Reducing Pandemic Stress
How One Small Change Made a Big Impact
It has been a while since I addressed chronic stress in my blogs. Since I have started at Healthy UNH, I have written blogs about managing stress during the pandemic, how stress can impact our physical health, and have even written about fun and relaxing techniques to reduce stress.
Now as we are coming up on the one year anniversary of the pandemic, I have been thinking about this “anniversary” the last few days. I have been reflecting on how I have changed over the past year. Including all of my highs and lows. At the beginning of the pandemic, I knew my stress was incredibly high for a while, but I did as many things as I could to make me feel happy and “normal” when the world suddenly came to a halt. I went for walks with my sweet pup, I would facetime friends almost daily, and I even made it a point to get body movements at the end of each Zoom school day. I would make smoothies and elaborate lunches and dinners in efforts to help the time pass. But there was no denying that I was full of anger, frustration, sadness, and even hopelessness. From an outsider's perspective, I was doing all the things you should do when you are feeling down. But in reality, I would cry most nights as I felt the weight of the world crashing down on my shoulders. I went from learning about pandemics in the classroom to living through one over night.
Then weeks turned into months, and some of the pain eased, or maybe I was numb. Looking back, I now know that I was numb. I accepted the fact that things are as they come, and I can only control what I can control. August to December was just a strange time. I would wake up to a new world every day and I felt like I was constantly playing catch up all while trying to start my senior year. Then the announcement of the vaccines came out and I remember the exact moment that I was listening to NPR in my car when I heard the news. I felt the smallest flicker of hope. It was the beginning of the end. But it was also a time that I went through the hardest thing that I have ever had to do. I had to cope with the loss of my sweet pup. My constant companion through the pandemic and childhood. Suddenly, making my elaborate meals and delicious smoothies didn’t seem to matter anymore. Going for daily walks felt wrong, and I rarely used Facetime. It was my tipping point and my glass was overflowing.
At the end of the semester, it was time for my annual physical. Although it was business as usual, my doctor added a few new questions to the list. She asked me things like “how much have you really been drinking?” and “how much control do you feel?”. I knew she was asking them the way she was in efforts to avoid potentially offending or upsetting me. But I knew what she was looking for, so I was honest with her, and I told her that my anxiety and depression were controlling me day in and day out for a while, really since the beginning of the pandemic. So she asked, “do you want to try medication?”. I had a lot of hesitation about this. I remembered that I am getting my Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Wellness. I knew that I should be doing the things that make me feel good. I know the science stress and I have spent the past three and a half years living and breathing wellness. Not to mention the horrible and awful stigma that surrounds mental health and the use of medication. So I told her that I would think about it.
I went home and wondered if it would work. It felt like a last possible solution though. Over time I noticed that things just didn’t bring me the same joy as they used to. My hobbies became chores, and every morning I would wake up looking forward to going back to bed again that night. I spent a lot of time denying my feelings and just pretending that everything was fine. It was time to be honest with myself for the first time in a while, so I decided to send my doctor a message because calling her was too difficult and I asked for a prescription. A few days later I stopped in at the pharmacy to pick up my new prescription and I started taking it the next day. I also told myself that no matter how hard it felt, I would wake up, take my medicine, and do the things I had to do. Laundry still needed to be washed, blogs needed to be written, bills needed to be paid, and I needed to take control of my life again.
A few weeks passed and I noticed that things got a little easier. I was sleeping better, the sun was brighter on my face, and writing blogs didn’t take as long. The medicine was working and I was getting my life back together. My sense of purpose came back and I was able to have a better control on my depression and anxiety.
So I sit here today writing this blog and feeling like myself. This story is not unique in any way either, because I know that millions of people have spent way too long feeling the way that I did. Especially during the past year. It is my intention that someone out there reads this and feels the courage needed to get themselves the help they need, whatever that may look like. Although I know we all have a tough road ahead and the pandemic is not ending anytime soon, I also feel hope. I find it easier to see the joy in things, and I hope you can too. So as we come up on this one year anniversary, I challenge you to be honest with yourself. Be brave and be courageous. Advocate for yourself, and treat yourself with kindness and patience. And above all else, stay safe and be well.
If you find yourself feeling the way that I did, reach out for help. Here at UNH we are fortunate to have services like PACS and SHARPP. To contact PACS, call (603) 862-2090. To contact SHARPP, text (603) 606-9393. To contact UNH Health and Wellness, call (603) 862-9355.