Our mind is a powerful thing.
It can be a force for great and amazing feats, or it can drive us to despair.
Herb Benson, MD, in his book The Breakout Principle discusses two scenarios that cause stress:
- A struggle that is voluntary, begun by our own will
- A struggle that is involuntary, imposed by an outside force
We are in the second type of struggle, with a pandemic imposed on us involuntarily. It’s affecting us in ways we’ve never before experienced, and this uncertainty is central to our daily thoughts. It leads to hypervigilance and stress … which ultimately lead to fear, anxiety and compromised health.
This blog post is written with one goal in mind: to be of service to you at a time like this.
During periods of prolonged stress, your brain’s amygdala (the center for perception of emotion, such as fear) grows larger and neural networks to other regions of the brain are compromised. This has negative effects on your pre-frontal cortex or executive brain, responsible for higher level thinking, planning, decision making and social behavior.
In an externally imposed event like we are experiencing today, stress and fear of the unknown can negatively impact our ability to think, plan, and moderate behavior. Living in stress continuously, without learning to manage it, also negatively impacts our immune function.
Left unchecked, the stress of outside events will eventually have negative effects on our health. That’s the bad news.
Now, the good news. Here are 7 simple, no cost tips to help you stay strong during this uncertain time.
- Deep Diaphragmic Breathing
Learning to slow your breathing using the diaphragm is an essential strategy. Download the free app: The Breathing App https://apps.apple.com/us/app/the-breathing-app/id1285982210 and use it to pace your breathing. While we are in this crisis period, do this for 5 minutes when you wake up, 5 minutes anytime during the day you feel stressed, and again at bedtime.
How can this help? By pulling your body out of stress response and reversing the damaging biochemical reactions going on inside you. Your body doesn’t know the difference between a lion about to eat you and a stressor you are conjuring up in your mind. Breathing, consistently done, halts stress and builds resilience.
Go to YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1QOh-n-eus and use this or another free meditation guide. There over 1,000 studies showing the benefits of meditation. The more you do it, the more the benefits compound. You can also read scripture and ponder a verse while you breathe and relax.
- Improve Your Sleep
Focus on being in bed for 7-1/2 hours to 8 hours so you get at least 6-1/2 hours of actual sleep. Make the room as dark as possible with no device light showing anywhere. Stop looking at devices one hour before bed. Eat nothing at least 2 hours before bed so your body can restore rather than digest. If you are stressed, do breathing exercises before bed. If you wake up and can’t sleep, get out of bed, breathe for 5-10 minutes, then try falling back asleep. You can also lower the house temperature to 66-67 degrees to help lower body temperature and improve sleep.
Get out and walk 30 minutes a day (with proper social distance) - but do take not of the MCO, else get in your exercise at home. The science is clear on this: movement improves mood, resiliency, helps manage stress and aids immune function.
- Clean Up Your Fuel
Nothing major here. Cut down on sugar, alcohol and foods that spike blood glucose levels, like processed foods in bags and boxes. Hydrate well. Basic advice to strengthen you. You may know it already. But are you doing it?
Read a quick article here by the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, on how to boost your immune function with supplements, food and water – https://health.clevelandclinic.org/3-vitamins-best-boosting-immunity/
- Manage Your Self-Talk
The goal here is to get you out of stress response by getting you out of negative self-talk.
Dr Russ Harris pioneered a simple tool to help reframe your self-talk that has helped a lot of people. If you are interested, go to this link and read a chapter in his book that explains it all. https://www.actmindfully.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Chapter-1-of-2nd-edition-ACT-MAde-Simple.pdf The big idea is to learn to recognize a thought pattern, name it, recognize it’s not helpful right in this moment to your health or future goals, and then let it go.
The real power in these 7 tips comes when you stack them and compound the benefits of each. The overriding goal is to get your nervous system and biology working for you, rather than against you.