As the pandemic goes on, here's 5 stress-busting methods to beat the COVID blues

As we come to the end of 2021, it's fair to say that most people won't be all that sad to see it go.

After all, it marks the second year that the world's been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and there still appears to be no end in sight. Here in the UK, the Omicron variant is worsening the situation so much that we're now facing the prospect of yet another Christmas lockdown to get things under control again.

And the unstable nature of the situation is also having a major effect on the public that extends beyond their chances of catching the virus. It's feeding a massive wave of stress that's showing up in the form of increased levels of depression and despair. That's making for an unprecedented mental health crisis that scientists and the Government are only now beginning to be able to quantify.

But people living in the real world don't have the luxury of waiting for solutions from politicians or health officials. It's incumbent upon them to do what it takes to care for their wellbeing and to avoid the worst effects of all of the pandemic-related stress. Fortunately, there are quite a few go-to ways to defeat stress. And to help, here are five of the most effective stress-busting methods that anyone can use to keep calm and carry on.

Get regular aerobic exercise

As anyone who loves a good workout can tell you, exercise can have a massive positive effect on your wellbeing and relieve stress. And they're not only saying that because they enjoy pushing their bodies to the limit. They're saying it because exercise – particularly of the aerobic variety – causes the human body to ramp up the production of endorphins. And even if you don't know what endorphins are, you experience their effects every day.

Endorphins are the chemicals our bodies create to manage stress and cope with pain. For that reason, most people call them our natural feel-good chemicals. Because vigorous exercise creates physical stress on the body, it responds by creating endorphins to help us deal with its effects. And because endorphins can't distinguish between different types of stress, they're just as effective at relieving pandemic-related stress as they are at helping us tolerate a good workout.

 

Play solo games

These days, people from all walks of life enjoy playing video games. But many of today's most popular games put us into competition with others, creating a situation that's anything but relaxing. Thankfully, not all games have this effect on human stress levels. In fact, there are a variety of fun and relaxing games that help us relieve stress. And they all have one thing in common: you play them alone.

Simple games like Solitaire work well for that purpose, as do things like crossword puzzles and Sudoku. And for those who prefer a (slightly) more modern game, recent research has demonstrated that old favourite Tetris has some amazing anti-stress effects on its players. Perhaps that's because such games tend to focus the mind on things other than our worries, giving us a brief respite from the pressures of reality. Whatever the reason, however, they're an excellent anti-stress tool.

 

Listen to upbeat music

Another simple and effective way to relieve stress is to listen to music. Studies have shown music to have remarkable effects on our brains, with certain types of rhythmic music having just as strong of an impact on brain activity as mood-altering medications do. But when it comes to reducing stress, scientists tend to agree that nothing beats listening to an upbeat tune.

Upbeat music tends to make us feel more optimistic about the world around us, improving our worldview and lending us an air of positivity. That does wonders to relieve stress, as you might imagine. But upbeat music isn't for everyone. So, to harness the stress-reducing power of music in the way that works best for you, try picking something off of this scientifically-vetted list of stress-busting songs.

Laugh a little (or a lot)

No matter where you're from in the world, it's a safe bet that your culture includes some variation of the conventional wisdom: laughter is the best medicine. It's a phrase that's been uttered in countless languages and passed down from one generation to the next as a universal truism. But unlike many other folksy sayings, this one happens to be true.

Believe it or not, laughter therapy is now being used to treat COVID-related mental health conditions and there's every indication it's working quite well. Among other things, laughter reduced our bodies' production of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and dopamine.

And it stimulates the production of antibodies, strengthening our immune systems – making us literally feel better.

 

Spend time with a pet

Early on in the pandemic when lockdowns were lengthier and more frequent, there was a huge surge in pet adoptions all across the UK. People that suddenly had far more time on their hands thought that having a pet would give them something fun and worthwhile to do with it. But of late, many of the people who brought home a pet in 2020 have decided to try and surrender them now that lockdowns are few and far between.

Needless to say, doing so is a big mistake. Research has proven that pet owners – regardless of the type of pet – tend to be healthier, happier, and suffer lower rates of mental health issues. One study found that pet owners sleep more soundly, while another found that pets reduced feelings of loneliness in their owners by significant amounts. In other words, pets are perfect companions to see us through the pandemic and beyond – and more of us should be adopting, not surrendering them.

Ready to face a new year

As 2022 gets set to begin, there's little doubt that people everywhere will still need to combat the effects of stress as the pandemic continues to wear on. And through any combination of the above methods, it's possible to do that and feel mentally prepared to face whatever's to come. In a world filled with uncertainty, knowing that there's at least one thing we can control – our stress levels – is in itself beneficial and worth working towards.

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