Managing Stress & Anxiety During COVID19 Lockdown
These are difficult times for everyone around the world. Hybrid’s Jon Bond has written how he’s coping so far in lockdown, along with some tips which he hopes you may find helpful.
With the global pandemic, and current situation around COVID19, these are the most uncertain times most of us have lived in. Never before has this generation had its freedom taken away so quickly and almost overnight, and it’s completely transformed the way we live our daily lives. These changes bring new challenges that we are, for the most part, ill-equipped for when it comes to going about our ‘normal’ daily lives.
Depending on what country you’re currently in, you are likely between 4-7 weeks into lockdown with your partner and/or family. We are not designed to be cooped up 24/7 in one space, and it is likely that you are now getting irritable and stress levels are high.
Before I go deeper, let’s put this in perspective
As someone who has had a lifelong career in personal training, fight gyms, and health clubs, my area of expertise is mental and physical health. For myself and most of you reading this, the worst thing that is happening is that we can’t go out, socialise, and we are unable to go to the gym. Although this can be challenging, it needs to be said that if we are at home, healthy and we still have our jobs…then we don’t have much to truly complain about. I know many people who have already lost their jobs, lost their businesses and that have even been in hospital battling COVID19. My heart and best wishes go out to all these people. I’ve also been inspired and moved by the stories of what people are doing during this time, especially from those who are in a position more difficult than mine.
When it comes to dealing with stress, you have a choice
Two things happen during stressful times;
- We shut down and struggle to handle things OR
- We take action
I have many friends around the world in the fitness industry, some of whom have lost their income. Instead of sitting back, complaining, and waiting for government handouts (which they more than deserve), they chose to act first by taking alternative jobs such as delivery drivers or call center workers. Although it’s not the ideal choice of most people, there are options if you choose to act, and these are the people I have the utmost respect for. Most take action because they have no choice, and although having to take alternative employment at this time is stressful, being able to pay your bills is a lot less stressful than not being able to pay them at all.
For those that have been sick or otherwise directly affected by COVID19, the consequences could be even more severe; the worst of those is loss of life. If you are in this situation, you have my deepest sympathy.
If you are in a position where you are financially stable, and have good health, the first thing you should do is take a moment to be grateful. If maintaining your health and fitness is your main concern right now, then you are lucky! My aim with this article is to stick to my area of expertise, which is health and fitness.
Managing Stress Levels
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a new reality for almost everyone around the world. Our daily lives and routines have been turned upside down, financial pressure is on the forefront of most of our minds, fear and worry about getting sick and what happens if we fall ill. The media is constantly feeding vast amounts of information, and using angles and hyperbolic language which spreads even more fear. In addition to all of this we’ve had our freedom taken away – we can no longer do all the things we love spending our free time on; going to the gym, restaurants, cinemas even going for walks in some places. All these things are usually our stress release mechanisms. So, now what?
Everyone has a different situation, so please don’t take this as one of those patronising ‘self help’ articles.
Everyday stress, anxiety, fear, sadness and loneliness and mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression are nothing new, however due to the current situation all of these things are exacerbated as we deal with job security, financial insecurity, and the fear of falling sick.
From my experience with stress and how to deal with it – the answer is almost always to take ACTION. The big question is WHAT action is required and HOW do we take it.
To be completely frank, I don’t care much for all the self help gurus and millionaires out there telling everyone how to cope with everything. Most of it is bullshit and they usually live in a different reality which makes it irrelevant and useless to your average person.
You need to find what works for you – you cannot just do something because someone tells you to do it and assume it will work just as well. You may need help getting there and finding the answer in how to best deal with your own stresses, but in my humble experience you most likely already know the answer.
The big question is; Do we have the ability, the knowhow and the willingness to take action before we spiral down and get paralysed by our own thoughts?
Here I have listed some coping mechanisms from a health and fitness perspective in no way designed to tell you what to do but more to give you a few ideas to help spark you into action if you are struggling to ‘find your mojo’ or to help you stick to your health and fitness routine at this time.
Training is Training – You don’t need a gym to take care of your body
We are designed to move our bodies. Use it or lose it.
Most of what we are dealing with right now from a physical point of view is pretty trivial if we really put it into perspective. Not being able to go to the gym is not the end of the world in the grand scheme of things currently. Whilst it’s driving me nuts not being able to train the way I’d like, I can still train. The gym itself is just an enhancement tool for the experience of exercise.
The first thing to accept is, if you rely on the equipment most gyms have to offer then no matter what we do, our training will seem compromised in comparison. If we are not lucky enough to have a home gym which is most of us, then heavy lifting is pretty much out of the question. However training is training, exercise is exercise – what we need to do depending on our own individual circumstances is find the next best thing.
If we mentally strip down the reason we train and rearrange our priorities then this can be turned into a positive experience.
As a society we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to look a certain way. This can lead to obsession which is never healthy. For a short time at least, training from home using mostly bodyweight or lightweight exercises is teaching me to let go of certain things. I love lifting heavy for two reasons:
1) I love being strong
2) I love looking strong and jacked
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, however the way I usually smash my body in pursuit of this leads to a few negatives; obsession with how I look, constantly chasing that pumped feel, feeling shattered all the time, carrying injuries.
Sometimes the things we do in pursuit of what we think makes us happy can be the very thing that is destroying us. Five weeks now into no gym training, I actually feel less tired now, my mobility has improved, I don’t feel I look as good, but I generally feel better.
Right now, as long as I stay lean and athletic, muscle size and strength is not a priority. Don’t get me wrong, motivation to train is harder, and having the gym to go to is part of the psychology of getting yourself ready for training. The habit of going to the gym, having a place to be at a set time is often what gets you to train on the days you don’t feel like it. Sitting around the house, planning the short trip to your balcony or bedroom to do a workout that you wouldn’t normally do just doesn’t have the same effect, not to mention the social side of getting to the gym and the energy of everyone else working out alongside you brings to the table.
Nevertheless the BIGGEST reason to just get it done is how we feel after, all you have to do is WILL yourself to start your workout. The only SHIT workout as they say is the one you don’t do, pretty much any form of exercise once you get warm and get into it will kick in your endorphins (Happy Hormones) and no matter what, leave you feeling better and for a short while at least leave you feeling energised and less stressed.
Create a training diary
Create a training plan
Set a daily time to train
Hold yourself accountable and just get it done
If you need help – hire help. Online Personal Training, Outdoor Personal Training, Zoom sessions, Online classes – help is all around you, all you have to do is look for it and take action. Health should always be our number one priority. If you can make exercise a habit and a priority without all the benefits of your gym membership, you will come out of this stronger than before and with a newfound appreciation of what the fitness industry has to offer.
Stick to your new routine
Finding ways to train should be the easy part, but that’s only one hour out of your new stay at home routine. During this time it’s so important to try your best to stick to a new routine. Most of us right now have no idea what date or what time it is because every day feels the same. I forgot it was Easter until I went out for my takeaway coffee to see the “Closed for Good Friday” sign!
The “just get through each day” mindset and “waiting for this to end” is probably not the best approach, and will most likely just lead to you feeling lost and helpless. Do not lose sight of having structure to your day, give yourself a purpose. Mine is boring but I stick to it – I still get up at 6AM mostly due to a barking puppy, but nevertheless it’s routine. I then have coffee at 7AM and work for a few hours, then I’ll go for a walk, train at midday, work for a few more hours, go for another walk, work a bit more, have dinner, 1-2 hours of Netflix and go to bed by 10PM. It’s not super exciting, and like most us, I have good days and bad days.
When I get bored, I’m aware that I’m mostly bored of hearing the same story on the news, and tired of being in this pandemic situation. However, I can always find productive things to do which I constantly have to remind myself of. Being bored of the situation is normal, but being bored with life in general can lead to further issues. I believe having a routine is the best way to combat boredom.
Tips for a healthy routine:
- Maintain a regular schedule – Try to wake up at the same time every day, and go to bed at the same time every night. Binging on netflix and video games late into the evenings may pass the time, but going to bed at 2AM and waking up after lunchtime is not going to help you stay productive, and will just lead to you feeling tired, lethargic and unmotivated. Keep consistent times for meals, bathing and getting dressed, work or study schedules, and exercise. Ticking these things off daily can keep you productive and mentally in a good place.
- Make good food choices. Choose a well-balanced diet. Avoid loading up on junk food and refined sugar. Limit caffeine as it can aggravate stress and anxiety and affect your sleep pattern.
- Avoid smoking, alcohol and drugs. If you smoke cigarettes or if you vape, you’re already at higher risk of lung disease. Because of the way COVID-19 affects the lungs, your risk increases even more. Alcohol can be an avenue to relieve stress or to help you unwind, but is not a great idea as it only provides temporary relief, and will only leave you more tired, lethargic and lead to poor health and weight gain. Avoid taking drugs to cope. This should be a general rule at all times not just now, unless they have been prescribed by your doctor.
- Limit screen time and watching the news. Being stuck indoors is leading us to spend more time on the internet, social media, and watching TV in order to keep ourselves entertained. Try giving yourself a ‘time out’ and turn off all devices for 30mins here and there. Find something else to do like exercise, cook, clean, fold laundry, read, draw – anything that doesn’t involve a screen! We all have plenty of time to get those chores done that we have been putting off. Keep up to date on national and local recommendations but try not to let the news become ‘must watch TV.’ There is a lot of misinformation and fear being spread by different news channels, just focus on what you need to know to stay safe and healthy at this time.
- Stay Active and busy. If you find yourself feeling negative, anxious or depressed, finding something to distract yourself with momentarily or overthinking it won’t help in the long term. Find a new hobby you can do at home, play a game with the family, start a puzzle, learn what a sudoku is – focus your mind elsewhere towards something productive for your relationships, and mental health. Doing something positive can help to manage anxiety and is healthy for your brain.
- Relax and unwind. This can be a difficult one especially with all the stress going on right now. Try to set some time aside for yourself – take a bath, listen to some music, get some YOU time and reset. There is no right or wrong as long as it is time spent with yourself.
- Stay Positive. Again a tough one right now, try to focus on solutions not problems, now is a good time to look for solutions to our problems a lot of the time we are to busy to deal with our issues so continue to put them on the back burner, use this time to look for some positive answers, write down one thing each morning that you are grateful for and let that be your mantra for the day, also write down one thing each day that you want to work on.
- Reassess your priorities. Now is probably not the time to make life changing decisions unless you are absolutely forced to, Try not to become overwhelmed with things to achieve while you’re home. you will have good days and bad days focus on the priorities you can control right now and do not worry about things you cannot control
- Stay Connected. Social distancing does not mean social isolation! Take this time to check in on your family more often, make more time for calls with your friends, if you are working remotely make sure you are checking in with your team regularly.
- Help others. Find time to help those who are not in less-fortunate situations. Check in on your neighbours, especially the elderly. Offer to do their shopping, walk their dog, or pick up their prescriptions. Helping others is a sure fire way to help you get out of your own head, do something to make you feel good, and put your problems in perspective.
Recognizing what’s normal and what isn’t
Stress is a normal part of everyday life. But how do we know, or acknowledge when normal levels of stress boil over into something we can no longer control?
Lots of us will suffer with symptoms of anxiety and depression. And these feelings will come and go and change over time. Despite your best efforts, you may find it difficult to stay positive and you may find yourself feeling helpless, sad, angry, irritable, hopeless, anxious or afraid. You may have trouble concentrating on typical tasks, changes in appetite, body aches and pains, or difficulty sleeping or you may struggle to face routine chores.
When these signs and symptoms last for several days in a row, and cause problems in your daily life so that you find it hard to carry out normal responsibilities, it’s time to ask for help.
Get help when you need it
Hoping mental health problems such as anxiety or depression will go away on their own can lead to worsening symptoms. You must ask for help and you must talk to someone. If you have concerns or if you experience a worsening of mental state, don’t suffer in silence. Please find the courage to be upfront and honest there is plenty of help out there, you just need to ask.
- Call, message, or use social media to contact a close friend or loved one — even though it may be hard to talk about your feelings.
- Contact your employer and ask for assistance.
- Call your primary care provider or mental health professional to ask about appointment options to talk about your anxiety or depression.
There are many ways of working through this very difficult time, but it’s down to you to take action. Help is everywhere, you just have to choose to look for it. We must take everything in context and the ideas I have provided above will absolutely not be helpful in all situations. Take what is useful for you, and ignore what is not. This situation is a reminder that we are all human. We are all equal, and we are most definitely stronger together than we are alone. This time will pass, some of us will be lucky enough enough to go back to normal. For some their lives will be changed forever. When this is all over, if you have the ability to help those less fortunate than you please do so.
I believe those of us that come out of this relatively unscathed have the obligation to help those that don’t. Stay safe, stay positive, stay strong.
Article by: Jon Bond, President & Co-Founder, Hybrid Personal Training, MMA & Fitness