Rachel Jones, BSN, FMCHC, gives a brief summary of COVID-19 with links to reliable resources and then provides five stress management tips you can use to reduce stress and strengthen your immune system.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a “novel” or new virus in the same family as the common cold and other respiratory illnesses. You might think, “Why then all the fuss?”. While it appears that many people may have little to no symptoms or mild cases of COVID-19, it can lead to a more serious and sometimes fatal lower respiratory tract illness requiring hospitalization. Because there are life threatening outcomes for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, we all need to take COVID-19 very seriously.
For more information:
It’s good to stay informed. However, information overload can be stressful! Stress management is very important every day, but especially during times of uncertainty and crisis. The CDC has a great article about managing anxiety and stress related to the COVID-19 outbreak here.
Read on to learn more about how stress affects your body and what you can do about it.
Stress Management 101
When you’re stressed your body produces stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to help you deal with the perceived threat. Stress hormones increase your blood pressure, slow down digestion, and increase blood sugar. Stress hormones help you zero in on getting away from danger. This is super helpful if you are facing a short term threat like your neighbor’s dog who doesn’t want you to walk past his yard. You get past the trouble and your body settles back down. But not so helpful when you encounter stressful emotions on a daily basis.
A neighbor’s dog OR a negative emotion = stress response.
We experience stressors on a daily basis sometimes without even realizing we are stressed by them. It is important to understand that your body does not have one stress response for physical threats and another for emotional threats. The stress response is the same for both.
You can see how over time the constant release of stress hormones can contribute to an increase in chronic diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. Mental conditions like depression and anxiety are also tied to chronic stress. And the COVID-19 pandemic has definitely become a stressful experience we all are dealing with on a daily basis.
While we can’t eliminate stress from our lives completely, we can reduce the effect it has on us by changing how we deal with it.
Now is a great time to learn & practice stress management!
Changing how you deal with stress can improve your physical and mental health by turning off the stress response and giving your body a break from stress hormones. Lower levels of stress hormones provide a boost to your immune system as well as all other systems in your body.
Stress Management: 5 Easy Tips
Don’t forget to breathe:
Relaxation breathing is a powerful stress reducer you can practice anywhere at any time. Focus on slowing down your breathing. Pay attention to filling your lungs with air all the way down to your belly. Breathe in slowly. Breathe out slowly. Feel the relaxation flow through your body with the extra supply of oxygen. Repeat this for a few breaths or put on some relaxing music and stay focused on your breath for a longer time. Repeat whenever you notice your stress level rising.
Mindfulness is being aware of the present moment without judging your thoughts. It involves dropping down from your busy brain for a moment to becoming more aware of what your senses are communicating. Mindfulness gives your brain a break from the hamster wheel of worry about the future or rehashing the past, bringing you to the PRESENT. Like relaxation breathing, you can practice mindfulness anywhere at any time.
Focus on what your senses feel: the sunshine on your face; the warmth of the dishwater; the sound of laughter or music or traffic; the feel of the floor beneath your feet; the breath you are breathing; the beauty of nature or a sunset or rain. The more time you spend in the present, the less time you allow your stress hormones to wreak havoc on your mind and body. Whenever you notice your thoughts racing backwards or forwards, ground yourself in the present.
Being more grateful has been proven to strengthen the immune system and improve quality of life. It is not possible to feel gratitude and negative emotion at the same time. Gratitude is both the realization we have far more than we deserve and the action that flows from a heart of thanksgiving – resulting in paying it forward.
When faced with negative emotions, try flipping a gratitude switch and challenge yourself to think of something that makes you feel grateful. Actions springing from a heart of gratitude can include: saying thank you and describing why you are grateful; writing a note of thanks to someone meaningful to you; singing and/or praying; performing random acts of kindness for all of the kindness shown to us in our lives. None of us has gotten to where we are on our own. We all have something to be grateful for and when we give gratitude our attention, a list is sure to follow.
Speaking of lists, people who write down three things they are grateful for and why once per week, reported feeling much more positive six months later! Gratitude interrupts the flow of stress hormones. Try managing stress by flipping on the gratitude switch when you notice negativity getting you down.
Sleep provides the body and mind a break from our busy schedules and 50,000+ daily thoughts. The average adult should aim for 7 – 8 hours of quality sleep. Sleep is a stress management tool that we need to cultivate just like other daily habits we practice.
Try coming up with a relaxing bedtime routine where you unplug from stressful news, TV shows, conversations and bright lights at least an hour before bed. Begin a daily unwinding routine that will prepare your body for restful sleep. Check out these tips from Harvard Medical School on how to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep transforms the effects of stress both physically and emotionally. Make sleep one of your top priorities every day, but especially during stressful times.
Surround yourself with positivity. The last thing we need as we attempt to transform stress in our lives is more negativity. The amount of negativity we allow in our lives has a huge impact on our stress response. It flies under the radar most of the time. We get used to “dealing with” certain people or social influences. Let go of the negative influences whenever possible.
Look for negativity in your social media feeds, who you choose to spend time with, news or other shows you watch, in music and on podcasts you listen to. Pay attention to how these things make you feel. Is your heart beating faster or slower? Are you breathing deeper and feeling relaxed? More stressed or calmer? Become aware of the power of positivity and work at developing a more positive version of yourself. Fill your mind with positive thoughts. Surround yourself with positive influences. Like being grateful, positivity helps you live a happier healthier life.
Since you can’t totally eliminate stress, try transforming it!
Rachel is a registered nurse and functional medicine certified health coach who is passionate about helping you transform your life using lifestyle detox. You have more power than you may realize to change your health outcomes and start living your best life – today!
The information provided by Upstream Wellness Coaching is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Please seek the advice of a qualified health care professional in the event something you have read here raises questions or concerns regarding your health.