As you began 2020 with hopes and determination, like most, you did not expect what was about to hit our societies. The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged the world into serious health and economic crisis, obliging us to practice social isolation. Most of us have been impacted as we try to balance working from home with our personal and family life. The demands of having to review strategies and protect revenues, whilst juggling other responsibilities such as childcare and homeschooling can take its toll, and significantly increase everyday pressures.
Feeling overwhelmed, frustrated or anxious during this time of uncertainty is a normal human reaction. This is why more than ever we need to pay attention to are our mental and physical wellbeing. By looking after these areas, it helps us to stay strong and in the best possible shape to manage life’s stresses.
As we continuously adapt to a new way of life, it’s important to acknowledge that even the most mundane tasks become more difficult when people are under great pressure, especially once they lose the familiarity of their daily routines. For many, these changes are likely to trigger stress responses and adversely affect mental health. Our heart may race, we may feel sweaty or overwhelmed, our breathing may become faster, and we may not be able to think clearly. Experienced over an extended period of time, this may lead to chronic medical issues such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, weight gain or irritable bowel syndrome.
For this reason, taking steps to manage stress and anxiety is of critical importance.
Here are 5 easy tips to get you started:
Take regular deep breaths in and slow breaths out. Ensure you are breathing deeply, pushing out your abdomen to allow your lungs to fully expand and fill with air.
This is called diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing. Studies have shown that diaphragmatic breathing lowers cortisol, our stress hormone, and increases focus.
Often, people shallow breathe when under pressure, worsening their stress. Instead, breathing properly triggers the nervous system to slow our body down.
If you need extra time to relax, try the 4-7-8 technique: breathe in for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. Do it a few times and you will soon notice a great difference.
Substituting the word exercise with movement helps to look at moving as a natural part of daily life rather than a chore. In the book “Spark, the Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain”, Dr. John Ratey talks about the power of exercise. He explains the mind-body connection and how elevating heart rates through aerobic exercise can remodel our brains, change our brain chemistry and make us feel better.
Make movement about your mental health. For a start, try the 2-minute rule. Tell yourself that you are going to move for just 2 minutes. Anything will do, for instance jumping jacks, skipping, running up and down the stairs, or dancing. It doesn’t have to be ‑a well-designed workout in a gym to gradually improve your general wellbeing.
Disrupted sleep patterns can also negatively affect people’s mental and physical health. Deep and refreshing sleep is essential for high energy levels, a positive mood, concentration and focus. It also plays a vital role in regulating body weight and immunity.
In a nutshell, the human body is designed to follow the day and night cycle. Hormones such as cortisol and melatonin are regulated based on this specific pattern. Disruptors to this rhythm include eating late, excessive screen time and stressful thoughts, which will cause you trouble with your sleep.
To improve the quality of your sleep, you can try these tips:
- Avoid screen exposure 1 to 2 hours before bedtime. Try listening, reading or chatting to family or friends instead;
- Avoid eating too late, past 8 pm. Aim to have at least 3 hours between your last meal and bedtime;
- Practice meditation or mindfulness. There are many apps and free resources available online.
Food is medicine and what we eat is vital to our body’s needs. The essential proteins and fats are the building blocks of the chemical processes that take place in our body. We need nutrients from food to produce hormones, enzymes and neurotransmitters such as serotonin, the chemical that is linked to our feeling of happiness.
Below are some general tips to stay on track with healthy eating:
- Eat whole foods and avoid processed foods when you can;
- Pay attention to the protein intake, incorporating fish, chicken, eggs, meat, or tofu;
- Opt for healthy fats, eating olive oil, nuts, or avocados;
- Eat more whole grains.
Please note this is general advise only. Please see your healthcare professional for guidance if you suffer from food allergies or food intolerances.
Last but not least, finding humour in adversity can help overcome even the darkest of times.
“I never would have made it if I could not have laughed. It lifted me momentarily out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it liveable.” - VIKTOR FRANKL
Dr. Lee S. Berk, a psychoneuroimmunology researcher at Loma Linda University's Schools of Allied Health and Medicine, has been studying the effects of laughter since the 1980s. He and his colleagues were the first to establish that laughter helps to decrease levels of cortisol, our stress hormone. They have also shown that laughter has a positive effect on the immune system, activating the body’s protective cells.
Breathing, moving, eating well, sleeping and laughing. A varied bag of tools to help us all stay healthy in our minds and bodies. Stay safe, stay well.
This article provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The words and other content provided in this article are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately licensed physician or other health care worker. The views expressed in this article have no relation to those of any academic, hospital, practice or other institution with which the author is affiliated.
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