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Christmas has come and gone and for the majority of Dallas County residents as well as others, our thoughts have turned to the New Year. While looking at social media posts, it is clear that lots of people are ready to put this year to rest.

This year started out like most years with people making resolutions to get out of debt, lose weight, become healthier, etc. I can even remember seeing this statement “2020: Perfect Vision.” However, we all know that no one could predict the changes that were ahead and that 2020 would be anything but perfect. We have had to adjust and live through a worldwide health pandemic, learned to work remotely from home, see the world speak out and protest racism and racial violence/issues and live through a destructive hurricane season. Many families have lost their income, businesses have closed; many have lost family members to the pandemic and homes to storms, but through it all we have not lost hope.

We are a resilient people and as we move forward into 2021, here are a few tips on how to deal with the stressors that we are still experiencing.

  • COVID-19: Stay physical safe - the biggest safety behaviors (physical distancing and hand washing) which decrease transmission of the COVID-19 virus, are also an integral part of anxiety management. Stay home when you can. When outside the home, wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. Wear your mask and practice social distancing.
  • Create new routines - routine and ritual are restorative to us. Our brain wants predictable activity so we can relax our vigilant nervous system. Go to bed early and go outside each day to be active. Remember that our activities, thoughts, and mood are closely linked. If you want to change your mood, change your activities and/or your thoughts.
  • Eat well; good nutrition helps our mood. Stress makes us seek comfort foods, and in turn high carbs and sugars impact our mood. Many population-based studies show that a Mediterranean diet has been linked to better mental health and stress resilience, whereas a junk food western diet is linked to depression and anxiety. Try to fill your home with fresh produce, frozen vegetables, and whole foods when possible – and eat them; remove high sugar and junk foods to reduce temptations.
  • Know and recognize your stressors and find ways to reduce them. This may include a regular exercise routine, deep breathing exercises, positive self-talk and of course adequate sleep.
  • Allow yourself time to grieve - grief, the human response to loss. Many losses are of people: our family, our lovers, our friends, our neighbors, and people across the world we have never known. But our losses are of other important things too: school, work, connection, the prom, sports, certainty, predictability, blissful ignorance, weddings, funerals, and normalcy. Some losses are life delayed (for who knows how long), some are life canceled and gone forever. Each person’s grief is personal, and true, and incomparable to another’s. There is no ranking of loss, just what it means to each of us to go without, to miss, to be separated, to be disappointed, to feel alone and bereft.
  • Stay connected – use technology such as social media and Zoom to stay connected virtually.

And finally, never be ashamed to seek professional help from a licensed counselor, therapist, or psychologist. He or she may be able to help you build or improve on these life skills. Contact the National Crisis Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), the Alabama Department of Public Health at 1-800-252-1818 or locally contact Cahaba Center for Mental Health at 334-875-2100.

Callie Nelson is coordinator for the Dallas County Extension System.

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