Does anybody else feel like they’re living in the movie ‘Groundhog Day’? Sleep, eat, work, help the kids with school, and repeat. The monotony of our new ‘normal’ with the feeling of not having control, or knowing what is happening with the world in the next weeks to months to come, can be so stressful on your mind and body.
There’s a brutal truth in life – you have no control over many of the things that happen. We can all do our part in this fight against the spread of COVID-19, by physical distancing and washing our hands, but we can’t control what is happening with this global pandemic. If you were anything like me, the first number of weeks of this pandemic I was tuning in to every news special being televised, Premier Doug Ford, Prime Minister Trudeau, CNN, Global News, anything to help me make sense of this unconscionable situation. What I have come to realize is that as much as it’s good to have the facts and current information, the daily news cycle was keeping my mind occupied with worry, a cycle that wasn’t doing me or my family any good.
If you find your mind is preoccupied with worrying about things you can’t control and have found your stress levels increasing daily, here are 10 things that you can do to help:
1. Determine what you can control. If you find yourself going down a worry rabbit hole, take a minute to assess the things that you actually have control over. You can’t control how someone else behaves, but you can control how you react. You are able to control your attitude and positive thinking, and you’ll be much more effective when you put your energy into things you can control.
2. Create a plan to manage your stress. Pay attention to your stress levels and notice how you cope with stress. Making time in your daily schedule so you can manage your stress and operate more efficiently is imperative.
3. Find Your Way to Relax. Figure out a strategy that helps YOU relax. This may be taking a bath every night, reading a book, mindfulness or meditation, deep breathing, taking a walk. The important part is finding what resonates with you and not what others tell you to do. Some resources I like are the Calm app, and Meditation Minis Podcast (10 minute guided meditations – easy for beginners).
4. Implement Daily Exercise. Physical activity increases production of your brain’s feel good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Regular exercise can increase self-confidence, relax you, and lower symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. We obviously don’t have access to our gyms currently, but there are some great FREE online options. So many people and business are giving free classes to try, maybe try something you’ve never done before. I personally need to get outside for walks every day, nature settles my mind and makes me feel good overall. When I go for walks, and often even in the house, I have 2.5 pound ankle weights that I strap on for extra resistance. The extra weight is great for strengthening, muscle tone and improves bone density, without even thinking about it, win win. I also have a daily set of exercises that I do, sit ups, push ups, and burpees, that is part of a friendly challenge with some friends.
5. Plenty of Sleep. How long we sleep is important, but so is the quality of our sleep. There are so many different issues people have with sleep, like, having a hard time falling asleep, waking in the middle of the night, not sleeping enough, poor quality sleep, and not feeling rested upon waking. Sleep is so important on so many different levels. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repair of your blood vessels and heart. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, weight gain and obesity, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke and has been shown to impair immune function. Sleep helps remove toxins from your brain that build up while you’re awake.
On the flip side, good sleep can improve problem solving skills, enhance memory performance of both children and adults, regulate hormones and support cortisol/stress levels, improve speed, accuracy, reaction times in athletic performance and improve mental well being.
It really seems that sleep touches all areas of health and wellness. One of the most important factors for affecting sleep is your ‘sleep routine’. Your body works like a clock and needs a routine to stay on track. Setting up a sleep routine for you and your family is so important. It should include, going to bed at the same time every night, maintaining the same habits around bed such as having a bath before, or a cup of tea, reading a book, or meditating. You should not be doing work while in bed or have devices that stimulate your brain prior to sleep as it can be difficult to turn your thought process and brain off.
[Great supplement choices for sleep include Magnesium, GABA, L-theanine and Melatonin].
6. Healthy Eating Choices. When you get stressed, the body releases the hormones cortisol, insulin, and ghrelin which all increase cravings for unhealthy foods. If stress continues, these hormones remain elevated and unhealthy eating can get out of control and lead to weight gain and obesity. Fortunately, knowing which foods to load up on, and which ones to skip, can help you get your stress levels under control. An easy one to start with for making a healthy choice is water. Even mild hydration can increase cortisol levels leading to increased stress. The average woman needs about 2.7 litres of water per day, and the average man needs about 3.7 litres daily. Incorporating omega-3 fatty acids may help ease depression, lower overall stress and anxiety. Some examples of these are fish such as halibut, salmon, and tuna, and other foods like avocados, nuts and seeds. Foods to avoid include refined sugars like candy and sweets, caffeine, and alcohol.
7. Optimize digestive health. Functional digestive disorders affect 35-70% of people, and women more than men. These conditions have no apparent physical cause such as infection, but result in pain, bloating and discomfort. The “gut-brain axis” can help explain how stress can cause some of these digestive issues. When a person becomes stressed it can trigger the fight-or-flight response, causing digestion to slow so the body can divert energy elsewhere to face the perceived threat. Unfortunately most of us these days we are in an ongoing state of stress, thus triggering the fight-or-flight response constantly.
Another very important fact regarding digestion is that many of your neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine (the ‘feel good’ and ‘focus’ hormones) are produced in our digestive system. We need to fuel our body with healthy foods that will improve digestive health instead of foods with high sugar and trans fats that will impair digestion.
[Great supplement choices for improving digestion include Probiotics, Inulin, Digestive Enzymes and Glutamine]
8. Organize your Space. Studies show that being organized and decluttering can leave you feeling more relaxed and less frustrated. Our brain is constantly scanning the environment around us for cues on work or home obligations. When we have chaotic surroundings our body sees this as requiring more energy and can trigger a stress response. Setting healthy limits and expectations for organizing is very important because putting too much on your plate can lead to even more stress. Prioritize and plan, and allow yourself smaller sprints of organizing time as to not overwhelm. Start small like your inbox, and junk drawer and work up to filing cabinets, full rooms and garages. I’m sure Marie Kondo has many tips to follow in her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”!
9. Socializing. One of the most effective ways of relieving stress. People who regularly engage in social interaction have increased levels of oxytocin, a hormone that helps decrease anxiety levels and activates calming responses by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. This hormone also stimulates a person to seek out further social contact and improves the sense of attachment to loved ones who are important to them. While practicing physical distancing is so important right now, social distancing is not. Reach out to family and friends, whether it be on phone or video, on a daily basis to get your boost of oxytocin to reduce stress levels.
10. Change Your Habits. So, obviously our lives have all changed, physical distancing, working from home, homeschooling the kids, or maybe you are at home alone. It’s very easy to fall into bad habits of staying in pyjamas, waking up late, eating a lot of high carb and unhealthy foods, and moving less every day. Well. it’s time to change these bad habits that you’ve fallen into. With uncertainty surrounding us, it’s difficult to stay motivated to do all the ‘right’ things. Well, nobody’s perfect, but right now is when you need to focus on your mental and physical health the most. Get your friends together and do an online fitness challenge, use a healthy eating meal plan to get you back on track, commit to a regular bedtime and wake cycle. These unhealthy habits can be easy to fall into, but today is the day you can commit to a healthy change, get support from friends, get motivated and let’s do this.
According to the KFF tracking poll1, over 45% of people have said the coronavirus pandemic has impacted their mental health, people are struggling with anxiety, panic attacks and depression. The stress of uncertainty makes people spin out of control where you feel like there’s no way back. Please use these tools to combat the overwhelm and daily stress struggles, and get back to a place of calm and healthy living in no time.