Returning to Normalcy in Times of Stress
Maintaining Everyday Routine Best Way to Get Stress Relief
March 25, 2003 -- This is usually the time of year when college basketball fans are glued to their TVs watching "March Madness." But this March, as you probably have noticed, something else is capturing our attention. Experts say in times of increased stress and anxiety, maintaining your everyday routine may be your best stress relief technique.
In the past week, mental health experts across the U.S. have reported a spike in calls from Americans expressing anxiety. But those manning the phones are not surprised by this.
"A key disconnect that many people are feeling stems from their hearing, 'Go about your normal life,' when they may not really feel normal," says Karen Zager, PhD, a New York City psychologist. "What people need to hear is that is perfectly normal to not feel normal. These, after all, are not normal times."
But by acting that way, stress relief can be yours.
"The best way to cope with the situation of war is to continue whatever is your normal daily routine," says psychologist Michael Nuccitelli, PhD, executive director of SLS Wellness, a psychological treatment center in Brewster, N.Y. "And this is especially important if you have young children or teenagers. It's crucial that parents demonstrate behaviors that inspire security and safety -- and though it may sound simple, routine has a very strong antianxiety effect."
In other words, unless your routine is watching news all day, it may be wise to give the remote a break.
"The problem is that people are going on complete information overload from all the war coverage," Zager tells WebMD. "And that's unhealthy because having information is a good thing, but having an overload of information that you can do nothing about doesn't help. It would be completely different if there were some action you could take relating to the news reports. But when there isn't, you may be left feeling completely helpless."
She advises that parents provide their children with some stress relief by sticking to whatever family routines are practiced normally. "If that means eating pizza on Wednesday, continue to have pizza each Wednesday," says Zager, spokeswoman for the American Psychological Association. "Everyone, and children in particular, takes great comfort in routine. As much as people complain about it, the boredom of sameness is better than being overwhelmed with anxiety."
Nuccitelli says routine and stress relief is especially important now, in light of recent events.
"The war is no longer a video game," he tells WebMD. "There was that feeling until we saw the true violence over the weekend." He strongly advises practicing the mundane -- attending Little League games, family dinners, and other activities that emphasize your reality.
"But be mindful to the fact that trauma can take several months to manifest itself. And since 9-11, we have had near daily doses of media coverage of acts of terrorism and violence that leave our society open to this trauma," he says.