You’ve heard it. You get it. Our modern world is a stressful place to be, even without a global pandemic.
I see patients every day dealing with symptoms related to their stress – from pain to digestive symptoms to sleep issues. COVID-19 has significantly ratcheted up the stress levels, creating symptoms they had not experienced before.
According Dr. Sonia Lupien, the director of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress, all stressors have something in common. Her research has shown that for a situation to be stressful it must have specific criteria:
- Novelty: something new, that we haven’t experienced before
- Unpredictability: something we had no way of knowing would occur
- Threat to the ego: our safety or competence as a person is threatened
- Sense of control: we feel we have little control over the situation
So we can see why COVID-19 is the perfect soup to multiply stress levels in our society – it hits the mark on all 4 criteria.
But research is also clear about the things we can do to minimize the most harmful effects of stress.
Here are the most important steps you can take to help your body deal with stress:
In fact, a randomized controlled trial showed that depressed adults who took part in aerobic exercise improved as much as those treated with Zoloft (a commonly prescribed antidepressant).
We have evolved to move and exercise frequently to the point where our brain chemistry is adversely affected when we don’t and improved when we do.
Make sure to find forms of exercise that you enjoy doing! If you hate running, don’t do it – try walking, biking, swimming, tennis, taking the stairs, jumping, skipping…
2. DIET – as tempting as it is, now is NOT the time to crawl under your covers and binge on ice cream. Processed foods tend to be high in ingredients that cause cortisol (a stress hormone) to increase.
Just as important, now is not the best time to choose to start a new diet. Calorie restrictive diets have also been shown to increase cortisol levels, which may have the counter-productive result of causing you to actually RETAIN more fat.
Focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods, and a large variety of vegetables (eat the rainbow!) if possible to ensure you are getting the appropriate macro- and micronutrients to allow your body to process the additional stress hormones.
And if you’re struggling to implement these changes, let’s talk about the best ways to facilitate behavior change in order to make the biggest difference for your health.
3. SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP – There are a lot of talented professionals who have spent their entire careers teaching people the tools they need to deal with stressful situations. Take advantage of their knowledge!
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be an effective treatment for stress & anxiety, among other issues.
Acupuncture has been shown to have significant effects on stress, anxiety and depression. And Chinese herbs have been used for thousands of years to treat a wide range of health issues including stress, depression and anxiety.
Interview potential therapists, acupuncturists and mental health professionals before working with them if possible to see if it will be a good fit. Take advantage of free acupuncture consultations if that is an option.
Stress, anxiety and depression are reaching levels we may have never seen before due to the pandemic, but we are also living in a time when we know more about how to effectively treat stress without the use of pharmaceuticals. Optimize your diet, start exercising and reach out if I can be of any assistance to you or your loved ones.