MADISON, Wis. (SPECTRUM NEWS) - It may feel like stressors are all around you, but now more than ever, experts say keeping stress under control is vital to your health.
Dr. Stephen Saunders, chair of psychology at Marquette, said some stress can be good; it can direct our behavior in heightened situations. “When we’re anxious about our safety, about the safety of our loved ones, we do things like put seat belts on and hold children’s hands before they cross the street,” Saunders said. “To be stressed is totally normal. It helps us to engage in appropriate behavior that will hopefully prevent the spread of this virus.”
Saunders said you should want to avoid being overwhelmed by stress or letting it run your life. However, that’s easier said than done when you can’t connect with others in person.
“[Social isolation] is miserable, it’s a prescription for depression and anxiety,” Saunders said. “Social distancing and social isolation are not the same. The more you do the one, the more you have to fight against the other.” Even in physical quarantine or isolation, we don’t have to be isolated socially.
Staying connected with one another allows you to keep an eye on loved ones who may be overwhelmed, and that connection itself can help relieve stress.
Technology can be a great way to stay social. “For all of those people my age that have been complaining about social media for a decade … now, I’m extraordinarily grateful for Facebook and Instagram and Twitter,” Saunders laughed. “For all the social distancing that we’re doing … we have to reach out and be connected and do what you and I are doing right now, which is conversing by FaceTime.”
Getting out of the house, even just for a walk, can make a difference. “Exercise is so good for mental health. Get outside. If you run, get out and run,” Saunders suggested. “Wave to your neighbors, have conversations at a distance.”
Saunders recommended doing something kind for others. “One of the things that is really good for everyone’s mental health at a time like this when it’s so stressful … is to do something good for other people,” Saunders said. “Even maintaining safety, maybe you volunteer to deliver groceries to an elderly neighbor. Reach out to people. If you can, go give blood.” The American Red Cross is experiencing a blood shortage right now. “Do something for others, that’s really good especially in these times where we feel kind of helpless, do something to not feel so helpless.”
While we’re all encouraged to stay home, it’s also important to get outside, still maintaining that social distance. “Exercise is so good for mental health. Get outside. If you run, get out and run,” Saunders said. “Wave to your neighbors. Have conversations at a distance.”
Overall, he said that connection with others is important for our own mental wellness, but also acts for a safety net in families and groups of friends. That connection makes it easier to catch someone who may be falling.
“Do things that you’ve always done! It’s okay to play Monopoly with someone virtually,” Saunders said. “It’s actually easier to cheat,” he laughed. “Do the things that you’ve always done, except do them even more now to help yourself with your mental health.”