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Feb 07

What might our dreams might be trying to trying to tell us? How living in a pandemic can affect your stress levels and what we can do about it. February 6th 2022 – Blog

There is  a quote that has been used during the pandemic  ‘ Everyone is in it together, but we all are at different stages of the journey, this is very true as everyone’s situation is unique and how individuals respond is also unique.   Think of the hight of the pandemic when our NHS hero’s were fighting Covid-19 on the front line, saving lives and putting their own and their families lives at risk while others were complaining of: not being able to go out, see friends and family, get their hair done etc.,  However these were their real individual needs and can and will cause  stress too.

We all have stress in our lives at times and we have all developed coping mechanism to help us but we don’t always recognise stress and new life events can release new reactions – new situations like Covid-19.

Our body’s reaction to stress is flight/fight and this produces chemical/physical and psychological changes, controlled by the autonomic nervous system and endocrine system and is designed to last around 60 seconds, to get us out of a dangerous situation, when this happens the body does some amazing things;

Pituitary releases 30 hormones to control physiological responses
Liver releases extra sugar to fuel muscles
Digestion slows, saliva and mucus dry up
Endorphins are secreted
Blood vessels constrict and the spleen releases more red blood cells to help carry oxygen
Hands and feet become sweaty, hearing is more acute and vision becomes clearer

However, the body takes time return to normal state, extreme amounts of stress can suppress the immune system and people who experience stress can live in a state of constant readiness such as coping with the pandemic.

Stressful situations can actually be happy or exciting too, getting married, having a baby or moving house, but now imagine these are happening during Covid-19.
Covid -19 is not an acute stressor, it’s something that’s lingering, day after day
Covid -19 has two characteristics that are the worst for stress – its uncontrollable and its unpredictable.
Social distancing is not our normal state and not our normal position in times of stress when are normal reaction would be to seek the support of others.

There are practical things we can do to help us manage our stress such as;

Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including social media  as hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
Take care of your body, use the 4/11 breathing technique simply take 4 breaths in and 11 breaths out this will activate the parasympathetic nervous system which promotes relaxation, count the breaths this will distract your internal dialogue which maybe driving/adding to your anxiety/stress.

Try some simple stretches and\or meditation, the apps Headspace or Calm are both great resources for this and use Body Scanning techniques to fully relax your body and identify where you are holding stress in your body.

Try to eat healthy, well balanced regular meals to promote wellbeing and support your immune system.
Exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and void alcohol and drugs.

Make time to unwind, practice Mindfulness, simply put ‘stay in the present’, don’t multi task, for example if you are going for a walk concentrate on what’s around you and notice your environment.  Stop and really feel the wind on your face or the warmth of the sun.

Connect with others, talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling, try not to simply text as a way of staying in touch but pick up to phone, arrange to meet for a walk with someone else.
If you are working from home, ensure you have a structure to your day and differentiate work/non work hours and days off.  Get outside as much as possible, switch everything off at the end of the working day and keep clear boundaries around working hours.

You may have heard that during this time we are having more dreams which are also more vivid, our dreams are often linked to things that we have supressed during the day.  During this unusual situation that we are experiencing, here are some possible interpretations of dreams, which you may be able to relate to;

Gasping for Air – Symbolic of fear of catching the virus. Can be so real you wake up experiencing symptoms
Being Chased – Related to fear of contamination, instead of confronting you are running away
Natural Disasters – Feeling your life is out of control
Crashing Fears- Any kind of accident suggests the need to be extra vigilant
Falling and Flying – Suggests you are losing yourself in an area of your waking life
A Sinking Feeling – Drowning suggests you are submerged by fear of anxiety about the virus

So sometimes we are feeling stress and reacting to the stress of our unusual circumstances without connecting it to actual being stressed,  I found  this happening to me recently when  I was trying to get onto a meeting virtually and couldn’t, I tried everything, everyone else in the meeting seemed to be able to and now were waiting for me, people where asking where I was, texting me with different things to try.  Meanwhile my hands were sweaty, my heart was raising and I felt like I could burst in to tears!  Secondly I realised that I had started to have an old recurring dream,  around being on  being on holiday and not being able to get back because of extreme weather and the plan crashing!  So I recognise I was feeling stressed and took  some steps to reduce it using some of the techniques I have mentioned.

As a volunteer therapist for Anxiety UK, I would highly recommend their website as a source of support with lots of tips and support that you can access either for yourself or to help you support family or friends too.

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