Twelve effective ways to cope during these stressful times

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Twelve effective ways to cope during these stressful times

Life in a crisis is tough. Here's a few strategies to help.

Between the COVID pandemic, the Trump presidency, the slow collapse of our economy, and the apocalyptic damage to our environment, there are a many reasons to be stressed out.

"It's the pandemic, it's the social unrest, it's climate change and the wildfires. It's the election, it's upcoming holidays, said Vaile Wright, American Psychological Association's senior director of health care innovation.

"I can't remember any time in my lifetime, or most people's adult lifetimes, where you've had this many adversities," Wright said. "It's the cumulative effect of one thing on top of another on top of another -- to the point where I think people are either just going numb to it or feel so overwhelmed that they're frozen."

Here are some strategies to help cope with the strain brought about by living in the world in 2020.

1. Work Out

One of the greatest ways to get the stress out is to sweat it out.

"In reaction to stress our body kicks into fight, flight or freeze as a survival mechanism. But when the threat is gone, we're supposed to be able to relax and release cortisol and other stress hormones that get kicked into gear," Vaile Wright, American Psychological Association's senior director of health care innovation, said.

"But when we're in this constant state of hyper arousal, hyper vigilance, we don't get that release -- and that stress overtime really wears away on our bodies, our minds," she added.

Most of us have gym memberships that are rotting in our bank account, so try more accessible forms of exercise. Walks and runs are great, resistance bands are good, and youtube has tons of videos to help get the workout going.

2. Practice yoga for mental and physical health.

More than many forms of exercise, Yoga has blended spiritual and physical self-care in a way that works to combat the COVID blues.

"Yogic philosophy teaches that the body, mind and spirit are all interconnected — what you do in one area, for example, a physical exercise to strengthen your leg muscles, will have an effect in all of the other areas of your system," said Laurie Hyland Robertson, the editor in chief of Yoga Therapy Today, a journal published by The International Association of Yoga Therapists, in a prior CNN interview. "So we can expect that leg exercise, especially when you approach it in a mindful, purposeful way, to affect not only your quadriceps but also your emotional state, your body's physiology and even your mental outlook," Robertson said.

3. Get better sleep

Many people report that their sleep cycles have changed over the course of the pandemic. When you're working from home, it's a lot easier to stay up late and screw up their sleep schedule. Here's a few hints to get you back on track.

Practice good sleep hygiene. Make sure you start getting ready for bed at roughly the same time every night. Turn off your electronics for at least a half hour before bed. Don't drink caffeinated drinks late in the day and don't drink any liquids later on at night. Keep your bedroom cool, as the body sleeps better in slightly cooler temperatures.

4. Practice progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a method practiced by CNN fitness contributor Dana Santas. The practice involves flexing and tensing each muscle group in the body, holding the tension for up to 20 seconds. Then release the tension quickly, and imagine breathing through that part of the body. Start with your toes, then feet, then calves, and then move onto the rest of the body.

5. Practice deep breathing and meditation techniques

Part of the ways that a person can short circuit an anxiety attack is to regulate their breathing. Deep breathing realigns the stressed-out part of our bodies, called the the sympathetic system, with the parasympathetic, or "rest and restore" system.

"Learning breathwork lets you know that you have an ability to physiologically calm yourself," said stress management expert Dr. Cynthia Ackrill, an editor for Contentment magazine, produced by the American Institute of Stress, in an interview.

"You begin to realize that you are separate from what's happening to you, and you can choose a response instead of just a primal reaction," Ackrill said.

So try it. Even ten minutes a day can have a huge impact.

6. Work on changing your mental processes

The Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has studied the minds of Buddhist monks and others engaged in regular mindfulness exercises and they've proven that there are positive benefits to regular mental practices.

We are dealing with the most stressful times in recent memory, so it will be difficult to have the kind of calm environment that fosters good meditation practice, but making time for mindfulness will help you deal with stress better in the future.

7. Practice appreciation

The simplest way to practice mindfulness is to appreciate what you got.

"Simply to bring to mind people that are in our lives from whom we have received some kind of help," Richard Davidson, founder and director of the Center for Healthy Minds, said. "Bring them to mind and appreciate the care and support or whatever it might be that these individuals have provided."

"You can spend one minute each morning and each evening doing this," he said. "And that kind of appreciation is something that can foster a sense of optimism about the future."

"This is really about nurturing the mind," he said. "And there is ample evidence to suggest that there are real psychological and physical health-related benefits."

8. Live a "Glass Half Full" Life

It may not be easy these day, but try to look on the bright side of life. Fortunately, it's a skill you can practice.

"One thing I recommend to everyone in scary times is to write two or three things each day of what you're grateful for. It shifts your view of the world," said trauma counselor Jane Webber, a professor of counselor education at Kean University in New Jersey.

Researchers has shown that a positive outlook have been shown to have lower risks of health issues and mortality, probably because you're spending less time feeling sorry for yourself and more times living good habits.

9. Have a laugh from time time

Look, some of us (like yours truly) aren't exactly Polly Positive, but there's an easy way to get a bit of endorphins going.

Watch a comedy. Crack jokes. Read r/wholesomememes. Surf Netflix's 50-zillion stand up specials. Not everything is gloom and doom. So have a laugh.

10. Keep a phone tree going.

A technique used for helping treat people dealing with massive trauma, the Phone Tree is a way for a community to keep an eye on one another. In short, it's a great way to keep an eye on people who might be isolated by the demands of the pandemic.

"Instead of just relying on social media, we can make a list of the 10 or 20 people that we care the most about and put them in our phone on a rotating basis," Trauma psychologist Shauna Springer said. "We're going to call one of those people every day."

"Reaching out and connecting with people, especially those who are especially isolated, and giving them space to talk about their experience and anxiety during this unprecedented time of anxiety and then sharing our own experience is how we will get through this," she said. "When we connect, we survive."

11. Make self-care part of your routine.

Early in the pandemic, my self-care routine mostly involved candy and vegging out, but all that did was make me feel gnarly. Instead, set a time to shower, to clean your living space, and to engage in other good behavior. You'll feel better about how you're using your time and it will encourage you to keep incorporating positive habits into your life.

12. Get involved.

I have a bunch of friends who are despondent about the world we live in and the people who deal with it best are the people who work to change what they can. Taking care of your mental health is absolutely important but nothing feels better than knowing you're making the world a better place.

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