The COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of stress, worry, fear, and uncertainty, but secondary effects around mitigation efforts, economic disruption, and social unrest added additional stressors. In normal times, a common element of stress and anxiety reduction is to avoid the stressors. However, there is not an escape or end date to the pandemic policies. Here are some common ways to reduce and manage stress.
Physical activity and movement are very effective ways at reducing stress. Stress impacts the body and mind in a number of ways, such as increasing your heart rate, tension in muscles, and making it difficult to focus on tasks at hand. Physical activity makes it easier for you to relax and release tension. It also helps us improve our moods and improves our sleep quality. People who exercise regularly tend to feel less anxious and more positive about themselves, and when the body feels good the mind follows. Consider making time for a trip to Shanks Health and Wellness Center for 30–60 minutes of exercise and trying one of the YeoFit classes. If you don’t have time for formal exercise, find other ways to get more movement throughout the day. Low and high intensity physical activity will both do the trick. Try not to exercise too late in the day as it can be disruptive to sleep.
A balanced diet is not just about a healthy body but also a healthy mind. It reduces the effects of stress, builds a healthy immune system, levels our moods, and lowers blood pressure—which is also a manifestation of stress. Unhealthy diets have the opposite effect. Medical professionals have identified several nutrients that lessen the effect of stress on the body and mind. Aim for foods that are high in vitamin C, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Yoga: Another form of exercise but great for relaxation. The best ones for stress entail slow movement, stretching, and deep breathing, which reduces stress and anxiety. Slow movement and deep breathing help slow your heart rate and promote calm. Stretching helps offset muscle tension, which is one of the manifestations of stress. If you can’t find a class, there are videos on YouTube with guided yoga workouts.
Meditation: Find a quiet place, get comfortable, focus your attention on the present time, and let your thoughts come and go without judgement. Meditation has been used for thousands of years to lower stress, anxiety, and even chronic pain.
Deep Breathing: Practicing deep breathing turns on your body’s natural ability to relax. Inhale and exhale slowly, about four seconds for breathing in and out. Place one hand on your belly and another on your chest. The goal is to get your belly to rise more than your chest. Doing this for five to 10 minutes helps calm the body and relax. This can be improved by coupling it with calming music that does not have any lyrics.
Laughter: When you laugh, your body releases “feel-good” hormones that help offset negative emotions. It improves the immune system, lessens pain, and improves mood for long periods of time.