how to handle stress during a crisis

How to Handle Stress During a Crisis

April 15, 2020

How are you handling the stress of staying home?

Everyone and their mom has an opinion about what you should do as you grapple with the crisis.

Some people are saying that this is the time to clean your house top to bottom and finally organize all of the photos you have of your kids from the time they were born.

Others will tell you it’s totally ok to get lost on the interwebs, keeping as many tabs as you want open and bouncing back and forth between projects, ideas, zoom calls, news, and dance classes with Debbie Allen live on YouTube.

And then some people will say that it’s 100% ok to lie around in your best pair of yoga pants and do zero yoga while curling up in your coziest blankets and riding out the storm by watching everything on Netflix.

I’m not here to say there is a best way to handle stress.

There isn’t one best way.

Everyone handles stress, trauma, grief, and crisis a little differently, but along similar lines.

It’s more important to know your tendencies so you can make smarter, more skillful choices that will support your mental and physical health.

This is where Ayurveda comes in handy.

Ayurveda is interested in balance, first and foremost. But Ayurveda also values self-awareness.

This applies is both stressful and non-stressful situations alike.

Ayurveda categorizes people into 3 basic groups.

Vata, composed of air and space elements

Pitta, composed of fire and water elements

Kapha, composed of water and earth elements

These 3 doshas apply to everything from people to seasons of the year to times of the day to the places we live. and everything else in between.

From an Ayurvedic perspective, each dosha responds to stress differently, too.

Vata, the Dosha of air and space, wants to be distracted, so she will take every opportunity to sidestep reality, primarily through busy-ness.

Fear and anxiety define the vata stress response.

Pitta wants to be productive and task-focused. She will try to get all of the things done and more, staying up late to complete tasks and burn herself out in the process.

Anger is how pitta responds to stress.

Kapha wants to lie under the covers all day and hide. She wants to feel safe and cozy and also shut out the world.

Depression is kapha’s default response.

All of these responses are completely legit.

The problem is more when they get us stuck or prevent us from making healthy choices or impact our relationships, with ourselves or with others.

As an example, when I am stressed I tend to respond with anger and defensiveness. I take on more than I need to. i overdo everything and bury myself in work. When I can’t get everything done, I get angry at everyone in my path including myself. Sometimes this means I yell at my kids whether they’ve done something to earn my anger or not. Other times I reprimand myself for being a spectacular failure, unable to stay focused long enough to get what I need to done. I look at my to do list and I see what I didn’t get done instead of what I did.

And then I judge myself hard for my choices.

These are pitta responses.

I don’t lean towards depression. I just don’t.

That doesn’t mean I don’t get sad or feel depressed sometimes.

It simply means that anger is my default, so even if i am sad, anger is simmering underneath the sadness.

Even during a crisis, I tend to be more dynamically active, although sometimes that leads to overwhelm (vata) and not knowing what to do.

I try to keep myself busy and give myself lots of tasks to complete.

Sometimes it’s too much and I fall behind and feel guilty or insufficient to the tasks and I get angry at the circumstances that led me to that place.

Knowing this about myself, during this crisis, I have actively tried to take on less, to forgive more, to make space for what matters — not just what I think needs to be done.

It’s not perfect and neither am I.

I have still overdone it a bit, yelled more than I want, and felt steam coming out of my ears on multiple occasions.

But I’ve also tried to remember what grounds me and cools me down when I feel the stress rising.

I walk away, giving more air and space to dissipate my anger.

I take movement breaks and create more realistic expectations.

Or I try.

That last one is especially hard for me.

The thing is, what works as a coping mechanism or simple stress relief for someone who is more kapha, won’t be as beneficial for someone who is pitta/vata like me.

It’s not that the techniques are bad.

More that it won’t meet my needs in the same way and will leave me feeling less relieved by the actions.

That’s why there is not one “best way” to handle this crisis.

Knowing your tendency will help you navigate the emotions you are feeling with more awareness and skillful action.

So here are some quick tips:

If you are feeling the urge to rest a lot, allow yourself the space to rest. Your body is asking for it. Instead of resting inside in front of the tv all day long, maybe take a few moments outside in the sun — still resting, not doing.

If you are feeling the urge to organize or clean or be super productive or get things done, don’t ignore it that urge. You’ll feel better when it’s done. Just give yourself small goals instead of big ones.

If you’re feeling the urge to keep busy and giving into to distractions, your mind needs it. Allow for the distractions while also giving yourself some clear boundaries so you can rein yourself back in when you need to. Even better, choose some distractions that are physical, helping you get into your body and back on track more easily.

Don’t try to force yourself to rest if your body isn’t asking it.

You don’t need to keep your house extra clean if allowing the mess is keeping you sane.

And sometimes distractions are necessary when things become overwhelming. You are not failing by not finishing everything you start.

There is no wrong way to respond to stress.

But if you don’t listen to your needs, you will create more stress in the long run.


Other resources from me that might help:

Yoga for Core Strength for Support During Difficult Times

Yoga for Anxiety and Stress

Practices to Calm Your nervous System

Yoga for Kids by Kids

Meditation for Kids by Kids

Self-Care for Times of Tragedy and Grief

Yoga for Difficult Times



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