Managing Post-lockdown Mental Stress
We explore a simple stress management method known as Rational Emotive Therapy.
Some of you may love the deep sea, diving and admiring the deep seascape beneath. You may have noticed how corals get bleached when the temperature of the waters increase by just a few degrees. Any living organism, when we encounter a change in the ecosystem we live in, may trigger some effects on us.
We are bombarded by stressors
We, humans, are the same. Any change in the environment can be stressful to all of us in various degrees. We may have adapted to our environment, but we have also incrementally added more complexity to our lives, through rapid changes in building up mega-cities, sophisticated transportation systems, and even computational internet works. These artificial creations, compounded by random world events such as COVID-19, can pile up stressors in our lives, and render some of us breathless.
The report “International Labour Organisation (ILO) Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work (5th edition)”, mentioned that was a 14% reduction in global working hours during the second quarter of 2020, equivalent to the loss of 400 million full-time jobs worldwide. And the prognosis for the remaining of the year is no better.
Closer to home, we too face job uncertainty and lay-offs, business closures, food and supply chain disruptions, work from home (WFH) arrangements, and restricted movements through lockdowns, all of which are new challenges and stressors during this pandemic. Some may even become so stressed that they no longer know how to remain productive or to move on, having been stripped of comfortable daily routines such as grabbing a coffee, chatting with colleagues, sitting down comfortably for lunch, or a stroll in the malls, and replaced by incessant temperature checks and QR code check-ins and check-outs at building entrances, or to be always alert to people around with suspicious flu-like symptoms.
Managing stress with “ABCD”
Though serious, the situation need not be dismal. There are some ways to manage our stress and adapt to the situation and on how to help someone with anxiety. Let us consider a simple stress management method known as Rational Emotive Therapy(1), which can deal with weight management issues as well as managing stress during a pandemic.
The Rational Emotive Therapy approach allows us to create a paradigm shift and develop personal mechanisms to manage stress. It revolves around a simple format of ABCD – A (Adversity), B (Beliefs), C (Consequences), and D (Disputing irrational beliefs).
Rational Emotive Therapy: ABCD
First, identify the adversity (A), which are major challenges or stressors in your life. For example, it could be losing our jobs. Acknowledge that this fear is a stressor and we need to handle it.
Next, dissect the thought processes behind this stressor. What are our beliefs (B) about this adversity? Are these beliefs rational or irrational? Most of the time, we are so stressed out about the consequences (C) of the adversity that we forget to consider the beliefs behind them, and Dispute (D) those irrational beliefs as they arise.
For example, I am afraid I may lose my job. If I lose my job I will not be able to provide for my family. If I cannot provide for my family, I feel useless for my family.
Instead, try to add the additional step of analysing your beliefs. Am I really in danger of losing my job? What can I do to improve my situation and reduce the chances of losing my job? Do I really have no worth to my loved ones if I cannot provide for them? What is the worst-case scenario even if I lose my job?
This method of analysing your beliefs and disputing the irrational beliefs rather than jumping to perceived consequences allows us to approach the adversity with possible solutions rather than simply feeling crippled with problems. As you exercise this approach more, you may find yourself with more ideas for solutions rather than being fixated on problems.
Changes in our environment are stressful for anyone, as well as those wanting to know how to help someone with anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has amplified many stressors by disrupting so many aspects of our environment. A structured approach towards your stress may enable you to deal with the situation more effectively by focusing more on working towards solutions rather than simply staring at the problem. Sometimes, your perceived problem may not even be there.
This article was contributed by Dr Matthew Tan, a resident doctor at DTAP Clinic.