There’s no denying it: we are living in challenging times.
If, like me, you’re based in Melbourne, the recent announcement of Lockdown 2.0 was a rude wake-up call. One minute we were ramping up to go back to our ‘normal’ lives, and the next minute we’re digging out our sewing machines to fashion face-masks for the next six weeks.
I’ll be honest: this round of restrictions is starting to get to me. Between juggling work, study and home based schooling for the kids, my stress levels are starting to peak. My sleep is erratic, I’m eating too much, and my workout regimen is almost non existent.
So, why am I feeling so out of control?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s a good reason for it. Aside from the fact that we’re living through a public health crisis of global proportions, there are a multitude of good reasons for feeling like your life is out of control.
Being indoors is messing with your body clock
If you’ve been feeling sluggish and moody, there’s a good reason for that. According to circadian experts, constant exposure to artificial light during lockdown could be scrambling your internal clock and suppressing your natural melatonin production, making it harder to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
Elevated cortisol levels are impacting your hormones
You may have heard of the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, which is our central stress response system. When your body is exposed to a stressor, the HPA axis stimulates the release of cortisol, in turn releasing glucose into the body in preparation for the ‘fight or flight’ response. Usually, your body calms down once the stress inducing trigger is gone, but when you’re constantly in a state of stress, these high levels of cortisol can have a variety of effects on your body, including disregulation of hormones.
Hormones have a wide range of functions in your body – from controlling your metabolism, through to regulating your moods – so it’s no wonder that you might be feeling a little ‘off’ during these unprecendented times.
Your immune system is on high alert
Let’s not forget that it’s the middle of winter – peak season for colds and flu. This means that your body is working overtime to protect your body against a plethora of pathogens. Add to this a relative lack of Vitamin D due to staying indoors, and your body may be struggling under the immune pressure.
What can I do to break the stress cycle?
While we cannot control world events, we can control how we react to them. By accepting that there are things that we cannot change, we can start to look at those we can influence, and start regaining some control.
Walk it off
While you might not be able to go to the gym, you are still allowed to exercise under the current government restrictions. Going for a walk might not give you six-pack abs, but it will do wonders for your mind. Take the kids or the dog for a stroll around the block, or find a local hill to give your booty a challenge.
You might also consider creating a group walking challenge with your friends. Apps such as World Walking provide a free and fun way to connect with friends and family, while ticking off your daily steps.
Try cutting back on alcohol
Turning to alcohol is a common way to cope with stress. But while it may feel that it relaxes you in the short term, it can in fact exacerbate feelings of anxiety, making stress harder to deal with. Chronic drinking has also been linked to higher cortisol levels, which can in turn impact the body’s normal function.
You might consider undertaking a 30 day experiment, giving up all alcoholic drinks for a month. But if all-out abstinence is not your thing, there are plenty of other ways to reduce your drinking. Try some of the many alcohol-free substitutes on the market, or simply follow the Drink One, Water One (alternating between each wine with a glass of water) rule to slow your consumption.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
While it’s easier said than done, choosing not to stress over insignificant issues can do wonders for your health. Combining this with a mindfulness meditation will go a long way to help you manage your anxiety, and get on with your day.
Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment with openness, curiosity and without judgement, and can be quite calming if you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed. If you’ve never experienced the power of mindfulness, you might benefit from the use of an app, such as Smiling Mind, which guides you through mindfulness techniques from the convenience of your phone.
While it may feel like you’re all alone, just remember that we’re all going through the same thing. At times like these, draw comfort from the relationships around you, and focus on the connections that are important to you. Once it’s all over – and it will be over eventually – you’ll have a much stronger support network for the experience.