Uncertainty and Stress
Paul Malvarosa, LMHC, LPC
Uncertainty and the unknown can create a lot of stress, especially during this period of social distancing, changing routines, job insecurities, and work-from-home challenges.
While we may associate stress with feelings of anxiety or worry, pay attention to any extreme shifts in emotions and moods, the feeling of being overwhelmed or burnt-out, and an increase in irritability. On the other hand, you may feel numb or “stuck,” and unable to make decisions or complete your regular responsibilities.
It may seem simple, but by being aware of when we feel this way, we can help ourselves adjust by breaking down tasks into smaller goals. By practicing this, we can feel accomplished which, in turn, may foster further motivation. A good way to remember this is to think “when things get hard, get back to basics.”
Additionally, these emotions may create strain in relationships with loved ones and friends, especially when coped up during stay-at-home mandates. Instead of withdrawing, seek out support from others through messaging, phone calls, video calls, and other avenues. Not only can they lend a sympathetic ear, they also may provide helpful tips to managing coronavirus-related stress.
Prolonged uncertainty and stress don’t only affect emotions. Changes to physical health are also common. Some of the most noticeable may be the physical effects of stress that can include:
» Muscle tension or pain.
» Gastrointestinal (stomach) problems.
» Changes in appetite.
» Changes to libido.
» Sleep disruption.
Prolonged stress has also been linked with a decrease in immune system functioning. Take notice and listen to what your body may be telling you.
Stress may also create some behavior changes, including isolation or social withdrawal, angry outbursts, or an increase in substance use or risk-taking. These can perhaps be viewed as ways to avoid the discomfort promoted by feelings of stress. Furthermore, stress can affect relationships and can impede effective communication, the ability to feel valued and heard.
Adults aren’t the only ones who may experiences changes in their mood or body due to stress. Children can be in tune with and reflect their caregivers’ emotions and stress levels. This may lead to the development of nervous habits such as nail biting or increased separation anxiety. Knowing what to say to a child is a difficult task and may depend on their age and personality. Also, recognize that children may process their experience non-verbally such as through play. Talk with other parents and resources, such as Military Kids Connect, and talk with children knowing that they may hear things from the news or their peers.
Counseling can be an invaluable experience for the individual and family. Working with a therapist who is a good fit can aid personal growth, increase abilities needed to navigate challenges, and promote healthier fulfilling relationships. Other skills that can be honed via therapy are effective communication practices, increase of self-awareness, relaxation and distress tolerance, increased insight, and sense of self-competency.
Remember, you are never alone in your experience. Help — and perhaps most valuable, hope — is there for those who seek it. Many online resources are available to help; visit hope-health.org/resources for a downloadable wellness guide, Your Path to Wellness, with helpful resource links, apps, and services.