21 September 2020

Stress management in the time of COVID-19 – a holistic approach

Any stress we feel is a product of the load we are under – what is going on outside of us - and our capacity to bear that load – what is going on inside of us. And while we cannot always change the load – what we have to deal with –  we can always do something about how we respond to that load. So this week, 3 approaches to managing major stresses that make for a comprehensive whole, but first

       Thought for the day

Silence is the absolute poise or balance 

Of body, mind and spirit.

The person who preserves their selfhood

Is ever calm and unshaken by the storms of existence…

What are the fruits of silence? 

They are self-control, true courage or endurance,

Patience, dignity and reverence.

Silence is the cornerstone of character.


Firstly, while stress does get a good deal of bad press, it can be good for us. When we are challenged but feel on top of the load; that level of stress can actually feel satisfying. However, pushed beyond our reasonable limits for any length of time and stress soon begins to break us down physically, become emotionally debilitating and mentally shattering.

Now clearly the pandemic continues to push many beyond reasonable limits and distress is rampant. It is imposing really tough conditions on many; many of whom can do little to change what is going on “out there”. 

So here we are considering what is within our own control; what we can do to change the way even apparently over-whelming stresses affect us internally - three approaches that collectively provide a reliable solution.

1. From the perspective of the body

When we feel over-loaded by stress, it triggers marked physical changes in our bodies. 

The one we might notice first is muscular tension; we tense up. 

At the same time, a whole raft of biochemical and physiological changes unfold, triggered by what we all probably know as the Fight of Flight response. 

When these changes persist over time, they are associated with many illnesses, most notably all the chronic degenerative diseases like heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, MS and so on.

Keeping this simple, one very effective way to release the adverse physical consequences of stress, is to reverse the physical tension, That tension is closely allied to the biochemical and physiological changes that result in illness. Hence the power – and logic – of deep physical relaxation being associated with any mind-based stress management program.

We recommend Deep Relaxation based upon the Progressive Muscle Relaxation exercise. It is simple to learn, thorough in its capacity to help us relax deeply and had been proven effective over a very long time.

2. From the perspective of the mind

“It is all in the mind”. 

Not a completely unreasonable statement. 

We know most stress is a product of how we think – more accurately how we think about what is going on around us and within us. 

Put simply again, much of our stress is a consequence of how we react to our circumstances. 

And this provides another obvious and logical way to short circuit stress – take the reaction out.

So this is the domain of mindfulness practice. 

We learn to focus our mind, focus our attention onto whatever we are doing – without reaction, judgement or commentary. And almost paradoxically, by taking the reaction out in a way that may seem at first as if we are being passive or non- responsive, by taking the reaction out, our minds become calmer and clearer and as such become better able to respond appropriately.

So while mindfulness takes the reaction out of the way we respond to people and events, it does not “flatten” us. Quite the contrary. It leaves us more open to take in what is really going on, to think clearly, to feel more directly, to respond more honestly as well as more thoughtfully. Much more likely to make good decisions, and we are much more likely to be enjoyable to be around.

3. From the perspective of wisdom

This too is simple. 

We all know 3 obvious things about our lives. 

Firstly, everything is constantly changing. 

That is indisputable. 

Sometimes good – even the worst of things eventually change, sometimes bad – even the best of things eventually change, but either way, indisputable.

Then secondly, everything is inter-dependent. 

Maybe not so obvious at first but clearly we do not exist in a vacuum. We are dependent upon the air we breathe, the food we eat – and who supplies it, what we drink – and who supplies it, the people around us and so on and so on. We are inter-dependent.

Finally – a little more complex but keeping it simple - we have many facets to our nature as does everyone else and everything else. That person we might hate is not just one thing, not just “a bastard”. That person at work is not just “the receptionist”. Nothing is singular in its nature, everything is complex – multi-faceted.

So here is the point

Our sense of self, our ego has this strong sense of me and mine. It has the strong sense of being an individual surrounded by other people and other things. Me and others. Me and it. Me and the world around about me.

Now the world is a big place. 

Often kind, yet often threatening indeed. 

And a pandemic is highly threatening. 

So even at the best of times, our sense of self, our ego can feel severely challenged. 

Challenged by the fact everything is changing all the time, challenged by feeling isolated. 

So what does it do?

Well, all too often our ego, driven by the need to feel safe and comfortable within itself, tries to avoid the facts. Rather than working out how to live knowing everything is and will change, everything is inter-dependent and multi-faceted, it does the opposite. 

Common strategies are to seek distraction with a passion. Keeping really busy seems to work well. Having someone to blame, even beating ourselves up. All common strategies. Others attempt to build a sense of security based on the notion of “permanence”. I have a permanent job, a permanent address. A permanent relationship… as if they will last forever.

Problem is we all know the reality in our hearts. 

So as a radical way of alleviating stress, we could make the bold choice to address the way we view life. This would involve facing the initial pain of appreciating everything and everyone DOES change. Worse, facing the pain that someday all those we love and value will die. We will die. 

But through the other side of this pain comes an even fuller the realisation of just how precious life is, and yet, how fragile it is. We could also learn to really appreciate how everyone thing and everyone is dependent upon everyone else and everything else. This builds a profound level of appreciation and heartfelt gratitude. And respect. And care.

Similarly, when considering any person or any possibility we could function from an awareness of how multi-faceted everything is and realise when faced with any person or any situation, there are always more possibilities than we first think. So we remain open, curious, calm and clear. Our minds in the best possible state to get the most out of every moment in life – and to be of the most help to as many people as possible.

Then further to all this, based on this view of life,  we realise how crucial it is to make the most of each moment. If ever we needed an incentive to practice mindfulness, this is it. 

Be inspired. Learn to practice mindfulness and meditation formally, then take the view that comes from these practices into daily life. This actually works. Takes some practice. Takes some effort, but it works.

Bon chance 


Seems to make sense to mention the free App Ruth and I have helped put together – Allevi8 – contains all the key relaxation, mindfulness, contemplation, guided imagery and meditation practices that have been touched on above. The App features specifically designed practices with one section focussing upon stress management, another finding meaning amidst adversity.

Simply go to your App store and search Allevi8. It is totally free, but we welcome the notion of “paying it forward” – making a free will donation so we can keep things going and others can access the App for free.


  1. Thank you Ian for your great blog, always so succinctly put. I have shared the link on our surgery Facebook page in the hope that others here may benefit from your insight and teaching. I hope you and Ruth are well. Britta

  2. Thank you Ian. This is very helpful. I find some communications difficult at the moment and strive to remain aware of being non-judgemental and open. Your suggestions to consider that "there are always more possibilities than we first think " is a timely reminder
    to me. Thank you. Pam

    1. Remarkable is it not Pam, we let go of the reactions and we are better able to communicate. some worry no reaction will turn them into emotional zombies; in actual fact, the opposite is the fact. Enjoy :)

    2. Yes, so true Ian. I feel freed up rather than enclosed and tightly bound to my reactions. All best wishes to you and Ruth.

  3. Hello Ian,
    I'm appreciating Allevi8's Monday night meditations. I loved Monday night's session and Saurabh's voice. My walking friend and I were discussing Monday's night's meditation on Gratitude and we feel we need a greater understanding of some aspects which Saurabh mentioned. I'm sure there is a deeper spiritual teaching behind the view that we be grateful for something we really would like to come into our lives before it arrives. Saurabh gave the red sports car example. We feel there must be a context for this otherwise we would be grateful for things which aren't possible to have in our lives such as a baby or the good health of a loved one.
    We would both love to understand it further. I'm sure there is a greater reason and I'm missing it by possibly being over logical.
    Thank you for these great meditation opportunities and explorations of ideas.

    1. Actually Megan, the main idea behind contemplation is that it provides the opportunity to think deeply about something, clarify your thoughts and maybe gain some new insight into the subject. So around contemplation, it is often not so useful for someone else to offer their answers - although this may point to places of enquiry. Best is to stay with the question, stay with the contemplation, and find out where it leads ... Enjoy :)

  4. Love reading your articles. Many thanks