The prospect of a Happy New Year began to fade on the horizon when the newest Covid-19 variant wrecked any notion of what historically was a normal Christmas for thousands of people. As Omicron raced across the country, families were once again separated for the holidays. Pandemic-weary Americans, ready for a fresh start, look to be facing another year that looks like the last two years. How does one maintain hope in 2022 when chronic stress is already strangling the new year?
Chronic Stress – A Killer of Hope
Living our lives during an ongoing pandemic has brought about numerous changes for most of us. In addition, the unpredictability of the disease and its effect on jobs, schools, even grocery shopping has kept folks in a state of uncertainty for far too long. Furthermore, add inflation to this scenario and chronic stress has become yet another mental health concern related to Covid-19.
In a Harris Poll conducted in February 2021, 3 out of 4 adults claimed their pandemic related stress had elevated to a level of 8-10, (10 being the highest level.) Gen Z appeared to be the most stressed, (46%,) followed by Gen X, (33%). Sadly, we have a stressed out society!
Symptoms of chronic stress are as follows:
- Sleep problems
- Trouble concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Stomach upset
- Frequent colds or infections
- Persistent worry
Consequently, it is difficult to be hopeful when one is overwhelmed by fatigue, depression, and worry.
Chronic Stress and Your Brain
Cortisol is a hormone our bodies naturally produce after a normal stress event. However, when there is chronic stress, more cortisol is produced than the body can use. At this point, cortisol becomes toxic.
High levels of cortisol can wear down the brain’s ability to function properly. According to several studies, chronic stress impairs brain function in multiple ways. It can disrupt synapse regulation, resulting in the loss of sociability and the avoidance of interactions with others. Stress can kill brain cells and even reduce the size of the brain. Chronic stress has a shrinking effect on the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning. While stress can shrink the prefrontal cortex, it can increase the size of the amygdala, which can make the brain more receptive to stress. “Cortisol is believed to create a domino effect that hard-wires pathways between the hippocampus and amygdala in a way that might create a vicious cycle by creating a brain that becomes predisposed to be in a constant state of fight-or-flight,” Christopher Bergland writes in Psychology Today.https://www.tuw.edu/health/how-stress-affects-the-brain/
Furthermore, due to the hippocampus being effected, so are the memory, emotions, and learning.
How to Manage With Hope
Obviously, there are lists all over the Internet informing us how to manage our stress-filled lives. In them, we find tools that make what feels like a nebulous, overwhelming life into a life that resembles one we enjoy, again…and a life in which we can breath, again. Doesn’t that fill you with hope?
Most of the lists overlap, so allow an attempt to sum them up.
- it’s ok to say NO to things that feel overwhelming
- learn some deep breathing techniques
- take a walk – on a regular basis
- practice yoga – it’s great for relaxation
- hug a loved one (oxytocin is released)
- create art
- make time for leisure activities in your schedule
- eat a healthy diet (it makes a difference!)
- develop positive self-talk
- express gratitude (see https://wordpress.com/post/thejourneywithme.blog/6666)
- examine your values and live by them
- take time to meditate
A new year is an ideal time to take stock of our lives, our habits, and make any changes we’ve been wanting to make. True, resolutions often disappear by as early as January 19, according to a large 2019 survey. However, it is also true that if we are emotionally invested in our goals, we are much more likely to achieve them. Short and long-term health benefits seem like a good investment, don’t they?
It’s snowing here today, which is a rare thing where I live. Unfortunately, there won’t be any snow angels made in the snow – the ground is too warm for it to stick. Nevertheless, the white flakes filling the sky always represent a unique loveliness to me. After the storms of last night, the swirling snow today offers newness of hope.
What is hope for you? Is it synonymous with wishing? Or is it more like expecting with confidence?
According to the above research, we can be confident that following the steps offered, chronic stress will become less of a health issue in 2022. My personal hope, however, doesn’t lie in me adhering to those steps…
I’d likely be one of those people who was back to my old habits by January 19…and then guilt myself for the next six weeks.
Consequently, my hope must be in Someone greater than me. In fact, I like to think of myself as Zechariah 9:12 called God’s people: a prisoner of hope. Why a prisoner? Because this year, I want to remain hopeful despite what my circumstances are telling me, hopeful in Him and His strength rather than my own abilities.
Hebrews 10:23, ESV encourages me to cling to God regardless of whether I see progress or failure. Perfectionism isn’t about pleasing God or others; it’s about pleasing myself, (ouch!)
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13, ESV
May your 2022 see less stress and abundant hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.