There’s no denying it. You are stressed out. We all are.
The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on each of us in myriad ways. A lot of folks have lost their job or know somebody who has. Many people in our area are working long hours donning PPE as essential workers. Families are mostly cooped up at home watching tragic TV news reports and reading negative newspaper headlines, with limited access to the healthy foods and rigorous fitness regimens we enjoyed as recently as early March.
Most discouraging of all, we’re missing our friends, families and countless milestones.
And all of that is piled on top of our already stressed lives. One pre-pandemic study by the American Psychological Association found that nearly 1 in 4 Americans feel highly stressed.
Our stress is having a significant effect on our mental health and physical well-being. Don’t get us wrong, stress can be a great stimulant and motivator, but too much of it drains our energy, keeps us up at night, causes weight gain and sexual dysfunction, and contributes to high blood pressure. It also can impact our relationships with family and friends, given our sometimes less-than-pleasant demeanor due to cabin fever or reduced social interaction during the pandemic.
What can we do? As the pandemic continues to unfold over the summer, there are a number of steps we can take to reduce our stress:
Eat healthy foods. While we discussed the benefits of eating healthily on your immune system in a previous column, each of those recommendations can actually do wonders for managing your stress. By supporting our body with a balanced and nutritious diet and consuming more brain foods – for instance, polyunsaturated fats like fish oil and sunflower oil that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids – we can strengthen the nervous system and brain.
Step away from the computer and phone and connect with the earth. Several studies have shown us that hours upon hours of screen time is detrimental to our stress levels, anxiety, sleep patterns and mental health. Couple this with the barrage of bad news from the global pandemic, and we have a tougher situation. We recommend taking time every day to step away from screens, whether it’s the big flat screen in the living room or the little gadget buzzing in our hands. In those moments, find time to relax, meditate, walk around the block, or try “earthing,” also known as grounding. This is a simple technique to connect you to the earth by either laying down on the grass or removing your shoes and going barefoot for about 20 minutes. Many people say they notice a sense of calmness and make it a daily routine to reduce stress.
Exercise. Until gyms reopen, this may be the most difficult thing to work on. Many people have lost access to their go-to gym or fitness classes, but there are plenty of exercises that can be done in the comfort of your home or right outside the door. Virtual yoga sessions, workout classics like sit-ups and push-ups, or a simple 30-minute walk or bike ride (while wearing a mask when necessary) all can reduce stress through the stimulation of your brain. Keep moving to boost energy, burn fat and promote sleep.
Supplements and other natural remedies. While there’s no magic pill that can reduce your stress, sometimes supplements can help us get over the hump of reducing anxiety and help us relax. Given the importance of sleep to managing stress, taking melatonin, lavender, or CBD oil may help you fall asleep after a long day of working from home. Because stress can impact our immune system, supplements like vitamin C, zinc, elderberry, andrographis and astragalus can give our immune system the support it needs during the pandemic.
Be social, safely. While this can be a challenge as we keep our distance for health reasons, building and maintaining a supportive social network of friends and family can help us cope. Calling a friend after a rough day, conversing with a friendly neighbor during your walk and video chatting with family are great ways to de-stress. People who will lend an ear or a virtual shoulder to lean on can support us and help alleviate our anxieties. If you are suffering from severe anxiety or depression, seek advice or treatment from a health care professional.
Remember, we are all in this fight together. We hope that these tips can help you take a step back, relax, breathe and face this challenge head on.
Gary Kracoff has a degree in naturopathic medicine and is a registered pharmacist and John Walczyk is a compounding pharmacist at Johnson Compounding & Wellness in Waltham, Mass. For more information, visit www.naturalcompounder.com. Readers with questions about natural or homeopathic medicine, compounded medications, or health in general can e-mail [email protected] or call 781-893-3870.