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Stress Awareness Month: Coping with post-covid stress and stress at work 

After a most stressful year under a global pandemic, health and workplace related stress are higher than ever. This Stress Awareness Month re-balance your work and life by learning how you can better manage post-Covid stress and stress at work. 

Stress Awareness Month’s mission

April is Stress Awareness Month and today, April 16, is National Stress Awareness Day. Stress Awareness Month has been held every April, since 1992 and during this annual thirty day period, health care professionals and health promotion experts across the country join forces to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic.

Sponsored by The Health Resource Network (HRN), a non-profit health education organization, Stress Awareness Month is a national, cooperative effort to inform people about the dangers of stress, successful coping strategies, and harmful misconceptions about stress that are prevalent in our society.

“Even though we’ve learned a lot about stress in the past twenty years,” says Dr. Morton C. Orman, M.D., Founder and Director of HRN, “we’ve got a long way to go. New information is now available that could help millions of Americans eliminate their suffering.”

Dr. Orman has invited leading health care organizations across the country to develop and disseminate helpful educational materials and other information about stress during the month of April. He is also encouraging stress experts and other health care leaders to conduct public forums, discussion groups, and other informative community events.

Stress Facts

  • Stress contributes to heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, and other illnesses in many individuals.
  • Stress affects the immune system, which protects us from many serious diseases. Chronic stress can weaken the immune system resulting in more illness such as colds and flus and COVID-19. Other conditions such as heart disease and metabolic syndrome can also develop due to prolonged stress. 
  • Tranquilizers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications account for one fourth of all prescriptions written in the U.S. each year. 
  • Stress can contribute to the development of alcoholism, obesity, suicide, drug addiction, cigarette addiction, and other harmful behaviors.

How to cope with post-Covid stress 

Since the pandemic began, Covid-19 stress and post-covid stress have become one of the major stressors for people across the globe. The CDC has provided some guidelines and resources for coping with Covid related stress below. 

post-Covid stress

Coping with post-Covid stress. Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Recognize the symptoms of stress you may be experiencing

The first step to coping with stress is to recognize that you are stressed. Many people, especially professionals in fast-paced job environments have become accustomed to brushing off signs of stress or have gotten so used to the feeling that they no longer realize what they are feeling is not healthy. As we have mentioned above, prolonged untreated stress can have very serious health consequences, so it’s important to recognize the signs of stress and make a plan to address and manage it. 

Common signs of stress include: 

  • Feeling irritation, anger, or in denial
  • Feeling uncertain, nervous, or anxious
  • Lacking motivation
  • Feeling tired, overwhelmed, or burned out
  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Having trouble concentrating

Know the common work-related factors that can add to stress during a pandemic

  • Concern about the risk of being exposed to the virus at work
  • Taking care of personal and family needs while working
  • Managing a different workload
  • Lack of access to the tools and equipment needed to perform your job
  • Feelings that you are not contributing enough to work or guilt about not being on the frontline
  • Uncertainty about the future of your workplace and/or employment
  • Learning new communication tools and dealing with technical difficulties
  • Adapting to a different workspace and/or work schedule

How to cope with post-Covid stress at work 

According to the CDC’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, 29 to 40% of Americans report being “extremely stressed at work.” And this percentage is only getting higher. Below are some helpful tips and coping mechanisms to help you manage your stress after this most stressful year! 

10 Tips for stress management

  1. Re-balance work & life and develop a solid routine

If you’re spending all your time focusing on work and no time for yourself, then you are bound to burnout. Being available around the clock might make you seem like the perfect worker, but it isn’t healthy. We all need time for ourselves, so make sure you schedule in some dates on your calendar for some “me-time” and fun activities. 

Set boundaries in your work and home life and stick to them to avoid potential stress. This means setting aside time for socializing and setting rules for when you will check emails or take phone calls. Establishing a solid routine and schedule will also help to balance work and life and eliminate stressors. 

  1. Exercise regularly

You’ve probably heard it about a million times, but exercise truly does make you feel better. Regular exercise balances the nervous system and increases blood circulation, helping to flush out stress hormones. You don’t need an elaborate fitness routine either, even just a short walk will make a difference. Eleven minutes a day is all you need to start to see changes. 

  1. Eat well and limit alcohol and stimulants

Alcohol, nicotine and caffeine may temporarily relieve stress but have negative health impacts and can make stress worse in the long run. Well-nourished bodies cope better, so be sure to start the day off with a good, nutritious breakfast and avoid processed foods and sugar throughout the day. And don’t forget to stay hydrated! 

You might be interested: Wheatgrass: How you can boost your health while working from home

  1. Surround yourself with supportive people 

Having people you can rely on will help alleviate some of the built-up tension you may be feeling.

Talking face to face with others releases stress hormones that reduce stress. After this past year of lockdowns and social distancing, talking face to face has become scarcer. But remember social distancing is only about physical distance, so you can still meet up with friends and family for a social distant walk or outdoor gathering–just be sure to take the proper safety precautions when meeting. 

  1. Devote time to hobbies and leisure 

Research shows that engaging in activities that bring you pleasure reduces stress by almost half and lowers your heart rate as well. So indulge in your hobbies! Garden, read, listen to a podcast, make some art, binge your favorite show. Don’t be afraid to disconnect for a bit and have some fun. 

  1. Practice meditation techniques 

Relaxation techniques activate a state of restfulness that counterbalances your body’s fight-or-flight hormones. Meditation, deep breathing exercises, and mindfulness all work to calm your anxiety. Start by taking a few minutes each day to focus on being present and enjoying a simple activity — whether that’s a short walk around the park or appreciating a meal at your desk. There are also plenty of meditation apps or videos out there that can help guide you through exercises when you’re feeling particularly stressed. 

  1. Get enough sleep 

Getting less than seven to eight hours of sleep makes your body a bad stress-managing machine. Proper sleep is a crucial ingredient to fighting off stress. If you find that stress keeps you up at night, address the cause and add extra meditation into your day to make up for the lost sleep.

  1. Re-evaluate negative thoughts

When you’ve experienced worry and chronic stress for an extended period of time, your mind may tend to jump to conclusions and read into every situation with a negative lens. For example, if a coworker doesn’t say hi to you first thing in the morning, you might react thinking “they’re mad at me.”

Instead of making automatic judgements, try distancing yourself from your negative thoughts and simply observe.

  1. Take a vacation

Sometimes you just need to get away–even if it’s just a “stay-cation.” With travel restrictions still keeping many of us from sandy beaches and sunshine, taking a vacation may seem like a distant dream. But we all still need breaks from time to time, so embrace the spirit of a vacation and give yourself some time off. Leave your cellphone and laptop at home and just switch off for a few days. The rest and relaxation will help you refocus and improve your outlook.

  1. See a counselor, coach or therapist

When it gets to be too much to handle, don’t be afraid to reach out. When negative thoughts overwhelm your ability to make positive changes, it’s time to seek professional help. Make an appointment with a counselor, coach, or therapist and let them guide you toward managing your stress in positive and healthy ways. 

For additional resources visit CDC.gov

working remotely, business financing

Is working remotely a pain? Tips to be more comfortable and productive

If you’re new to working remotely and could use some guidance on how to be more comfortable with it, here are some tips to help you be less stressed and more productive. It may be easier than you think to master the art of working remotely!

working remotely

Please don’t work like this! (Photo credit: Courtesy Creative Writing)

Having have been a “remote worker” for seven years, I have mastered the art of working from home, and it’s how I prefer to work. But working remotely does require certain adjustments, to help you avoid becoming stressed out. Since many people have suddenly been forced to work from home, due to the need for social distancing during the Coronavirus health crisis, I’m sharing some important tips that can help you be as productive and comfortable as possible.

working remotelyToday’s focus: Don’t let working remotely become a pain in the neck…and back…and wrists. Your desk setup is key to being pain-free. Here’s how to do it.

1. First and foremost, do not sit on the couch or curled up on a bed working on your laptop computer — while that sounds comfy, you’ll wind up in knots.

2. Accessorize your laptop:

    • Use a mouse — not the laptop’s trackpad. It’s not only better for your wrists, hands and arms. It also helps you get work done much more quickly and efficiently by making it easier to do functions like select, copy, paste and scroll, and to access shortcuts that are available by right-clicking.
    • Use a real keyboard — either the kind that plugs into a USB port (if your laptop has one), or a wireless one. Position it as ergonomically as possible, to avoid tensing up your shoulders and straining your wrists. Your shoulders, wrists and elbows should all form one 90-degree angle, with your wrists kept loose and hands in a straight position (not bent up or down). Depending on your height, this may require your keyboard to be below your desktop. If so and you don’t have an under-desk keyboard tray, try having the keyboard on your lap, elevated a by a firm pillow.
    • Raise your laptop so it’s at eye level, directly in front of you, to avoid neck strain. A stack of books can do the trick, or use a laptop stand that can provide some additional space for storage.
    • Have batteries on hand (and nearby) if you use a wireless mouse and/or keyboard. You don’t want to wind up suddenly out of commission when you’re on deadline or on a conference call!

3. It’s imperative to have a comfortable chair, and maintain good posture. If need be, add a pillow to support your back, and/or a cushion so you don’t get achy from sitting against a hard surface. Your feet should rest flat on the ground. If you’re on the shorter side (like me) and they don’t, add a footrest.

    • If you’ll be working remotely long-term, it’s wise to invest in an ergonomic chair that’s suited to your size and the way you work. Do some research online and look for features that match your needs — including adjustability, maximum user weight, seat height, seat depth, lumbar support, and back tilt. You’ll find free ergonomic calculators that can help you with this. If you can, wait until stores reopen and be like Goldilocks: Go test a variety of chairs in-person and choose one that’s “just right.” If you can’t wait, be sure to buy from a company that has a generous return policy.

working remotely

4. Go hands-free with your phone. Use speakerphone, a Bluetooth earpiece, or cell phone earbuds. This will enable you to take notes or continue using your computer, while sparing you from the special kind of pain that comes from holding your phone with your shoulder.

5. Don’t just sit there! Get up and move around for at least a few minutes every hour — walk, stretch, breathe deeply, refill your water glass. Setting a daily “steps goal” and sticking to it can be a good motivator. Taking these little breaks will help you loosen up, and also clear your head so you can be more creative and think more effectively. Set a timer, or set your fitness tracker to vibrate with reminders to move. While it may sound silly to set reminders, it’s easy to get “in the zone” and lose track of time when you’re working.

    • When you’re the phone, walk around if you can (or at least stand up). Studies show that movement is associated with higher creativity, and standing makes your voice stronger and clearer by allowing you to breathe more deeply and naturally. Walking around can also help you focus on the conversation and resist the urge to engage in counterproductive multitasking.

If you (or your employer) need to buy any new equipment, I encourage you to shop locally and patronize small businesses, if possible. Your local merchants will really appreciate it, especially as the necessity of social distancing has hurt many of them financially. See if you can order from them online or by phone. At this writing, many will offer delivery or curbside pickup.

What are your desk setup questions, or tips for working remotely? Please share!

Wishing you good health and a positive, successful experience working from home.

You might be interested: 5 Remote recruitment tips proven to actually work