According to a recent survey, 88 percent of organizations have encouraged or required staff to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting social isolation can lead to emotional, physical and mental fatigue, thus elevating stress levels.

Now more than ever, our mental health should be a top priority. Recognizing stress in ourselves and knowing how to manage it is particularly important today because chronic stress threatens our wellbeing and weakens the immune system’s ability to fight off infections.

The Importance of Human Interaction

Over time, humans have evolved into social beings, surrounding ourselves with family, friends, and groups with similar interests to help cope with life’s stressors and manage their mental health.

Although we are now in the digital age where technology allows us to stay connected, we still desire human interaction, involving touch and in-person gatherings, to keep us mentally healthy, so it’s not surprising that many of us are experiencing anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.

How to Improve Your State of Mind

However, there are ways to cope with stress that will help you and those around you better manage such feelings and reduce worries during the stay-at-home order:

1. Identify stress cues.

Teeth grinding, weight gain, headaches, mood swings, back and neck pain, and sleepless nights are signals that you are experiencing stress.

Identifying these cues will help you know when it’s time to practice some strategies to lower your stress.

2. Know your triggers.

If you’re working from home or watching the news and you find yourself feeling anxious, irritated or experiencing a headache or neck pain, that’s the time to get up and disconnect.

Taking a walk, listening to music or finding a quiet place to relax can help you reset your mental state and go back to tackling the day’s tasks.

3. Disconnect daily.

Schedule regular times throughout the day when you take breaks from working or watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Being connected 24-hours a day can lead to mental strain and anxiety.

Take time to unwind by participating in activities that break up the monotony of your day. Connecting with people you trust to talk about your feelings can also help improve your mood. 

4. Find your creative outlet. 

Spend time reconnecting with pastimes you enjoy or find a new activity or hobby. Shifting your focus on something novel can help you relax and feel energized.

Consider trying a new recipe, walking, spring cleaning or participating in an online workout to reduce your stress and help you feel more refreshed.

5. Breathe for relaxation.

Natural breathing involves the diaphragm. When we breathe using the diaphragm, our stomach extends as we inhale and flattens when we exhale. After a time, we forget to breathe correctly and tend to use our chest and shoulders, which can lead to short and shallow breaths and increase stress and anxiety.

There’s no time like the present to start working on your breathing. To begin, find a quiet place to lie down. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. When you’re ready, slowly inhale.

You should feel your stomach expanding, and when you exhale, your chest should descend. Practicing relaxation breathing for 20 to 30 minutes daily to reduce your anxiety levels and promote a state of calmness. 

6. Move your body.

Keep active. Find a recreational activity that you enjoy. Exercise improves overall health and sense of well-being, and it’s also is a great way to combat stress.

When you exercise, you produce endorphins, chemicals in the brain that help reduce the perception of pain, thus improving mood. Regular exercise also helps to improve your quality of sleep, which in turn reduces stress and fatigue.

If you own a fitness tracker, aim for 10,000 steps each day. Setting a goal will help keep you motivated and give you a sense of accomplishment. 

7. Stay connected with people.

Keeping in touch with your family and friends is critical. You may be physically isolated but that does not mean you need to lose your connection to others. Try to reach out daily to people who are important to you using social media, videoconferencing or phone calls.

8. Set up a daily routine. 

In the midst of changes that are out of your control, stay consistent with activities that you take charge of. If you, like many Americans, are working from home, set up a daily routine. Act as If you’re going to work.

Get up at the time you normally would and get dressed. You don’t need to wear a business suit but aim for business casual attire. Also, set up an office where there are limited interruptions to help keep you focused.

It’s important to remember that stress is common, but being informed and developing coping techniques will help you manage and come out stronger in the end.

Gary Small

Gary SmallM.D. – Member, Nutrition Advisory Board

Dr. Gary Small is a member of the Nutrition Advisory Board. He is also the chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Hackensack University and Medical Center and physician-in-chief for Behavioral Health Services at Hackensack Meridian Health. Dr. Small is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, a summa cum laude graduate of UCLA* and an Alpha Omega Alpha graduate of USC Keck School of Medicine. Following medical school, he completed an internship in internal medicine at Children’s Hospital and Adult Medical Center in San Francisco. He also completed a general psychiatry residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and a fellowship in geriatric psychiatry at UCLA. He enjoys working out and using SKIN Protective Moisturizer and Liftoff.

*The University of California does not endorse specific products or services as a matter of policy.