As reports unfold about tragic or violent news events or disasters, we can find ourselves overwhelmed by stress.
During times when we need to protect ourselves, the body’s stress response can help keep us safe. But when stress is frequent and intense, it can strain your body and make it impossible to function. Finding effective ways to deal is crucial to living well. If you’re living with a mental health condition, stress can also contribute to worsening symptoms.
Here are some suggestions for how you can reduce stress during a crisis.
- Reduce and limit your news and consumption. Set times during the day to check in, and don’t feel bad about checking out. Stick to one or two trusted sources.
- Reduce and review your social media use. Set times during the day to check in, and don’t feel bad about checking out. Are you following accounts that upset you? Unfollow or hide them.
- Accept your needs. Pay close attention and try to recognize what your triggers are and when you feel physically and mentally agitated. That’s your cue to take a break and implement self-care practices that help you.
- Practice relaxation. Maybe you already turn to deep breathing, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation to calm yourself. There is no better time to practice relaxation. If you are new to mindfulness, consider apps such as Calm, Insight Timer, Headspace and UCLA Mindful. Taking a break to refocus can have benefits beyond the immediate moment.
- Exercise. Schedule time to walk outside, bike, dance, or practice yoga. Whatever you do, make sure it feels good. Daily exercise naturally produces stress-relieving hormones in your body and improves your overall physical health. More on exercise benefits.
- Set aside time for yourself. Schedule something that engages you or makes you feel rested or happy. It might be reading a book, watching a movie, listening to music, taking a bath, or walking your dog around the neighborhood.
- Eat well. Eating unprocessed foods, like whole grains, vegetables, and fresh fruit is the foundation for a healthy body and mind. Eating well and staying hydrated can also help stabilize your mood.
- Get enough sleep. Our bodies and minds need rest to function properly. Symptoms of some mental health conditions, like mania in bipolar disorder, can be triggered by getting too little sleep. (Learn more about getting good sleep for better mental health.)
- Avoid alcohol and drugs. Alcohol and recreational drugs don’t actually reduce stress: in fact, they often worsen it. If you’re struggling with substance abuse, educate yourself and get help.
- Spend time in nature. Studies show that time in nature reduces stress. Something as simple as a walk around the block or through a park can help calm you. (Learn more about the mental health benefits of nature.)
- Ground yourself. If you’re feeling anxious, try this grounding exercise: pause to name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
- Find support. During challenging times, we all feel the impacts on some level. Reach out to your network for support, whether it’s a friend, family member, a therapist, faith leader or a support group. Opening up and talking about what you’re feeling and thinking can help. If you live with a mental health condition or have a family member with a mental health condition, consider attending a free support group provided by your local NAMI California affiliate. (Note: during the pandemic, support groups are not being held in person and many affiliates are offering virtual support with calls or video-conferencing options. If you have a friend from a support group, consider reaching out to get and offer support by phone.) If you are experiencing a crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text NAMI to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.
- Keep up or seek therapy. If the steps you’ve taken aren’t working, it may be time to share with your mental health professional. They can help you pinpoint specific events that trigger you and help you create an action plan to change them.
California Surgeon General’s Stress Relief Playbook