Hein Kaiser
6 minute read
20 May 2021
12:50 pm

How to cope with the stress of the third wave

Hein Kaiser

'Live in the here and now, without holding your breath for better days', says one psychologist.

It has been over a year of Covid-19 lockdown with varying degrees of restrictions, regulations and a wave of socio-economic change that has seen many of us sink or swim and otherwise simply treading water, hoping it will go away sooner rather than later.

There is going to be a new normal, but with sustained uncertainty, a third wave on the way and the goalposts moving almost daily, says clinical psychologist Jeanine Lamusse, it is almost impossible to say what it is going to look like.

“It has been an incredibly difficult time for people,” she says. On the flipside though, there have been many South Africans who have made lemonade from the lemons the pandemic served up.

“It never ceases to inspire me how a lot of folk that I have met through my practice have found the courage to confront what was needed and learnt how to adjust their lives accordingly. It’s not just all negative.”

Lamusse adds there is a third level, so to speak, of response to the pandemic, where people rather than resist the limbo they find themselves in, choose to find their power in how they respond to each moment as it arises – live in the here and now without holding their breath for better days.

Many people also developed debilitating habits during lockdown says Tanya Kunze, a world-renowned neuroscience coach and author of The Power of Positivity. “Not many people know that it actually takes on average 66 days to create a habit and not the 21 days usually bandied about. It also takes about 66 days to break a habit,” adding that it has become a common theme in her practice since July last year.

But “if you can make a habit you can break a habit, so if you are one of the many who have found themselves in the same position, there is light at the end of the tunnel”.

Lamusse says: “Children and teenagers in particular have struggled through lockdown” and describes feelings of ongoing frustration and a lack of external social input.

“It is really important for younger children to enjoy influence from other adults, it shapes who they become and is critical with the process of socialisation in key formative years.”

Lamusse also tallies up the impact on teenagers, whose journey to adulthood requires the development of self-identity through the social exploration of “self”, “other” and “we”.

The suddenness of the pandemic and its drawn out, sustained shape coupled with factors like continued isolation has created another risk. There is, too, a very real possibility of many people developing PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

“The fear and the uncertainty can register as trauma in the body” and, add to that, perhaps the loss of a job, death of loved ones and stressed relationships. “We also have a culture in South Africa of ‘sucking it up’ when really, we all have natural limitations, and we can only take so much.”

Even with the rapid propagation of technology during the lockdown period, says Lamusse, humans remain social beings.

“Hugs are probably the most sought after human engagement outside of conversation and normal social interaction,” she says. “I recall reading that we need an average of 12 hugs a day.”

This, she adds, is entirely possible as the body releases hormones like oxytocin and other “happy chemicals”. Kunze went on to say that a predominant theme for many professionals who have been working from home or doing turn-taking at the office are finding procrastination has reared its head and look for ways to get back to a pre Covid-19 work ethic.

She says this is easily remedied with a few steps.

“One of the most common reasons for procrastination is the lack of a deadline. Motivation is also a key factor in procrastination and working on shifting your thinking from negativity to positivity.

“This can actually shift where in the brain one thinks and thus mitigate a lack of perceptual vision, where the individual is unable to see what is right in front of them, not due to visual defects, but rather stress related physiological responses.”

Technology has also made online education a possibility, but beyond a temporary solution, Lamusse says it is detrimental to holistic development.

“Children learn in a multimodal manner. They learn through movement; 3D creativity, perception, and engagement; and consolidate information better with social reciprocity. Similarly, many adults crave the in person, face to face engagements that allow for more synergy, creativity and team collaboration.”

Technology also has another downside. “It’s not that healthy for your nervous system as it can be overstimulating and trigger your flight or fight stress response. It also creates frustration and lack of emotional attunement when there is a poor connection.”

Kunze shares a truth she believes in: “I encourage writing in a gratitude journal first thing in the morning and last thing at night, focusing on positive experiences, aspects of self that the individual is proud of and looking favourably on times when they felt content in the past, dwelling on happiness in the now moment and focusing on hope for the future.”

Tips To Deal With Stress

“It is important to accept that stress is a normal part of the human experience, that we cannot get away from. Many of us avoid stress or struggle against the experience of stress which only serves to increase it,” says Paul Galbraith, a Johannesburg based psychologist.

“By accepting stress and seeing it as a messenger that tells us that something important to us is under threat, we can learn to direct our energy towards actions that improve our lives.

“Stress is actually a good and necessary experience, provided it does not become excessive. Good amounts of stress drive and motivate us to take necessary actions to deal with daily challenges. When stress becomes excessive or chronic, however, we can become overwhelmed and live in a constant state of alertness which can contribute to broader physical and mental health challenges.”

Galbraith shares a few practices that can be beneficial in alleviating symptoms of stress:

  • Be proactive: Practice proactive coping, which is taking any action to decrease the likelihood of experiencing future stressors such as making plans or allocating resources. A survey showed that people who engaged in proactive coping experienced less day to day stress.
  • Get better sleep: A non-REM sleep stage when your brain activity slows and it’s very hard to be woken may actually assist to reduce anxiety. Discovering  your optimal bedtime and then maintaining a regular sleep schedule can help to reduce anxiety.
  • Spend time in nature: According to a Cornell University review, spending time in nature may help reduce stress and anxiety. So, make an effort to get out of the house, be it by taking your next call from the garden, or heading out to the park for your lunch break, or a brisk hike.
  • Keep active: Keeping physically active and following a healthy diet can also contribute to a person’s ability to manage stress. Proactive stress management through daily exercise and meditation is a good place to begin.
  • Stay mindful in the present moment: Contemplate trying more mindfulness practices such as meditation and mindful eating, where you focus on your surroundings and breath. Fitbit Premium has a great source of mindfulness resources that you could try.
  • Consult a psychologist if you feel you are unable to cope with the stress you are experiencing. Mental health professionals are trained to assist people in responding effectively to life’s challenges and can help you find constructive ways of overcoming your difficulties.