This year has been full of adjustments. Whether you are involved in online classes, working remotely, or handling the challenge of your children’s virtual schooling, the “new normal” has affected everyone. Online environments bring unexpected challenges such as lack of social contact, motivational difficulties, being sedentary, a monotonous environment, and even negative physical effects. And while you may realize you are feeling more bored, stressed, or unmotivated, you may not know the effects go much deeper.
The human body is not conditioned for long stretches of screen-watching. Computers and smartphones are constantly emitting a blue light, which has a negative effect on your circadian rhythms and alters melatonin production. This is not only affecting the length of your sleep, but also how restful your sleep is. You may notice other symptoms such as headaches, vision issues, a stiff neck, or back pain. In addition to these physiological effects, the impact of stress can also lead to anxiety, depression, relationship issues, and problems regulating emotions.
So, how can you add in some simple tools to handle stress? The answers might be easier than you think. Here are some great ideas to keep in mind:
1. Exercise. Taking a brisk walk, running, or cycling will increase your heart rate and help your body flush out stress hormones, with the added bonus of increasing your endorphins. Strength training will aid in training sedentary muscles, improving posture, and helping muscle strain from your long days of sitting. Finally, stretching will ease muscle tension and decrease headaches. Go at your own pace, but aim for 25 minutes a day, 3 times a week.
2. Decrease harmful light’s impact. Put your screen on night mode or consider purchasing some blue light filtering glasses. These are easy to find online and affordable.
3. Time management. Create a schedule and do your best to stick to it. Having structure for your day can prevent feeling overwhelmed. If scheduling isn’t typically your thing, shop around for an appealing planner and think about writing in your favorite things to do, so you will have something fun to look forward to. Or, if you’d rather, keep track of everything on your smartphone with an app like My Daily Planner, Dreamie Planner, or Any.do. Think about the best time to plan for your day- is it the night before, or the morning of? Get into the habit of taking five minutes a day at your preferred time to structure your responsibilities and activities.
4. Make time for fun and laughter. Making time for fun will not only decrease your stress and aid in connection but will also give your brain the break it needs so that it can focus better when working. Having fun isn’t only important to reduce stress and aid in balance, but it has great effects on the body too! Laughing releases endorphins and reduces cortisol and epinephrine- two stress-causing hormones. In fact, science says that one full-bellied bout of laughter can leave your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes afterward. Try to incorporate a fun activity for yourself at least once a week, watch a comedy show, or reminisce with a friend to get some of these great benefits.
5. Reach out. Call that old friend you’ve been meaning to talk to and check in on your loved ones. If you are having a hard time finding a trusted person to talk to, we at Simply Thrive Therapeutic Associates would love to set up a session with you to talk.
6. Get outside. Break up the monotony of your environment and get the added benefit of nature’s therapy. Go for a walk or a hike. Find a new botanical garden or park to explore.
7. Help others. A great way to get your mind off your own problems is to help someone. Charitable acts have a way of helping us gain perspective, feel like we are doing something positive and worthwhile, and redirect our attention. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen or church, or check out volunteermatch.org for some great ideas.
8. Pay attention to your breath. Have you noticed how your breath changes when you are stressed out or experiencing other distressing emotions? Often, we don’t realize how shallow our breaths are. Take a moment to take some big, deep breaths. Drop your shoulders and roll your neck. Steady deep breaths reduce stress levels, lower your heart rate, and send signals to your nervous system to calm down.
Mental Health Student Intern