Stressed out during the COVID-19 pandemic? This can help.
How are you dealing with stress these days? If you’re like most of us, 2+ months of self-quarantining, potential job loss, financial and economic worries, and concerns over you, or someone you love, getting sick with COVID-19 have taken their toll on your sanity.
Please know, you are NOT alone. And not only is there a way to melt away your stress and anxiety…it’s FREE. But, more on this in a minute.
Even though a light is finally starting to shine at the end of this very dark and challenging tunnel, the stress and anxiety surrounding this global pandemic could still be something you experience for many months to come.
That’s why there are many reasons you should take action to lessen some of this pent-up stress, today.
As you probably know, long-term unresolved stress can have huge consequences on your health. Irritability, fatigue, insomnia/poor sleep, increased risk of infections/illness, high blood pressure, memory problems, and weight gain are just a few of the ramifications of unchecked, chronic or long-term stress.
These physical responses are all thanks to the hormone cortisol, which is produced by the adrenal glands in times of stress. Cortisol is actually designed to be a lifesaver. Together with adrenaline, cortisol mobilizes your body for fight or flight during episodes of high stress or imminent danger.
Think, being chased by a lion…or trying to escape from a burning building.
When in fight or flight mode, adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.
All of these changes are to ensure you have the mental and physical resources to act fast and get yourself out of danger. And, once you’re out of danger, ideally those hormones fall back to normal levels.
Because, cortisol is not something you want hanging around in your bloodstream for weeks or months at a time. It also suppresses your digestive and immune systems as a part of this protective response…something that’s helpful short-term. But, quite obviously, isn’t something you want long-term.
Long-term high levels of cortisol also increase your risk of insomnia, heart disease, depression, obesity, skin problems, and memory loss.
In fact, recent research shows just how much stress can hinder decision making and memory.
Stress & Brain Function
A study out of Stanford University found that stress can affect the ability to make informed decisions because it prevents you from being able to use cognitive systems and memories to form those decisions. As a result, it prevents you from being able to plan ahead and solve problems quickly and effectively.1
The researchers conducted an interesting experiment that allowed them to come to these conclusions. Using MRIs, they monitored participants’ brain activity as they walked through “virtual towns.” Once they became familiar with various routes throughout the towns, they were told to find their way to a final location.
However, certain participants were warned that they would receive a random mild electrical shock at some point during the journey—the stressor.
The participants who didn’t have to worry about getting shocked tended to envision and take routes and new shortcuts based on what they learned and remembered from their prior “journeys.” But the stressed participants who worried about getting shocked tended to rely on familiar paths and didn’t use any of what they learned or memorized about the routes to get to their destination quickly and efficiently.
According to the MRIs, the stressed people were less likely to have an activated hippocampus—the part of the brain that would have “lit up” if they were trying to recall and review previous journeys.
In conclusion, the researchers wrote that this study provided, “insight into why and how stress can alter planning and foster inefficient behavior.”
The Best & Cheapest Stress Buster
No, not a beer. Or a glass of wine. Research shows that alcohol consumption, in the U.S., since the COVID-19 pandemic began, is up 55%. So, I’m sure a lot of people would admit to dealing with their COVID-19-related stress and anxiety in some less-than-beneficial ways: alcohol, or perhaps even drugs or prescription medications.
But truly, the very best therapy for reducing the physical and emotional effects of stress is not only 100% healthy, it’s free!
And it’s something everyone should be doing anyway…regardless of the pandemic status. And that’s exercise.
Of course, it’s easy to avoid exercising, especially now, when you might be feeling “stuck” at home with a case of the “blahs” or like you’re in an energy deficit. That’s totally natural. Plus, most gym are still closed, which makes motivation (or lack thereof) a big factor as well.
But, consider this: Every 30 minutes of exercise neutralizes 12 hours of stress!
So, I’m not suggesting you adopt strenuous hours-long workouts. You don’t need weights to lift or fancy running shoes. All you need to do is head outside for 30 minutes of walking, jogging, or riding a bike.
If you ARE feeling creative and energetic, you might come up with your own HIIT (high-intensity interval training) routine that includes short, intense bursts of activity, followed by an equal amount of rest time, using fun and challenging movements like skipping rope, jumping jacks, sprints, air squats, pushups, or walking lunges.
Fortunately, much of the country is finally getting much needed sunshine while enjoying the warmer weather, so it’s the perfect time to take advantage of the great outdoors.
If you have weights, add in a few minutes of resistance training too. Building muscle helps you burn more calories, even at rest. Or alternate between aerobic and resistance training—30 minutes of cardio on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and weights on Tuesday and Thursday.
When it comes to relieving chronic stress, exercise also revs up the production of anti-stress neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine that are important to your mood, memory, and ability to learn. Likewise, physical activity helps you maintain a healthy weight, improves circulation, and, research shows it significantly lowers your risk of seven types of cancer.2
There is truly no downside to exercise. Bodies are built and designed to move, and activity is what gets your blood, brain neurotransmitters, and body systems pumping and working at peak efficacy. Physical activity is especially important now, when stress seems to be affecting everyone to some degree.
Finally, if anxiety or stress are keeping you up at night, consider taking a calming, natural supplement to help you get the rest your need. Sleep Solution Plus from Newport Natural Health is a great option with safe, effective, clinically studied ingredients all shown to help melt away stress so you can fall asleep quickly, sleep soundly throughout the night, and wake up clear and refreshed—never groggy.
It may feel like the pandemic-related stay-at-home orders, economic downturn, and related stress will last forever—but they won’t. But, for now, I encourage you to make taking care of yourself a priority so that the mental health challenges you’re experiencing today don’t linger for months and years to come.
- Brown TI, et al. Stress disrupts human hippocampal-prefrontal function during prospective spatial navigation and hinders flexible behavior. Curr Biol. 2020 Mar 30. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.03.006. [Epub ahead of print] Last accessed May 6, 2020.
- Matthews C, et al. Amount and intensity of leisure-time physical activity and lower cancer risk. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2020 Mar 1;38(7):686-97. Last accessed May 6, 2020.