Research has shown that stress can have an extremely aversive effect on our daily lives. It effects our sleep, our relationships, our behavior, our thought patterns and our ability to get through the day and get tasks done. In the midst of a universal pandemic, it can be especially difficult to manage and reduce our stress. According to the American Psychological Association’s annual stress survey (2020), the volume of stress experienced by Americans on a daily basis has significantly increased in comparison to recent years.
In 2020, on average, American adults reported a stress level of 5.9 when asked to rate their stress level related to the coronavirus. On average, Americans also reported a stress level of 5.4 when asked about general stress. This indicates a .6 increase in average stress levels in comparison to the reported average of 4.9 in the 2019 APA annual survey. In addition, parents reported even higher stress levels with an average of 6.7, with 46% reporting stress levels between 8 and 10 on a 10-point scale (APA, 2020). One thing is clear from these findings. Americans are experiencing increasing levels of stress. People are finding it difficult to deal with the pressures of work and home in the midst of a global pandemic.
This is especially concerning because stress can have a significant negative impact on our mental health and physical wellbeing. It’s important to recognize symptoms of stress. If left unmanaged, it can result in several health problems including heart disease, obesity, diabetes and elevated blood pressure. According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can have significant negative effects on our bodies, mood, and behavior. Physical symptoms of stress include muscle tension and pain, chronic fatigue, decreased sex drive, upset stomach and difficulty sleeping. Mental and emotional effects of stress include increases in anxiety, decreased motivation, feelings of being overwhelmed, increased irritability, sadness and depression.
The mental and emotional effects of stress can in-turn lead to significant changes in behavior. Specifically, stress is significantly related to behaviors such as overeating and emotional eating, increases in angry outbursts, substance abuse and misuse, increased tobacco use, social withdrawal and decreases in exercise. While the elimination of stress from our daily lives is near impossible, there are many easy steps that we can take to address the symptoms of stress that interfere with our lives. Below, I have indicated some Dialectical Behavioral Therapy strategies that can be helpful for combating the symptoms of stress.
DBT Skills for Dealing with Stress
Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a significant part of DBT and can be especially helpful for managing emotion regulation problems. Simply put, mindfulness is being in the present and paying attention to what is happening in the here and now without judgement. You can practice mindfulness by focusing on your current tasks. This can help distract you from your worries about the future and relieve your anxiety.
Regulating Emotion. Emotional pain can be a major detriment in our daily lives. It can disrupt our relationships and result in heightened sensitivity and mood instability. By regulating our emotions, rather than focusing on changing the emotions you are experiencing, you learn to endure painful emotions without reacting in destructive ways so that you can process them and move on.
Distress Tolerance. As much as we want to change our situations, most of the time, some circumstances are almost impossible or difficult to change. Distress tolerance skills can be especially useful for coping during a crisis, and can help us deal with both temporary and long-term pain. Distress tolerance skills include radically accepting our situations and increasing our willingness to experience them. It can also include distraction through building mastery in skills and activities that might absorb our attention for a certain time.
Interpersonal Effectiveness. Simply stated, interpersonal effectiveness refers to one’s ability to interact positively with others. This is inclusive of skills we use to build and attend to relationships. This can include setting boundaries, expressing needs and wants, balancing priorities and building a sense of mastery and self-respect. This skill can help reduce friction in our lives, and in-turn mitigate the amount of stress we experience in our personal relationships.