Managing your stress

By Lucy Kung’u

At this time of uncertainty, we are facing many stressors in our lives notably;

  • The second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic, not only in Kenya but the whole world;
  • Working from home, where there could be conflict with parents, siblings or roommates;
  • A lot of loss’ be it of loved ones, friendships or relationships and more so loss as a result of COVID – 19 with the accompanying fear of self-stigma, social stigma and discrimination;
  • Loss of social status due to financial constraints occasioned by loss of jobs and businesses;
  • Academic pressures as we near the end of the semester or completion of studies at whatever level hence we are thinking of our life after completing our studies in these unprecedented times;
  • Separation from friends or family with feelings of loneliness

It is important that we be aware of how the different stressors are impacting on us and what we need to do to manage stress.

What is stress?

Stress is our response to interaction between external events/demands (what is out there) and internal psychological or physiological responses.

It can be caused by such things as conflict, sense of injustice or unfairness, constraints (lack or limited resources, unmet needs, loneliness), high demands in the midst of time pressure, distractors/barriers or differences in beliefs about the demands in our lives, uncertainty (thinking the worst will happen- fear of harm, pain, loss of face or loss of loved ones), distress intolerance (I can’t stand this) especially if you are not sure of how to do something, or over commitment yet you are not achieving set goals, or you are not getting what you think is important to you, personality clash especially when it comes to differences in patience, sense of time urgency, flexibility, setting realistic goals, competitiveness, ability to calm down or get aroused by stressors.

People deal with stress in different ways. Some avoid the stressor by running away, remaining passive, blaming themselves, doing nothing in a helpless way or dealing with the stressors in an aggressive way. Others accept, adjust, adapt and advance, which is the preferred way of managing stress.

How to manage stress

Stress can be managed by:

Being aware of the signs and symptoms of stress, and knowing and identifying the effects of stress on you as shown in the table below:

Common Physical Symptoms of Stress Common Emotional, Behavioral, and Cognitive Symptoms of Stress:
Body Sensations Rapid heart rate, palpitations, muscle tension, having unexplained aches, pains and discomfort headaches - back pain - neck pain - chest pain or discomfort - problems with digestion - nausea - shaking - sweating - dizziness - numbness or tingling -Inability to relax -trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, difficulty getting up in the morning -Eating too much (especially carbohydrates) or too little or loss of appetite -Lethargy or decreased energy; depletion of what the body needs e.g. sodium, potassium, cortisol, adrenalin, drop in blood sugar - increased risk to mental health issues - fear, worry, anger, irritability - a lot of frustration - crying, deep sadness - frustration, anger - impatience - emotional fatigue - burnout - deceased productivity - concentration problems - memory problems, forgetfulness - confusion or numb like nothing matters - Feeling helpless or hopeless, inability to control negative hurtful thoughts -unnecessary risk taking behavior with a don’t care attitude -refusal to follow rules or regulations for risky situations -self-blame - fighting with family and friends - Overdependence on other people - Resentment - discontentment - Unhappiness - Insecurity - unproductivity; unable to undertake your tasks, e.g. attend class, take care of children, work

However, check with your doctor or health care provider to ensure there are not any other causes of the physical symptoms.

Monitor yourself to be able to tell when you are getting stressed so that you can manage stress and focus on what needs to be done in the present moment

Ensure you use positive coping skills to manage the stress. For example; reach out for help, take time to relax, journal what is happening to you and think of ways to manage the problem or stressor, do physical exercises and also relaxation exercises that involve you just breathing in and out in a relaxed way.

If it is relationship stress, use assertive communication, set boundaries and enhance conflict resolution and management skills. If learning or working from home and family members are distracting you, use “I statements” to explain the problem--“I’m worried about my exam next week”—and work together to develop solutions.

If it is work/school/life balance: enhance time management, have a plan or schedule, delegating where you can or will help.

If it is a loss and you are grieving, seek support either from family, friends, and counselors here in school or near your residence.

Practice self-care. Basic self-care will keep your immune system strong and your emotional reserves full. Get enough sleep. Exercise regularly. Eat well. Try mindfulness apps.

Find activities that engage different parts of yourself. Do something physical like dancing. Occupy your mind with puzzles, singing. Engage your senses with hot baths or fragrant candles.

Look for tasks you can postpone or simply eliminate from your to-do list.

Seek out social support. Having to stay home can be lonely. To combat isolation, come together with your class mates or graduate school cohort via technology. Many of you have WhatsApp groups, keep chatting. Something as simple as turning on your webcam during virtual classes can help you and others feel more connected.

Help others cope. Your classmates and family members may be going through challenges. You may not be able to fix their problems. It’s enough to let them know they’re not alone.

Be patient. For those who have internships, dissertation defenses or are thinking of graduation or other important events, be patient, and be ready to make adjustments as we await the end of this pandemic. For those awaiting graduation, work closely with the Career and Placement office to identify a job or look out for opportunity for job creation in this period. also consider volunteerism, which will give you work experience.

Limit your media consumption. To avoid being overwhelmed, set limits on your media consumption and smartphone use. Cut through misinformation by relying on reputable sources of truthful and useful information. Remember the internet has a lot of information and we should look out for credible information and opportunities.

Focus on things you can control. Other people may be disobeying the rules about physical distancing or doing other things that add to your stress. We ask you to model good behavior and stay safe yourself, recognize that you can’t control what other people do. You can only control your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Another thing you can’t control, the uncertainty about what comes next. Instead of worrying about our ambiguous future, focus on solving immediate problems now, focus on your classes, you have more time saved since you don’t have to commute to school, use it to go deeper into the concepts you are learning, identify or discover your talents or even innovate.

Use the library resources provided and carry out research for your classwork assignments let us not wait for last minute rush. Remember, it is time to learn, grow and expand our knowledge

Stay away from alcohol and drug abuse. We are in a time when home deliveries for alcohol and even drugs is taking place. We may find ourselves do more alcohol or drugs now that some of us are alone and may have self-control issues or may be having some struggles because of the changes brought about by COVID- 19. Small changes can make a big difference in reducing your chances of having alcohol-related problems.

Be Aware of your Thoughts, know your limits, and maintain your brain power. Value and protect the executive functioning of the brain (memory, learning, long term planning and investment, impulse control) which gets affected by the negative effects of stress. Quiet your mind, regulate your emotions, change your thinking to change your life. Be willing to accept, adjust, adapt, and advance. Remember to always find the humour in things, and laugh.

Prevention, reduction, management, tolerance, optimism, positivity, getting professional help is what we all need. Don’t feel alone, we care and are available and ready to serve you.

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