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Are my stress levels normal?

By: Kalee Beal, Organizational Trauma Informed Care Specialist

Are my stress levels normal?

Everyone has been impacted by COVID-19 in some way. As we encounter rapid changes, anxiety, fear, and countless frustrations, stress has become the most consistent part of the pandemic experience. As these stressors continue to pile on us, we have to wonder: When is it too much? How do we know in a world of stress that our stress levels are normal?

Stress, when it is not constant or overwhelming, is useful. It pushes us to accomplish things, and it tests our resilience — and it is also normal. We encounter situations in our daily lives that cause stressful moments, days, and sometimes years. However, if you are anything like me, your stress levels this year have gotten to a point that you no longer know how to deal with.

So, when is it too much?

Stress becomes too much when the symptoms impact your physical, behavioral, or emotional health. Just like an illness, when a symptom becomes too much, you address it. Currently, COVID-19 has no cure, which unfortunately means that there is no cure for COVID- 19-related stress. If you look up ways to treat the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages people to treat their individual symptoms. I think we should approach treating pandemic-related stress in the same way.

Stress symptoms come in three primary types: physical, behavioral, and cognitive. Physical symptoms of stress can include headaches, muscle pain or tension, stomach issues, and other symptoms. Behavioral symptoms may include the inability to sleep or sleeping excessively, over/under-eating, or impulsive decision making. Cognitive symptoms may include negative thoughts, anxiety, panic, thoughts of self-harm, or other conditions. Most people experience a combination of symptoms and types.

What we can do is identify stress symptoms and develop a plan to address them. Here is an example of a stress plan:

Kalee’s Stress Plan:

  • Physical Symptoms: Sore muscles and shortness of breath
    • Plan: Stretch daily while practicing deep breathing and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Behavioral Symptoms: Overeating and insomnia
    • Plan: Set daily sleep reminders, put away screens 30 minutes before bedtime, meal prep on Sundays with healthy meals, order food/ eat out only once a week.
  • Cognitive Symptoms: Feelings of helplessness, anger, and difficulty seeing the positive.
    • Plan: Journal one positive thing about every day, do one nice thing for others and one nice thing for yourself daily, and accept that frustration is normal.

One of the best ways to stick to a stress plan is to have someone hold you accountable. Mental health professionals can help you achieve goals by assisting you in goal-setting and sticking to your plan.

In a world in which everyone encounters change and loss, we may feel like our stress doesn’t matter or isn’t enough to seek out help for. You may feel like you are wasting someone’s time by talking about your struggles and stressors or that you should handle it all on your own. Remember — your stress matters, and you are never alone.

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