On Friday, April 17th, we held our second installment in the DLS Wellness Series! We decided to focus on the topic of stress and anxiety management for this seminar – with the pandemic making it timelier than ever.
For our first Wellness Seminar, we learned about meditation and mindfulness. For our second installment, the Diplomatic Language Services community came together for a virtual Wellness Seminar presented by Sara Malas, MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Malas shared her knowledge on stress, anxiety, grief, and how to cope with all the things we may be feeling at this time.
Stress & Anxiety Overview
After a survey of DLS staff, instructors, and students, we found that the majority of respondents’ stress levels were moderately to significantly higher compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic. Factors like health (that of ourselves and of our loved ones), changing work environments, dealing with family/significant others, and maintaining productivity were all identified as the most stressful factor in the lives of our community. In response to this, Malas outlined exactly what stress is and how it can harm us. Some stress can motivate us, but too much of it can become debilitating. Did you know that excess stress can lead to chronic disease, heart problems, and can speed up the aging process? Furthermore, when our bodies are used to constantly being in ‘fight or flight mode’ from enduring significant amounts of stress over time, it can lead to anxiety.
Are You Grieving?
In addition to stress and anxiety, Malas emphasized that we are all experiencing a collective loss, which leads to another feeling we could be experiencing: grief. Some of us have been lucky enough to just feel a loss in our sense of normalcy and daily routines. Others have experienced loss when losing their jobs or a loved one to the virus. When we are able to put a name to the feeling(s) underlying our anxiety or a name to the stage of the grief process we’re feeling, we are then able to create a space for management. Just like we learn a language, we can teach our brains to effectively respond to an anxious inner dialogue.
Finally, Malas shared coping techniques for managing stress and anxiety, along with the grief we learned we are also experiencing. One of her suggestions included maintaining boundaries, both interpersonally and from the news/social media. Another was taking proper care of our bodies – eating well and exercising regularly. Additionally, she suggested taking care of our minds (practicing mindfulness and meditation), and connecting with others. Another key management technique she shared was focusing on the things we can control. So much happening at this time is out of our control, thus making us feel powerless.
Nearing the end of the hour, Malas invited all attendees to practice a grounding technique for anxiety. During this, we used our five senses to reset and remind ourselves to stay in the present moment.
Next, we tried diaphragmatic and square breathing – deeply inhaling for four seconds, holding our breath for four seconds, exhaling for four seconds, and holding our breath again for four seconds. Diaphragmatic breathing can help release some somatic pressure we may be unconsciously holding (and overtime, storing) when we become anxious.
After feedback and questions, the DLS community left the seminar feeling more grounded, comforted, and a bit more at ease. We can no longer gather for our Wellness Series in the DLS conference room or practice breathing exercises in-person as a group, but we are in this together.
Connect With Us
During this rapidly-changing situation, it is our commitment to care for our community. We aim to provide valuable resources, not just for maintaining work and training, but also for wellbeing and mental health. For a copy of the slides or the recording of this seminar, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We are happy to share our resources with anyone who may benefit from them!