Mindfulness is just one tool to help manage your stress


Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories about how stress is impacting Chatham County during COVID-19.

It’s no secret that many people have been feeling additional stress lately. Whether it’s related to issues occurring in personal lives or the world engaging in protests and facing a pandemic, 2020 has seen its fair share of tumultuous moments, to say the least.

Pittsboro-based psychological associate Kristin Krippa said that the events of the past three months, compounded by other personal struggles in our day-to-day lives, could easily send one’s stress and anxiety levels into overdrive.

“Obviously, one of the major problems is isolation,” she said. “People are at home and feeling stressed out about that because they are not getting their normal stress relievers by going out.”

In fact, North Carolinians are particularly stressed, according to research conducted by BodyNutrition.org. The study showed that North Carolina is the third-most stressed state in the country, following Texas and Hawaii, respectively.

In the study, researchers tracked geotagged Twitter data over the course of three months. They targeted phrases such as “I’m stressed out” and “too much stress,” and hashtags including #stressed and #stressedout. Between March 1 and June 1 of this year, the study included over 300,000 tweets.

Overall, many Americans have been stressed during the coronavirus crisis and have reported “higher levels of general stress in recent years,” according to the American Psychological Association (APA)’s website. So much so that the APA has adapted its annual Stress in America survey into a monthly analysis of stress levels and stressors in order to better examine how individuals are coping with the significant stress of the pandemic.

The Harris Poll, which conducted a survey on behalf of the APA between April 24 to May 4 of this year, collected responses from 3,013 U.S. adults who were 18 or older.

U.S. adults were asked to rank their stress levels on a scale from 1-10, with 1 meaning “little or no stress” and 10 representing “a great deal of stress.”

When U.S. adults were asked about their stress levels related to COVID-19, the average reported stress level was a 5.9. When adults were asked to rate their general stress levels, the average was still a 5.4; these numbers are significantly higher than 2019’s Annual Stress in America survey, where U.S. adults had an average stress level of 4.9 out of 10.

With no vaccine for COVID-19 in sight and a recent surge of new cases throughout the country, it is likely that Americans will continue to experience higher stress levels until further notice.

Searching for solutions

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been looking for answers on how to better manage their stress levels. In times like these, medical professionals, mental health advocates and others are underscoring the importance of self-care and monitoring one’s mental health. Krippa emphasized that even simply exercising outdoors can play a major role in mitigating daily stress.

“Get outside as much as possible and exercise; doing those two things together is critical,” she said. “It’s remarkable how much it can reduce stress. Mindfulness and meditation can also bring our stress levels down.”

Lexie Wolf, the owner of Yoga Garden Pittsboro, is inviting local residents to do just that.

During COVID-19, Yoga Garden Pittsboro has begun offering a range of online yoga classes via Zoom, for both members of the yoga studio and first-time visitors. Although the studio is accepting memberships, class passes and donations as a form of payment, classes are also available for free during this time.

If you’re new to yoga, Wolf suggested trying the child’s pose, downward dog or the easy pose, which typically consists of sitting cross-legged; it’s also the starting pose in many yoga classes.

“I would recommend you see what your ‘easy pose’ is and what you need to sit comfortably as a sort of yoga foundation and a meditation foundation,” Wolf said.

Even if someone doesn’t have time for a full yoga class, Wolf said that even acknowledging breathing patterns can help a stressed or anxious person recenter themselves.

“You don’t have to use any fancy techniques,” she said. “But if you notice your breath, it’s a shortcut to the present moment. Because you’re not breathing in the past, you’re not breathing in the future — you’re breathing in the present.”

This simple exercise can start the beginning of one’s mindfulness journey, too, she said.

“If you can get yourself in the moment, you can sometimes begin to relax that stress,” Wolf said. “And if you’re so anxious and stressed that your breath is actually elevated or fast, just mindfully flowing that breath, taking deep inhales and exhales, can get you to begin to relax.”

Local organizations such as Abundance NC are also responding to the additional stress that Chatham is facing during COVID-19.

In a recent newsletter, Abundance NC Associate Director Allison DeJong shared ways that Chatham residents can help their community during this time and how they can receive help. DeJong also outlined ways that a person can improve his/her mind, body and spirit in the newsletter.

Some of the tips in the newsletter included creating a gratitude list, detoxing from technology, referring to virus anxiety resources and trying simple workouts at home.

“If you just feel yourself getting into kind of like a slump, the quickest way to reset that is to do something like 10 jumping jacks,” DeJong said.

Even including a short routine into your schedule can “change how you’re feeling” and shift your perspective on things, she said.

When it comes to COVID-19, the foreseeable future remains uncertain. However, incorporating mindfulness and self-care into a daily routine can help keep stress levels under control, experts said.

In the coming weeks, the News + Record will continue to report on stress and its impact on people and organizations across the county during this unprecedented time. In addition, stay tuned for an interactive digital project on the topic.