How to cope with stress during COVID-19

09 April 2020

How to cope with stress during COVID-19
Aidan O'Flynn is a Personal Development Officer at Connacht Rugby. As part of his role, he regularly meets with pro players, academy players and staff to help them in their mental well-being off the field, to help them perform on the field or in the office.
Due to the current COVID-19 outbreak, Aidan has been kind enough to pen the below article and share a few ideas to help Connacht Rugby supporters cope with any stress and uncertainty they are experiencing.
These are indeed challenging times where all our resources are being called on.
Our mental fortitude in particular is being tested in an ever changing and evolving situation. We are in a foreign country with no roadmap. Anxiety and fear are our constant companions as we wonder what the future holds for ourselves and our loved ones. Uncertainty is the breeding ground for anxiety and fear.
As humans, when we feel uncertain and under threat, a system called our ‘fight or flight’ response is activated. This is a stress response system that super-charges us, in readiness to repel any physical threat. However this system is also activated when we are under emotional stress. In this state our thinking often shifts from logic and reason to emotional thinking. Here we fall into the many thinking traps associated with emotional thinking. A few of these common thinking traps are ‘catastrophizing’ ‘all or nothing’ and ‘predicting the future’ thinking traps. Emotional thinking is often irrational…as witnessed by the panic for toilet paper in recent weeks! So, what can we do to lessen the impact of stress and steer a clearer path through this difficult time? Here are some ideas that you and your family might find helpful.
Identify what’s important
As our lives shrink it can be important to connect with the core principles that guide our lives, namely, our Values. Staying connected to our values can help create meaning and ground us emotionally. In this storm, our values are like our lighthouse that help us steer a path to calmer water. It might be useful to identify 3 values that you hold and see how you can activate these values to serve your present circumstances. If for example kindness is a value for you, then perhaps see where in your daily life you can activate your kindness towards others and yourself.
Make room for fear and anxiety
It’s perfectly normal to feel anxious and fearful in these uncertain times. In reality we don’t like to feel pain…especially emotional pain. We use all kinds of strategies to avoid it. (e.g. alcohol, overworking, overeating, excessive exercise). This avoidance can cause us to bottle-up unwanted feelings. In the long term this can have a poor effect on our mental wellbeing. If we allow ourselves to connect with our difficult feelings, even though it feels uncomfortable, we tend to alleviate the growing stress within us. Perhaps you could try writing down in a diary or journal how you are truly feeling. Alternatively, take time to check-in with yourself and ask “what am I feeling right now”. Simply acknowledging your feeling in this way can have a truly positive effect.
Control what you can
While a lot of control has been taken away from us right now, we still have lots we can control. We can control our time on social media, our routines, our physical and emotional wellbeing, and our goals for each day. We can make decisions on how we will act and behave. Spending too much time on ‘what if’s’ can lead to overwhelming feelings and feelings of helplessness. Try to avoid spending time and emotional resources on things that are out of your control.
Practice being Present
It’s not possible to stay in the present all the time and it is important to plan your future. By connecting to your present you are anchoring or grounding yourself. In reality the only moment you really have is this present moment…the past is gone and your future has not arrived... yet. This might be a great time to start that mindfulness practice that you didn’t have time for before. I might touch more on some practical and fun ways you can practice mindfulness in the future. Many apps are now offering free access to their services. One of my favourites is ‘Headspace’ and is used by many of our players.
Turn to your creative side
We have long understood the positive benefits that the arts have on our mental wellbeing. Now is the time to take out those art materials that have been hiding in your cupboard waiting for your attention. Write that short story that has been brewing away inside. Search for that tin whistle or dusty guitar that you keep tripping over when looking for something else! Go for a walk with your camera and take some photographs of things that grab your attention. Whatever art activity you do, try and approach it with the attitude and mindset that your 5 year old self would take. Leave the art critic outside the door!
My final thought is that you will discover in this difficult time inner strengths that you never knew you had….I know this for sure!!
Stay safe, stay kind.