MITIGATING STRESS IN ANXIETY-PROVOKING TIMES
Some people have anxiety around wearing masks. Many front line workers like teachers are having to get used to wearing them for several hours, like surgeons have had to for the last 60 years. I found this free downloadable class by Feldenkrais practitioner Fariya Doctor on how to "Breathe With Ease In a Mask" super helpful. I also think it's important to reframe "having to wear a mask" as an important way to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our community. Washable "Designer face wear" has become fashionable and fun. They add mystery while removing the worry about having something stuck in our teeth or nose!
I took our initial "lock down" as an excuse to finally take Yale University's free Coursera course on The Science of Well-Being with my family. I still use the ReWi app daily to acknowledge my habits that promote happiness.
I also took Yale's class on Understanding Medical Research: Your Facebook Friend is Wrong. I highly recommend trying this out, especially as the current pandemic has resulted in a rush of new research, much of it published without peer review on preprint servers.
Skillshare is online learning community that offers free courses like cooking skills, interior design, and caring for your houseplants, that focus on completing a project rather than listening to lectures.
Taking Screen Breaks
Escaping our reality by reading someone else's story can be so therapeutic during difficult times like these. Someday Books is a fantastic little local bookstore that offers online searching and ordering, plus free curb-side pickup and within Niagara delivery.
There is so much research on how getting outside and connecting to nature decreases our stress levels that they've been collected into books that I totally geek out on. Here in Canada, it's important to use appropriate outerwear so that the weather doesn't keep us from enjoying the outdoors!
Eating real food
Avoiding processed foods, which have been shown to increase anxiety, supports our immune and mental health. I encourage my patients to eat as much whole foods, meaning food without labels, as possible.
Reducing sugar consumption, which has also been linked to anxiety and immune system impairment, will additionally help us mitigate stress during this time.
This is all easier to do if we make a weekly meal plan & then order the ingredients needed for those recipes from our grocery store online. Ordering online can reduce stress by saving us time, allowing us to avoid crowds and lines, and also give us the opportunity to read ingredient lists and nutritional information without holding anyone up or requiring a magnifying glass while in the store!
I try to move my body in a way I enjoy every day, and encourage my patients to do the same. Research continually validates what we all feel intuitively; physical activity is effective at improving anxiety and stress-related issues.
We can still support local studios and feel part of their communities while participating in their classes virtually. Lost n Found Yoga is filming classes taken with students at the studio, so I'm purchasing with my class pass and feeling connected to my yoga buddies even though I'm choosing not to attend live.
Glo offers thousands of online exercise classes, including curated collections for increasing focus when dealing with distractions (of say, working from home). After their free trial, get unlimited access for a monthly fee about the price of one drop in class at a studio. Classpass offers hundreds of classes for free.
Connecting with Our Peeps
One of the "gifts of COVID-19" has been the appreciation of the importance of social connections to our mental well-being; we will never take being with people for granted again!
Throughout this time of physical distancing, I've been consistent with scheduling distanced bike rides, hikes, or neighbourhood walks with a friend or family member throughout the week, and this habit has kept me grounded.
It's also important to plan phone, FaceTime, or Zoom calls with loved ones that can't be together while spaced apart!
Scheduling Daily Relaxation Techniques
Apps with notifications make it easy to book 5-10 mins to focus on breath work or meditation, to switch off our stress response by turning on our relaxation response. I've mentioned various meditation apps in other blog articles; my new personal favourite is Mindfulness Breathing, a free app which guides me through alternate nostril breathing, a relaxation technique that has been shown in studies to reduce blood pressure and heart rate. The app allows me to set the amount of reps, time count of my inhale and exhale, and what time of day to be reminded to breathe.
Gratitude & Savouring
Focusing on the moment we're in and experiencing gratitude can boost our mood and lower our stress levels in many ways.
Savouring is stepping out of our experience to reflect on it and appreciate it while it's happening. I used to think that stopping to take a picture would take me out of that moment, but I've learned that it actually can help me savour an experience by allowing me to remember what I'm thankful for.
Especially during such challenging times, it can be helpful to take a moment everyday to appreciate nature, ourselves, and the life we have.
Teas, amino acids, and even probiotics can help
Adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha have been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety and stress, while lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Rhodiola demonstrated a reduction in anxiety, stress, anger, confusion and depression after just 2 weeks of supplementation, with significant improvements in mood.
L-theanine is an amino acid naturally found in green tea. Research has shown that L-theanine can increase levels of feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and GABA in the brain. The actions of L-theanine lead to an increase in alpha-brain waves within 30 minutes of ingestion, to create a calm yet focused state. Clinical trials have confirmed that, in people given supplemental L-theanine, these effects can reduce anxiety and improve stress markers such as heart rate and blood pressure.
Certain strains of probiotics have been shown to improve anxiety and depression, perceived stress, and coping.
Talk to your health care provider to determine if any of these supplement strategies are appropriate for you.
* The information in this article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. It is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your health care provider. Please review linked references for scientific support of any claims made.