How is stress affecting people inappropriately as a reaction to all the stressful events going on right now?
I am asked that question a lot. I mean, you and I have had discussions recently about being able to maintain a positive, healthy mindset, even in the face of unexpected turns. We talked about , right? A lot of people are facing the uncertainty of their job continuing, or unexpectedly being canned. Which is happening a lot here in the States, I imagine all over, but just that uncertainty. And the feeling by people, pretty consistently, that they have to be on all the time. As far as work goes, the feeling by a lot of people who are maintaining their jobs is that they have to basically be on call 24/7. And that’s the expectation of their employer, given that we’re in a pandemic, given they’re working at home. So how do you manage that type of situation, which is incredibly stressful? You’re not certain that you’re going to have your job moving forward, you feel the need to just devote endless amounts of energy to it. And there’s never any cutoff because we’re working at home, right? Most people, right? Or the office, but there’s this.
I am not in the routine and doing the same things I am used to doing, but I am extremely tired.
Why is that?
If you are staying at home, not going to work, not working out as much, not doing the things you normally do but are horribly fatigued. Your mind is basically spinning its wheels a lot of the time. It’s trying to calculate how to solve the problem, but there is no X equals this to solve this problem. So the mind will just keep obsessing and ruminating about it, and that takes energy. It just takes a lot of energy, and consequently, people are very, very fatigued.
How do you cope with stress during the pandemic?
Now what I’ve seen is that in the beginning of this pandemic, and how people were trying to cope with it, the initial shot off the bow, or the initial strategy, was to basically distract with whatever, because you only had a few weeks to flatten the curve. But as a long-term strategy, a year later you’re likely pretty anxious.
Because as a long-term strategy, of course, simply distracting yourself is not going to work. So what I’ve noticed as this has progressed and continued, is that people who impose structure into their life, and keep a schedule, actually do much better. Because the normal structures that we had, the normal transition points, the normal guideposts that we had, are no longer there. We no longer go from work to home, and home to work, we no longer go out, necessarily, to socialize. The restaurants here in New York City have shut down again. So the normal social interactions are no longer there, so people who have adopted a strategy of imposing structure into their days, actually have done quite well. But the structures now are internal, you have to create them in your mind, or in your space in order to be able to utilize them.
What do you do when you get stressed?
Strategy-wise, understanding that you can do something about your thoughts and your emotions. That you’re not doomed, no matter what pops into your head, to follow it for any length of time. It’s an essential thing to understand if you’re going to have a useful strategy to combat stress. So you have to understand that, essentially you’re not your thoughts, right? Your thoughts are a part of you, but they’re not you. You have the ability to select where you train your attention. And in that you have a key that unlocks quite a few locks. Anything you can train your attention on long enough gives you the ability to basically have anything that you want. It’s just that as a group in general, human beings are pretty distracted. So we can’t really focus on the things we want to achieve long enough. So if you understand the concept of, “You’re not your thoughts, they’re just a part of you. And where you train your attention largely determines your reality.” Meaning if you focus on certain aspects of things, that becomes your perspective on what’s going on. There’s what’s going on, and then what we perceive is going on. They’re two different things.