We are living in stressful times.
Our lives, as we knew it, changed in three short days. Overnight, it seems, we became confined to our homes, the stores are empty, and we are in fear of getting sick.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month
If you are living with children, the current circumstances of our lives make it easy to take our anger and frustrations out on them. If we were hot-tempered before this started, we will be even more hot-tempered now.
What is your make-up? How do you handle stress? This is a good time to examine how you react to stress, and what you can do to stay calm.
Signs of stress, and what to do about them.
We are a social animal. We love being around others. We strive for hugs and being cared for. We look for variety in our day to keep us afloat – mentally, physically, and economically. We love our family, but we also carry boundaries that cannot be crossed.
Those boundaries are being crossed every day now, simply because our lifestyle changed overnight from one of severe busy to one of sedentary.
Our lives are not like 100 years ago when the family worked together all day. Today, some of us barely know our family members – we are so busy with our own lives, we forget to spend quality time with those we love the most.
This social distancing can be a good thing. We can make amends. We are on a long vacation, having to find things to do with our children – no school, no travel -some vacation, right?
Rather than falling apart, turning to drugs and alcohol, or fighting with our spouse, there are better ways to cope with these stressful times.
But first, recognize the signs of stress. Listen to your body, step back and watch yourself reacting to others. What does this look like?
Common signs of stress:
Headaches, chronic pain, vague pain, prone to illness, low energy, little sleep, stomach problems, depression.
Any or all of these make you irritable and edgy. Add a houseful of kids that cannot contain their energy, and these feelings are just made worse. Ready to scream yet?
There is more to the stress response than just pain, lack of sleep and depression – if that isn’t enough. Do you show any of these symptoms?
Eight signs you are under stress:
- Easy to anger. Irritable. Quick to snap at others.
- Feelings of hopelessnss. Your money is running low, fortunately your creditors are working with you. You do not have enough food and supplies for any lengthy siege, and you are uncertain about your future. Will you have a job when this is over? The experts are predicting economical doom and gloom. Fear of the unknown escalates, and we feel hopeless and helpless.
- Trouble making decisions. Does your brain feel fuzzy, you are not thinking as clearly as you would like, and you find yourself making stupid mistakes? Do not be too hard on yourself. This is your brain responding to the stress. The first part of our brain that shuts down in a stressful situation is our frontal cortex – decision central. Of course, you cannot make good decisions, you are not physically capable of doing so.
- Unexpected crying. Sadness, anger, perhaps some desperation in the mix. Life may have been perfect for you, and suddenly it is not. Or, Life was not perfect before, and this added stress is making things worse. Either way, you are experiencing loss. What do people do when they grieve? They cry.
- Worry. Worry is an act of futility. We worry about the unknown. Humans are great at looking at the worst case scenario. Perhaps it is a means of survival, expecting the worst. But worry is wasted energy. Lack of control of a situation causes us to worry. If things were running smoothy, we would not worry.
- Arguing. Irritable, stressed, frustrated, a little depressed. Closed in with too many people. Your days have shut down, you have cabin fever. Noise bothers you. This is when we take our feelings out on others. Fighting with your spouse, yelling at the kids, letting off steam – at the expense of others around you.
- Eating. Some people eat too much, others eat too little. Like sleep, eating is a response to stress. When cortisol levels are high, we crave sugar to bring them down. Have you noticed that when you are stressed you head for the kitchen? Grab a handful of candy, anything sweet. There is nothing wrong with your will power. It is your body craving a sugar high to calm the cortisol coursing through your system.
- Sleeping. Too much or too little. It has hard to sleep when your mind is racing, you are angry, sad, and worried – how will you make it through this? These are real concerns, we all feel them, but not sleeping only causes you to make even worse decisions. You are irritable because you are not getting enough sleep. Your body feels off because you are fatigued. You are either eating too much or too little – out of boredom, stress, or a combination of the two. Chances are you are not getting the exercise you are used to.
All of these make us prime for abusing others – especially our children. They are so vulnerable and easy to attack. Even if we generally are not angry and mean, it is difficult to maintain that demeanor when living the unknown.
Domestic violence is on the rise for these very reasons. Try your best not to be a part of the problem.
How long before this ends?
And therein lies the problem. We do not know. We are creatures of habit. We like to be in control of our lives, we like to know what comes next in our day. And we must perceive there is light at the end of the tunnel. The less we know what is happening and when, the more stressed we become. It isn’t just the extent of the stressor, but your perception of where you are in it.
As time goes on, and as the government keeps moving the days of when we can go back to work and school, we have not only lost our sense of control, but we are in the middle of the tunnel, and we do not see the light at the end.
Well, then, what do we do with ourselves?
- Identify your stressors. Oh, boy, what a long list that is! Once you know what stresses you, use the Covey Matrix to prioritize and eliminate problems.
After listing your stressors, place them in the matrix. This way you can see exactly where each stressor lies. What is worth stressing over? Once you have this visual, you can eliminate most of those things that are bothering you.
This is how it works:
Box I contains the urgent, most important, tasks you can take immediate action on and resolve. Those pressing problems that have a solution. Box II holds the things that matter the most to you, having longer term goals than Box I, and only time and patience will bring the solution.
Boxes III and IV contain items that not important – not worth giving your time to. How many items from you list can you put in these boxes? Box IV raises the question, “why are you even concerned about this?” Along with the items in Box III, you will quickly realize these matters can be put on hold, and will probably fade away over time.
You can use this matrix for any type of decision or conundrum. Try listing the things you are grateful for and see how they hold up.
- Accept what you cannot change. This eases the sense of lack of control. When you take a solid look at your life, you will realize there are some things that just are. No fault of anyone’s. We cannot change the state of the world now, we cannot eliminate the virus, but it makes it easier if we can accept what we can.
- “This too shall pass.” Nothing is permanent. Nothing stays the same. You just have to be patient and wait it out.
- Relax. Worry, depression, stress. How do you relax with all this going on? Your shoulders are touching your ears, you are so tight in the neck. If you have not explored relaxation techniques before now, this is a good time to do so. Take time out of your day when the house is quiet, even if it means getting up a half hour earlier than everyone else, or staying up later at night. Take some time to relax…
- Stay healthy. Physically and mentally. Sleep, exercise, eat healthy foods. Walk around the block. Take the kids with you. Keep an upbeat attitude. Do not let this get you down.
- Change your thoughts. Instead of brooding on how horrible life is, take some time and look at the good things in your life. Make a gratitude list. Find five things to be grateful for every day. When you start feeling down, stop yourself. Think about something else. Fill your days with busy-ness so you do not have to think, if that is what it takes. Feel the worry coming on? Worry is futile.
- Pet your pet. If you do not have a pet, you might consider getting one. A pet is a companion that does not talk back. They love you no matter what. Petting an animal lowers your blood pressure and makes you calmer. Take the time to feel the sensations – how does the fur feel on your palm, does your animal look at you with love? Absorb these feelings.
- Be kind to you. We’ve all heard it. You must reach for your oxygen mask first. Take care of yourself, stop the negative self-talk. You are not a failure. This has nothing to do with who you are. Staying positive will help control your anger and you will be less likely to lash out at your child or your mate.
It is important in these times that we take control of our stress and the feelings that go with it. If you can realize most of your feelings are physical reactions to stress, as we discussed above, then you can better control the anxiety and panic that will grab you when you least expect it.
Try not to worry. Enjoy your family. This time with them is a gift. You may never have this opportunity again.
Stay safe. Stay calm. Stay healthy.
Wishing you the best.