Stress survival guide: how to cope when events are outside your control

In this sponsored article, counselling psychologist Noemi Vigano talks through the strategies that can help nurses manage fear and uncertainty

This article is sponsored by digital mental health platform SilverCloud

During challenging times, such as a pandemic, worrying about what might happen is understandable – but not very useful
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At challenging times like these it is most helpful to focus on what we can control.

What then, do we do with those feelings and worries that we cannot control?

It’s important to acquire coping strategies

In an ongoing emergency situation like this coronavirus pandemic, it is hard to predict how things will develop because circumstances can change very quickly.

Worrying about what might happen is understandable, but it is not very useful. In fact, it can make us feel more distressed.

Things you have no control over include the actions and reactions of other people, how long the situation will last, and what might happen in the future. This type of worry can drain a lot of your time and energy if you are not careful.

The key to managing worries about things you cannot control is to focus on coping strategies. This includes finding ways to manage the feelings you are experiencing such as stress and anxiety.

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Techniques for coping with worries about things you can’t control

Grounding exercises can help individuals cope with worries and anxiety
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Grounding exercises

These involve reconnecting with your senses and what you are feeling in your body. They can help you to reset and find calm in moments of distress.

Try some of these short grounding exercises to bring you back to the here and now:

  • Take ten slow breaths, focusing your full attention on each breath. Notice how your lungs fill as you breathe in. Observe what it feels like as you breathe out
  • Splash some cold water on your face. Notice how this feels and how the towel feels as you dry your face. Try to describe these sensations
  • Listen and try to name the sounds around you. Start with the closest or the loudest sounds and then gradually move your awareness outwards and into the distance
  • Step outside, or open a window. Notice the temperature of the air and how it is different or similar to the air inside. What new things can you smell?
  • Put on a piece of music and take a piece of paper and a pen. Start drawing a line as the music plays, following the music with the pen
Breathing and mindfulness exercises can help individuals focus on the present
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Self-compassion and being kind to yourself are essential. Ultimately, acceptance is what will give us the space we need to learn how to cope with challenging situations. Otherwise, we mull over what has happened, which can cause us to feel distressed. Acceptance will help us to be proactive and to find new ways to adapt to our current situation.

We may face changes as the situation progresses. A simple way to cope with any uncertainty is to accept change and adopt new habits and routines to restore a sense of order.

Image of someone writing in a journal, which can help ease distress and anxiety
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Keeping a journal

Take time to celebrate the small daily gains and achievements in a journal. Journaling can be a useful and therapeutic coping method in times of distress. You can use a journal to sort through jumbled thoughts, solve problems or manage difficult feelings. Journaling can create a sense of ‘flow’ or focus that essentially gives your mind a rest from any troubles or concerns you have. You don’t need anything other than a pen and piece of paper to start a journal.

Nothing is too small to celebrate: did you manage to move your body today, eat a healthy meal, or simply have some time to rest? All of these are achievements during difficult times. There is no right or wrong way to write a journal entry, it can be as short or a long as you wish.

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