You know that high stress levels aren’t healthy. You can feel it. Instead of being relaxed and steady, you’re uptight and agitated. It’s hard to focus; it’s hard to sleep. Just Googling “stress” turns out to be, well, stressful. Unfortunately, news sources tell us that things aren’t going to let up anytime soon. So, what can we do about it?
Nowadays, no one is exempt. We’re all carrying a stress load but how we carry it makes the difference. A good stress strategy involves intentional body-wise awareness and practices. Right now, aside from wearing your mask in public, nothing could be more important to your wellbeing. Here are three suggestions to help you feel better today and mitigate the fallout long term.
Check in: Stress has its own template. Are your muscles holding a shape of tension? Drop your shoulders; unclench your hands; soften your stomach, jaw, and eyes. Slide your bones through a range of motion to refresh your energy. Shake a bit to dislodge emotional residue. Take a deep breath to reboot.
Be mindful: Your thoughts are formative. Being mindful means being responsible for what you’re thinking and saying. Remember, the message you send to self and others can either add to or subtract from the stress. Subtract worry, add hope. Replace anxiety with gratitude; grief with compassion.
Minimize exposure: You have a choice about where to put your attention. From the body’s point of view, inflammatory news is inflammation. Distressing human behavior is distressing. Combative conversations trigger fight or flight. During the next few weeks stop obsessing about politics. Keep abreast of what’s happening but don’t carry it around. Vote now and get it over with.
Developing intentional ways to manage stress is essential for both yourself and the people you care about. If you let go a bit, everyone around you lets go a bit as well. This is especially important for the young people in your life. The way you handle this current situation becomes a model for their future.
I asked several esteemed health professionals in our community to let us know what stress strategies they’re recommending. Here are their offerings.
Make sleep your top priority. You can’t make yourself sleep but you can create a routine for your mind and body to gently prepare it for sleep. One hour before sleep avoid videos and dim all of your lights including your bathroom lights. One minute of normal bathroom light exposure can reduce your melatonin by up 30 percent.
Michael B. Mantz, MD, integrative psychiatry
Perspective, perspective, perspective. I have found people are losing that all-important mental health tool as the pandemic grinds on and every day seems like Tuesday. Losing perspective can drive one into a tunnel of despair. A way to see the light to the end of the tunnel is to remember that this, too, will pass and we shall all meet again in some better place.
Michael O.L. Seabaugh, Ph.D, psychologist
My top six practices are:
1. Opening my posture and releasing any clenching.
2. Breathing low and slow into a relaxed abdomen.
3. Watching my information consumption – reading and watching inspirational or educational stuff and unplugging from the news.
4. Spending time with people in meaningful ways.
Dave Mochel, mindfulness coach, business consultant
“Schedule your worries for the first 10 minutes of your walk or workout. Unpack the heavy ones remembering you can’t carry the world in a backpack. Let them drop. With love, surrender. Then focus on something simple and beautiful in nature and engage all your senses.”
Debbie Allen, licensed clinical social worker
“During these turbulent times, I encourage people to unplug from the box and wean from the screens. Instead, they should strive purposely towards their goals; speak mindfully to themselves and others; be grateful for what they got rather than what they’re not; smile freely; sweat daily; sleep deeply; and savor sustainably sourced organic plant-based foods.”
Kevin Khalili, doctor of chiropractic, certified chiropractic extremity practitioner
Prioritize the following three practices to improve your health and ability to respond to stress:
• Daily exercise to get your body moving.
• Eat a balanced, anti-inflammatory diet with plenty of local vegetables.
• Make time for meditation or focused prayer and gratitude. It is a great way to remember the bounty we have in our lives and has been shown to increase levels of happiness.
Lizzie Clapham, naturopathic doctor
The COVID-19 virus has caused a great deal of turmoil, suffering, and death. Fortunately, we have learned a great deal about how to respond and reduce risk factors. For instance, following a low inflammation diet and adding immune supplements make a difference and at least a few ICUs are using intravenous Vitamin C, zinc, and quercetin to improve the response to treatment. It’s also important to reach within ourselves to find the strengths that can see us through. Resilience, patience, and hopefulness are healing attitudes that can be cultivated and help us do the best we can. And may the spirit of healing love be with you.
Jim Kwako, MD
In traditional Chinese medicine we say, “the root of all disease is impediment to flow.” Acupuncture is incredibly effective for releasing the obstructive nature of stress and restoring balance and flow. And acupressure, done by simply pressing on acupuncture points, is something we can all do at home. For instance, one of my favorite calming points is Spleen 6, which is located in a tender depression a few inches above the inner ankle. It can be used for many conditions, including high blood pressure, anxiety, insomnia, and depression. I also encourage everyone to keep things flowing by including practices in your daily life that make you feel nourished, centered, and balanced.