Fear of the unknown and chaos (such as that triggered by COVID-19) can create stress and provoke unwanted reflexes emanating from our nervous system and extending throughout our bodies. When we are stressed, our bodies release neurohumoral and inflammatory chemicals such as cortisol. This weakens our bodies’ defense mechanisms and can make us more susceptible to disease and infection such as COVID-19.
The only thing we have to fear is … fear itself. — Franklin D. Roosevelt
In recent weeks, our lives have been turned upside down. People have lost their jobs, and our social lives have been disrupted. We are no longer attending routine social engagements or going to our favorite restaurants. We are unable to maintain connections with friends and relatives and, in my case, patients.
In my book You’re Old,I provide an acronym of five traits I have observed in individuals who have lived long, healthy lives. This acronym is GRACE, and it basically translates into resilience. The individuals who make it through life and through difficult, uncontrollable situations with positivity also seem to have the wherewithal to address their specific problems and thrive in spite of it all.
In my other book The Power of 5,I provide recommendations for longevity and to aid in remaining youthful. All five of the recommendations within also serve to reduce our susceptibility to the coronavirus. They also could affect the seriousness of our symptoms if we were to contract the virus.
Take Steps toward Managing Stress
This blog addresses managing Stress (one of the Power of 5 elements) as an essential element to recognize in disease mitigation. My recommendations provide ways to improve health while helping to reduce the risk of developing infections, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases.
It is important that we take an active role in the implementation of stress reduction techniques in our own lives. The five components will not find you and force themselves upon you. As I explain with each component of the Power of 5, to be successful one must intentionally incorporate each element.
The following are a few of the many action steps you can implement to reduce your stress right now.
Avoid the Stress
One thing I have learned from martial arts and self defense is that avoiding the attack is the first and best option to reduce risk of confrontation, attack and injury. If there are people or activities that create stress, avoid them or figure out how to make the best of the situation. As an example, you may not like your immediate supervisor but for right now it may be best to figure out a way to tolerate or reduce the friction.
Learn to Meditate/Relax and Practice Regularly
Across society and, more recently, in business there has been a recent recognition of the ways stress has a stranglehold on our workforce. There are great benefits to individuals and corporations working toward managing stress in the workforce. The same holds true in our families and social lives as well. Corporations have structured time and space for employees to meditate or take short power naps. Work on making similar breaks part of your daily routine.
Stay Informed—Don’t Obsess
News and social media are available 24/7, but the information does not change every second. “Breaking News” banners and other “immediate” information may trigger unwanted activity in our brains. This ultimately stimulates our fight or flight stress mechanism. Avoid this by limiting news overload.
Be Grateful and Acknowledge Gratitude
There is clear evidence regarding the ways expressing gratitude benefits our health. I recommend you do so on a regular basis. Even if you have to force yourself to develop this as a new habit, it provides amazing benefits.
It is recommended that we socially isolate ourselves at this time. But this does not mean we have to lose our connections. Most of us have telephones, smart phones, and other devices which allow us to maintain connections. Now that some of us are not working, we may even have more time to connect.
Maintain Healthy Habits
Clearly we have to take good care of ourselves all the time. Now it is even more important to make the effort by intentionally incorporating the three other elements of the Power of 5: Avoiding Sweets (or making healthy choices) and getting proper amounts of Sleep and Sweat (exercise).
Write Things Down
Now is an excellent time to consider keeping a journal. Keeping track of experiences, activities and emotions can provide significant benefits especially when we have a chance to look back.
I sincerely hope you find my recommendations helpful for managing stress. Please be patient as it takes time and perseverance to make these changes. Take on one element at a time, or as my wife, Melissa, reminds me, “Take slow and steady baby steps.”
To a Long and Healthy Life,
David Bernstein MD