By Gretchen A. Boules, Psy.D.
It has been four weeks since we’ve had to adjust to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Each person responds differently during stressful times: thoughts and feelings run the gamut from numbness, disbelief, fear, panic, anxiety, feeling isolated, feelings of no control, thoughts that life will never go back to normal, loneliness and depression. Daily routines have been altered because of social distancing policies so the rhythm of our lives has changed.
What happens to our mind and body under stress? Stress in our lives raises our cortisol levels (stress hormone). When our cortisol levels are increased, studies have shown that our immune system can be compromised. How do we reduce our stress levels? A lot of it starts with our thoughts. We as human beings have a great ability to adapt to change. By reframing our thoughts, we can empower ourselves to stay well and find the courage to embrace this change. By thinking differently, we create new neuropathways in our brains and hence change the neurochemistry as well. When we are full of fear and anxiety, our “ fight and flight” system is awakened and takes over. Our amygdala (located in our medial temporal lobe) is activated in our brain during fight and flight. Our amygdala is involved in autonomic responses associated with fear and hormonal secretions. Your body is releasing adrenaline and cortisol and you may have an increased heart rate, have trouble sleeping. When you are in a state of hypervigilance and find it difficult to relax and think clearly. By exercising a calm mind, using positive self- talk and meditation we can gain better perspective and clarity. The goal is to deactivate the fight and flight response and hence make more sound decisions as well as have better clarity.
The following tips will help deactivate the “fight and flight” response as well as encourage physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
- In stressful times its important that we connect with others. The good news is that electronic communication has made that easy. We should make a point of connecting to a friend or loved one on a daily basis to “check in.”
- Stay close to your young children during this time and minimize the amount of negative media they hear. Help them make sense of what is going on in ways that they can understand.
- Create a new daily routine: make sure you go to bed at the same time every night and minimize the use of devices 1-2 hours before bedtime. Rise at same time every day. Take time to plan meals and find healthier choices.
- Exercise is critical. This can come in all shapes and forms depending on your interests and abilities. Long and short walks, bike ride, try a new app exercise program on your phone or try yoga. There are many yoga classes on-line to pursue depending on your ability level.
- Reading. Choose a book from your bucket list.
- Looking after your overall health: current medications filled, blood work done, etc.
- Great time to accomplish home projects: cleaning out closets or drawers, putting items in a pile to send to a charity of your choice, decorating, etc.
- Get your finances in order. With many people out of work this can be a stressful time economically. If you believe you cannot pay your mortgage or rent, or other essential bills, make sure you reach out to land lords and other institutions to let them know you are having a hard time and work on payment strategies with them.
- Journaling is a wonderful tool to release thoughts and feelings and help with positive self- talk.
- Inspirational pod casts are helpful.
- Get your garden ready for spring
- Watch a good movie that you have always wanted to see.
- Take a nap and catch up on sleep.
- Word puzzles, board games, card games and floor or table puzzles will keep your mind stimulated.
- Mindful breathing. When feeling anxious it is useful to try diaphragmatic breathing. Find a comfortable place to relax either sitting or lying down and take a deep breath through your nose, and exhale through your mouth. Place your hands on your lower abdomen and you should be able to feel your breath move. The whole idea to connect your mind and body and slow down.
- Finally, remember you can contact your mental health provider regarding telehealth sessions during the shelter in place policy.
Remember, we will all get through this challenging time together. Perhaps reframe this unfortunate, historical moment in history as a time to refocus our daily lives, be free from our daily distractions and be more intentional in our daily living. Ultimately, use this time to reassess your values and how you live your life.