Freaking Out, Stir Crazy, & Catastrophizing: Fighting Stress in a Global Pandemic
I don’t know if you are aware, but this is national stress awareness month. This “event” has been populating our calendars every April since 1992. According to one description I read, during this annual 30-day period health professionals across the country join forces to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic. In “normal” times, this seems like a great idea, but part of me thinks hope awareness would have been a better focus during this global pandemic.
I don’t know about you, but I am too stressed out to focus on stress right now! I feel squirrely. Social distancing and “stay-at-home” orders, though I compassionately understand and obey, have opened space for isolation to wreak its distressing havoc on my social soul. Constant and contradictory news reports have created the prime conditions for emotional volcanic eruptions of catastrophizing and dread for all that is unraveling in the world.
Something has to give! I need to flip the script. Is there any blueprint or strategy with the efficacy sufficient to address this level of madness? It seems trite to even talk about stress management in these unprecedented and troubling times of uncertainty and loss. It feels more like a battle than an emotional condition that you can simply apply 5 coping strategies to.
What if we approach our stress as a battle? What if, like David, the shepherd boy, who took on the giant Goliath, we go out courageously as a warrior, smooth stones and slingshot in hand, to defeat our “enemy” despite the odds. If this is our strategy for dealing with stress, then our first step is to know our enemy.
We cannot fight our stress without understanding that there are different types that “attack” in different ways. Dr. Carl Albrecht, who wrote Stress and the Manager, identifies four primary types of stress including; time stress, anticipatory stress, situational stress, and encounter stress. Time stress presents itself when we’re faced with multiple deadlines causing fear that we will fail to achieve something important. Anticipatory stress happens when dealing with something unknown and out of our control related to the future and often presents as a pervasive sense of dread. Situational stress is tied to what we are currently experiencing and often requires an emergency response to a sudden loss or change. Finally, encounter stress presents as worry over interacting with particular groups of people that require physical or emotional risk-taking. Is the picture starting to sharpen regarding the depth and breadth of the stress we are all experiencing in this global pandemic?
Is there a way for us to address the stress we are feeling without losing our minds? In spite of the odds, I am choosing to say, “Yes!” There is another kind of stress that is actually considered healthy. It’s called Eustress. Eustress is a positive form of stress having a beneficial effect on health, motivation, performance, or emotional well-being. Both exciting and stressful events cause a chemical response in our body. Eustress helps us stay motivated, work toward goals, and feel confident and positive about our ability to cope with life’s challenges.
In the world of experiential education, we often refer to the zone of proximal growth and development. Essentially, it focuses on our need to step outside our comfort zone in order to embrace growth and change. In this uncomfortable space the conditions are ripe for us to experience eustress, to stay motivated, to keep moving forward, even if in imperceptible increments. Our current reality pushes us out of all that feels normal and comfortable, and often beyond, into the panic zone. And yet, I believe that even in this state we have a choice before us.
What if we choose to face our stress with a warrior’s heart, like the shepherd boy David, who faced and defeated a giant against impossible odds? What if we choose to stand up to all that is before us, clinging to the smooth stones of courage, hope, and faith?
Here are my “smooth stones” I am choosing to use in my own battle with stress. I offer them, not as a silver bullet or formula with universal application. You have your own battles to face. My hope is that they may be an encouragement for you to fight the good fight.
First Stone: Courage – “I will keep getting out of bed each day and put one foot in front of the other, even in the face of the impossible.”
Second Stone: Hope – “I will fight the challenges of this day, and the next, with the belief that I have the internal strength to find a will and way through.”
Third Stone: Faith – “I hold on tightly to the belief in a loving God, a unified field of grace and love that is a rock and foundation no matter what comes.”
Ritch Hochstetler, President and CEO at ULEAD