• With life returning to a new ‘normal’, how can we best cope with the stress from the past 18 months? 

  • Psychotherapist and author of The Little Stress-Relief Workbook, Jess Henley, gives her five top tips to manage stressful feelings 

  • We have therapists and counsellors available to support you – find yours here today

Should I wear a mask or shouldn’t I? Do I feel comfortable in public, or not yet? How can I hang out with friends who are more relaxed about Covid than I am? 

Deciding how to navigate the post-lockdown world is a very personal journey so it’s important to only go at a speed that feels comfortable to you. But dealing with everyone else’s opinions and judgements can be very stressful. Here are five practical tips that can help you through your post-pandemic journey to make that transition more manageable. 

1. Learn to breathe

Breathing correctly can instantly, and in the long-term, help you feel more balanced, grounded and able to cope. To start with, find a quiet place where you can practice with no interruptions. Once you’ve got used to this new way of breathing, try and do it whenever you remember, wherever you are. If you’re about to get on public transport for the first time since Covid began, if you’re going to a bar without a mask, if you’re talking to someone who feels differently to you; wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, practice deep breathing. It’ll become a lot easier with practice and feelings of stress will become easier to manage as deep breathing will quickly bring you back to a more grounded, stable place. 

HOW: Imagine the space that’s two inches below your belly button and a third of the way into your body; now breathe into this space. With each inhale, imagine a golden light is travelling to this exact spot. Make each inhale last for four seconds, hold for one second and exhale for four seconds imagining that golden light flooding your whole being. 

Do this as much as you need to until you feel more steady and able to manage. 

2. Stay in the present

Stress often takes you to the past (I shouldn’t have gone into that busy supermarket) or to the future (what if I catch Covid before I see my mum next week), it’s never based in the present on what you’re actually doing in that exact moment.  

Focus all your attention on staying in the present moment, on what you’re doing right now and empty your mind by zoning into your five senses – what can you see, hear, touch, taste and smell - this will help quiet down the buzz of stress.

3. Create a support bubble

Sharing your thoughts and feelings with others can help normalise them and release some of their burden. Find people who you feel safe with and schedule in a time to chat. Hearing other people’s experiences and fears, can help put yours in perspective and also help you see that you’re not alone. 

If sharing your feelings doesn’t come naturally, then write them down first to help encourage yourself to open up.  Practice your deep breathing beforehand to help give you strength to speak up.

4. Challenge unhelpful thoughts

Remember thoughts are just thoughts, not facts, so challenge the ones that make you feel stressed by slowly building evidence that contradicts them. For example, if you’re worried about going on the bus but you need to, to start going to the office again, then begin by going on a really short journey at a time when you know the bus won’t be busy. Then, once you feel OK, you can slowly build up your journeys until you can confidently use the bus during commuter times. Make a list of the key things you are worried about and then next to each one build small step-by-step plans that will help you overcome them. 

5. Help yourself sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is key in helping reduce feelings of stress so you don’t feel tired but wired all the time. Try and empty your mind and practice your deep breathing once you’re in bed.  

If you notice persistent thoughts creeping in, write them in a journal next to your bed. This way they’re out of your head but there’s no worry about forgetting them, so your mind can be free to go to sleep.  

Try and have the same, consistent routine every night so your body and mind can read the cues that it’s time for sleep and it can slow down and shut down. 

Jess Henley is a verified welldoing.org psychotherapist in South East London and online. She is the author of The Little Stress-Relief Workbook:

Further reading

How green spaces reduce stress

How our relationships protect us against stress

Breathing to relieve anxiety

Breathing techniques for depression

Can hypnotherapy improve your sleep?