If you haven’t felt an increase of stress, worry, anxiety, or exhaustion in recent months, then please tell me your secrets! For the rest of us, 2020 has brought about a new level of uncertainty, a (sometimes extreme) departure from our normal routines, and the need for a whole new set of skills to get through whatever changes have come our way. (I, for one, perfected the art of the “Quarantini” and then after realizing this pandemic wasn’t going anywhere any time soon, had to prohibit the delicious vodka/honey/lemon-twisted drink in my home, lest I drown in one.)
As if the coronavirus and its effects, including economic shutdown, skyrocketing unemployment, and social isolation measures weren’t sufficient stress-inducers alone, 2020 has also given us catastrophic natural disasters, the deaths of civil rights giant John Lewis and gender equality champion Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a new wave of civil unrest as the battle for racial justice rages on – just to name a few things – and all of this within a heated presidential election year.
Even without the “gifts” of this year, stress is not an uncommon experience. Most of us have probably felt stressed at some point in our lives. Stress can come from your job that may be at risk, your relationships that are having trouble, family members that drive you crazy, bills that keep stacking up, kids that won’t behave, dogs that won’t stop barking, and everything in between.
Stress is not always a bad thing. Some people find clarity and focus in pressurized situations. If you’ve felt that you work better under pressure, that is stress adding some positive motivation to your life. Intensely stressful situations can cause your body to flood with adrenaline making it possible to lift a car off your child or defend yourself from some threat.
However, we also know that prolonged exposure to stress – often perceived as an emotional or mental state – can negatively impact our physical health. Great, one more thing on my list to worry about!
Many of the factors in our lives that create stress are outside of our immediate control. We can’t control when a vaccine will be available. We can’t control when schools are back in-person. We can’t control businesses closing or reopening. The list goes on and on until we feel like there is nothing left that we do have any control over. But we have to do something at some point so we aren’t consumed by the stress.
Now I am no medical expert (I’m in HR!) and I know that telling you to take time for yourself or to practice relaxation techniques is like giving you a coffee mug to bail out a sinking ship. But I will be so bold as to remind you of a couple of things that may help you cope with the stress in your life.
- Learn to recognize your signs of too much stress. It’s not always the obvious signs such as increased irritability. It can also show as depression, sleep problems, weight changes, and memory issues. Recognizing your elevated levels of stress can help you determine how and when to do something about it.
- If you are struggling, please talk to a medical professional. Yes, I do mean a therapist! It’s not just for millennials anymore. I know there’s a stigma about mental health and access issues particularly in rural areas but if you think it could help, try it out. Many providers have moved to telehealth options and fees based on income levels to break down some of the barriers to mental health care.
- Access your Employee Assistance Program if your employer offers one. EAP’s are there to help with a variety of issues that come up including child and elder care, legal consultations, school assistance, counseling services, and financial consultations. Queensborough Bank and Trust employees can access their EAP information from Ultipro and the company intranet.
- Speaking of financial consultations – If this is your area of concern, Queensborough’s Wealth Management and Financial Literacy programs are here to help.
- Finally, don’t underestimate how much doing something for someone else can boost your mood and give you a little perspective on your own situation. Unless of course you are one of those who’s been enlisted to homeschool your grandkids. If that’s you, refer back to #1 and bless your heart!
In all seriousness, the year has been challenging. Ask for help if you need it. Offer help if you can give it. And wear a mask when you can (even if it’s just to make others feel better.)
Clare Easterlin, SPHR, SHRM-CP, Q Human Resources Operations Director