opportunity of this free time and find an online course or download a “how to” book.

Avoiding weekend boredom

  • Get your workout done at home. Several gyms and yoga studios are streaming workout classes online to help reduce stress through physical activity.
  • Pump up the music. Studies show listening to music can help lower blood pressure, reduce stress, boost your mood and change your attitude. So, load up your smartphone or media device and create a playlist that will make you smile.
  • Take part or host a social virtual happy hour, book club or other family reunion. This will help you stay connected with those who you are missing.
  • Find a “Do it yourself” project around your home or yard to stay active while also helping to keep your mind off current events.
  • Boost your self-esteem and your skills by picking up a new hobby. For example, learn to sew, juggle, speak a new language or start a garden.

Clear your mind

  • Practice mindfulness. There are many free mobile apps and websites available that can guide you through a meditation session or progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Pump up the music. Studies show listening to music can help lower blood pressure, reduce stress, boost your mood and change your attitude. So, load up your smartphone or media device and create a playlist that will make you smile.
  • Spend quality time with your pet. Multiple studies indicate that pets are powerful forms of stress relief, lowering not only blood pressure but also harmful stress hormones like cortisol, which is associated with depression and anxiety, and elevating beneficial ones like oxytocin, which is linked to happiness and relaxation.
  • Limit your screen time & exposure to COVID-19 coverage. Continually watching and reading about the crisis, causes additional worry over the spread. Stay informed, but not obsessed.

Take time to reflect

  • Be thankful for what you do have. Keep a journal and write down all of the things you are thankful for. There are probably more than you realize.  Look at this list when you are feeling down.
  • Write a post card or letter to someone you’re thinking of. After all, making someone else smile can also make you feel good, too.

For more information and tips on how to best manage your stress, visit the American Heart Association website.