7 Frugal, Proven Ways to Destress While Stuck at Home Due to Coronavirus

7 Frugal, Proven Ways to Destress - CassandraStout.com

Stress. Everyone has it.

Stress is a normal physiological response to something that upsets your equilibrium, like a threat or a challenge. It’s your body’s ability to protect you.

Sometimes stress can be good for you (it’s called eustress), motivating you to meet deadlines at work and exercise (which is itself another form of good stress). Good stress is short-lived and infrequent, and leaves you better off than you were before you encountered the stressful time.

But stress can sometimes be bad for you, especially if you’re not managing it well. Bad stress lasts a long time, happens frequently, and leaves you worse off. This kind of stress collects and collects, piling on to your brain.

Since 1992, April has been Stress Awareness Month. Sponsored by The Health Resource Network (HRN), a non-profit health education organization, Stress Awareness Month encourages people to educate themselves about the dangers of bad stress, learn coping skills, and recognize prevalent stress myths.

During self-quarantining due to the coronavirus pandemic, everyone is feeling significant amounts of stress, mostly bad. We don’t know when the need to self-quarantine will end, and we don’t know if we will catch the coronavirus ourselves. Many of our friends and family may already be infected.

We’re also worried about our financial futures. We may have to work at home. Millions of Americans have been laid off. Our kids’ schools have closed, and no one knows when they will open–or even if they’ll open for the rest of the academic year.

All this uncertainty adds up to a stressful time for everyone.

Celebrate Stress Awareness Month with these 7 frugal, proven ways to destress while you’re stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

1. Breathe Deep

Taking breaths doesn’t sound like it could help as much as it does. Inhaling expands your chest and shoulders, releasing tension. Plus, fresh oxygen improves your brain’s ability to remember things, alleviates stress, and keeps cells healthy.

Try this exercise, given to me by my therapist over eight years ago:

    1. Close your eyes, if you feel safe enough to do so.
    2. Inhale deeply through your nose, preferably into your abdomen, while counting to 3.
    3. Hold for 3-5 seconds.
    4. Exhale, releasing the air from your mouth over a period of at least 3 seconds.

This rarely fails to relax me.

2. Exercise

Exercise can help you manage your stress in a low-cost, high-impact way. Studies show that exercise can improve your mood. A simple, 20-minute jog around your neighborhood, which releases feel-good chemicals like endorphins, can improve your mood for a whopping twelve hours.

You don’t have anything to lose by working out. Try to get some exercise today, preferably outdoors in the sunlight. Anything that gets your heart rate up—jogging, boxing, yoga—is an excellent way to manage your stress levels.

3. Eat a Small, Healthy Snack

When people are stressed, they sometimes turn to food for comfort. Like exercise, food is one easy way to force the brain to release feel-good chemicals. And nothing is more stressful to the brain than starving it.

But you don’t have to make stress eating a bad thing. Even eating a small, healthy snack is a scientifically-backed way to destress.

Try half an avocado, or a stick of string cheese, or a handful of almonds. You want a snack that is full of protein or heart-healthy fats.

The way you eat your snack is also important. Take your food somewhere distraction-free. Sit down with your feet shoulder-width apart. Breathe deeply (tip #1), and focus on your food. Feel the texture of your food on your tongue.

Try to divorce judgment from eating. This is a snack which is good for you and will help you destress.

4. Get Enough Quality Sleep

Sleep is crucial for you to function on even a basic level, but even more so if you have mental illness like bipolar disorder. Getting enough sleep may help prevent manic episodes and helps regulate depressive episodes.

If you don’t get enough sleep, your brain will hold onto your stress. Quality, restful sleep starts in the bedroom. Make sure you have a dark, quiet environment to catch some Zs.

For a post on how to handle insomnia and other sleep disturbances while you have bipolar disorder, click here.

5. Detox from Your Smartphone

A study done by British researchers showed a clear link between rising stress levels and compulsively checking emails and social media on a smartphone.

Unplug from your electronic devices, and marvel at how much your stress dissipates after only an hour.

6. Keep a Gratitude Journal

Appreciating what you have rather than focusing on what you don’t has been proven to reduce stress, and improve physical and mental well-being.

Writing an entry in a gratitude journal is a low-cost way to feel better about the world and your place in it.

7. Do a Full-Body Check In

If you’re feeling stressed, your body will show signs of the negative feelings. Your shoulders can be tense, your stomach may churn, and your lower back might be sore.

But how you feel physically can also add to stress. It’s a vicious cycle: you feel stressed, which affects your body, which in turn raises your stress level, and so on.

Nip the cycle in the bud. Check in with your body.

Sit or lie down somewhere peaceful. Starting with your toes, mentally examine each body part. Are you sore anywhere? Tense? Hungry? Thirsty? How’s your stomach feeling? How are your shoulders? Do you have enough oxygen in your system (tip #1)?

Examine your needs, and then go solve them. If you’re hungry, eat a small, healthy snack (tip #3). If you’re tired, take a nap (tip #4). Check in with your body, identify issues you might be facing, and practice self-care.

Final Thoughts

Destressing is a form of self-care. Taking the time to relax yourself will have untold benefits for your physical body and mental state. Destressing helps your mood, outlook, and ability to handle future stressful situations.

Celebrate Stress Awareness Month. Destress with one of these practical, scientifically-backed tips today.

I wish you well in your journey.

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7 Frugal, Proven Ways to Destress - CassandraStout.com

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National Prevention Week: How I Prevent Oncoming Bipolar Mood Episodes

The week of May 12-18 is National Prevention Week, so I’d like to talk about how I try to prevent oncoming bipolar mood episodes. Because I was diagnosed at twenty-two and started medication and therapy, I have a decade’s worth of experience in managing my bipolar disorder. Read on for a roadmap discussing how to tackle the prevention of mania and depression head on.

Fight Self-Stigma

Self-stigma is when you have absorbed the negative, inaccurate messages about your mental illness around you. This affects your perception of your mental illness and your need to treat it, which in turn affects your behaviors and actions in terms of seeking treatment. In order to face taking medication every day for the rest of your life, you need to fight stigma, especially self-stigma. The way I fought it was to recognize that I needed to be my best self for my newborn son, which entailed taking medications and going to therapy. I needed to treat my disorder so I could properly mother my son. It wasn’t just about me.

If you have a reason outside of yourself, awesome, but if you don’t, you still deserve treatment. You are better than your disease. You are a human being, a precious individual. Caring for yourself, especially in the pit of depression, is one of the hardest issues you’ll ever face. But you deserve proper care, even if it’s mostly self-care for a while.

Medication

I can’t recommend medication enough. In combination with therapy, medications saved my life. When I was first diagnosed, Depakote toned down my psychotic mania, and two years later, lithium lifted me from the black sucking hole of suicidal depression. Now I’m on Risperidone and Wellbutrin, and the combination has enabled me to be stable for over six years. Taking my medication daily has prevented the dizzying spin of mania and the pit of depression. Part of this is my fighting self-stigma, as I said above.

Therapy

Another tactic that has helped me remain stable for the past half-decade is attending counseling sessions with my therapist. Therapy has helped me learn coping mechanisms to handle my day-to-day life, including emergencies. I’ve been able to treat my manic and depressive episodes, and learn how to flourish. I am thriving, and I wouldn’t have thrived so successfully without those weekly appointments with my therapist.

Sleep

Proper sleep is crucial for managing your bipolar disorder. Sleep disturbances trigger bipolar mood episodes, especially mania, and too much sleep triggers the crash of depression–usually following mania. Problems with sleep are a common symptom of bipolar disorder; in a future post, I’ll be looking at how common insomnia is for this specific mental illness.

To ensure I sleep as well as I can, I practice what’s called good sleep hygiene. I don’t drink water or caffeinated beverages right before bed. I wind down before bed, taking a bath every night. I wake up every morning at 8:30am, if not earlier. I try to go to bed at the same time. I wake up frequently in the middle of the night with a racing mind, but I try to calm myself by praying or meditating. Generally, that works, and I’m able to get back to sleep within fifteen to thirty minutes; I recognize that I am lucky in that manner. Try to practice good sleep hygiene, and you, too, might be able to prevent oncoming bipolar mood episodes.

jessi RM
A picture of a smiling woman next to a frowning woman, in black and white. Credit to fliclr.com user Jessi RM. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Final Thoughts

Fighting self-stigma, getting proper treatment for your disease (including medication and therapy), and sleeping properly are some of the best ways to prevent oncoming bipolar mood episodes. If you’re looking for a post on how to manage the most common bipolar triggers, click here.

You can do this.

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Bipolar? Your Brain is Wired to Make Poor Decisions

brain
Credit to flickr.com user TZA. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Struggling to plan and make decisions while depressed or manic are common problems. But have you ever had trouble doing the same while relatively stable? New research may show why.

 

Researchers examined ninety patients’–forty-five with bipolar disorder in stable moods, and forty-five controls without bipolar disorder–brains, and discovered that, in the bipolar sufferers, there are certain areas of the brain that have reduced activation regardless of mood due to structural damage.

This is the first study to look at the relationship between functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) and structural MRIs in bipolar disorder. The scientists found that the patients with bipolar suffered from reduced cortical thickness and thus had less activity in areas of the brain that controlled impulses, or contributed to making decisions.

The study was published in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, and conducted by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles.

As this is the first study to find a link between structure and function, the results are exciting. The research proves that bipolar disorder damages your brain. You’re not stupid; your brain is just wired to make impulsive decisions and be poor at planning.

The scientists who conducted the study hope that their research will be used in future intervention studies. Good news!

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Why Should You Chart Your Moods if You Have Bipolar Disorder?

chart
Credit to flickr.com user Selbe Lynn. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Mood charts can be valuable tools if used properly. The charts provide a quick reference guide to how your moods and medications affect your daily life.

Among other things, they can track:

  1. The date.
  2. Mood scale.  All mood charts intended to track the effects of bipolar disorder have a mood scale, with most ranging from -3 (low mood) to +3 (elevated mood). 0 is the baseline, indicating “normal” or stable mood. You record the most intense mood at the end of the day by placing a dot or an “X” in the appropriate box. If you suffered from both mania and depression, you would mark two dots or “X”s. This gives you an easy graph to track exactly what moods you’ve experienced, providing both a way to examine patterns in your moods, and an early warning system for potential mood episodes.
  3. Weight. The chart I recommend, used by the National Institutes of Mental Health, recommends that you weigh yourself on the 14th and 28th of each month. This makes it easy to track whether your medications are packing on the pounds, or if your diet is actually working.
  4. Menstrual cycles. Premenstrual syndrome symptoms can interfere with mood, weight, and cause irritability. It’s a good idea to know when a dip in your mood is due to a visit from Aunt Flo.
  5. Sleep. Most mood charts have spaces to mark down how many hours of sleep you received the night prior. A lack of sleep might be a warning about a manic episode.
  6. Medications. Usually, mood charts also encourage you to write down your medicines, the dosage, and whether or not you’ve taken them. This can help you actually take your medication on time.
  7. Alcohol and drug use.
  8. Anxiety and irritability.
  9. Notes. These are records of life stressors or therapy sessions. These notes can be a brief mood diary.

But why should a person chart their moods, if the above list wasn’t enough? There are several reasons:

  1. Simplification. Your mood is affected by a great number of things, among them sleep, medication, and life stressors. Because there are so many factors involved, it is easier to chart than to keep a diary, or remember everything between doctor’s visits. The best part is that you can take your charts with you to psychiatrist and therapist visits!
  2. Keeping track of patterns.  A quick visual guide enables you to easily see patterns in your moods, and warn for potential mood episodes before problems develop. If you track your moods and keep notes, you can identify your own personal triggers for episodes.
  3. Empirical data. A mood chart definitively shows the effects medication, exercise, and sleep has on your mood. Collected over a period of time, the data makes it easier to pick out specific reasons behind your mood changes rather than just relying on feelings.
  4. Social Security disability evidence. Because mood charts can show exactly how intense your mood swings are, you can use them to demonstrate how your episodes interfere with your day-to-day life.

Mood swings from bipolar disorder–from the grandiose highs of mania to the deep despair of depression–can be intense and unpredictable. Using a mood chart is an easy way to learn potential triggers to mood episodes, understand the impact of medication, and keep track of other factors such as weight and sleep. Charting your moods can help bring order to an irregular disorder.

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