Chronic stress demands elevated levels of energy and cognitive hypervigilance but is not sustainable over time. In fact, chronic stress is extremely harmful to our health in the long term. Our bodies address stress through a process called General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) that aims to manage stress and return us to normal, healthy levels of functioning, according to Dr. Britton. General adaptation syndrome affects the body in three stages.
The first stage is the alarm reaction stage also known as “fight or flight,” where your body sends a distress signal to the brain, causing it to release hormones including adrenaline. The second stage is the resistance stage, when your body is trying to recover from the alarm reaction. If there is persistent stress, you could experience lack of concentration and short term memory issues. The third stage is known as the exhaustion stage or the “burned out” feeling, which is what the extended pandemic has caused many of us to experience.
“In 2021, there was the sense that people were just trying to push through the pandemic,” said Dr. Britton. “However, for 2022, it is the time to practice resiliency and move forward by renewing or creating new connections to friends and resources.”
Connecting to others is a key factor in building resiliency, whether it be through phone conversations, virtual conversations or safe socially distanced or masked physical interactions such as talking in person. Communicating with others not only helps you feel better connected, it also helps you focus on what others around you are going through and takes you out of your own problems, keeping you engaged by helping others.
Focusing on what is positive in your life and what is going well is another important factor in becoming more resilient.
“Having work teams participate in a ‘weekly wins’ session, where you either recognize a positive experience from the week or something in the week ahead is an excellent activity to promote focus on positivity,” Dr. Britton said.
Another tip for better mental health is having a particular physical item in your possession that can help ground you in times of stress.
“A photo, ring, bracelet or other personal item can help you focus on your positive connections to them and help keep you present in the moment,” Dr. Britton said. “Keeping your mind stimulated helps direct your thoughts and activities away from negativity and on something that can add to your life, a new hobby or skill. Painting or journaling are some examples of activities to engage the brain in creative pursuits that help with purpose and positivity.”
As you set goals and plans for 2022, remember to give yourself a break when encountering life’s inevitable bumps. Self-compassion is about being inwardly understanding, encouraging and kind in the face of setbacks – a reaction we commonly extend to friends and family members but can forget when it comes to ourselves.
If you or someone you love are experiencing depression or anxiety, reach out for help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at any time at 800-273-TALK (8255). Integrated Family Services provides Mobile Crises services in many eastern North Carolina counties. Call 866-437-1821 or visit integratedfamilyservices.net.