Julie Wendt, MS, CNS, LDN | Mar 22, 2021

Coping With Covid-19

Many people have started to experience snippets of normalcy as the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel becomes visible. How can we get ready to greet our post-COVID world? Well first we need to address the stress and anxiety that we have been carrying for much of the last year. The state of mental health during the pandemic has taken a hit across the country and the globe. The National Academy of Sciences reports an increase in depression among college students of up to 98% more than the prior year and identifies a reduction in physical activity as the leading risk factor (https://www.pnas.org/content/118/9/e2016632118). This points to the obvious summary of the last year- it’s been a rough one. And while we know there’s never been a year like 2020, we also know that there are many things that we can do to help cope with these difficult times to set us up for life after the global pandemic.

Top 5 Lifestyle Habits To Leave COVID Stress Behind You:
1. Be Active
2. Eat Well
3. Breathe
4. Sleep
5. Connect

1. Be Active

Move your body to elevate your mood:

It's no secret that we all should be active daily. From maintaining mobility and reducing injury to improving mental health, there are countless benefits of physical activity. The physical effects of stress can manifest in a number of different ways, such as headaches, insomnia, anxiety, weight gain, muscle aches and pains, crankiness, and difficulty focusing. While removing all stress from our lives isn't possible, managing stress can help you avoid the negative symptoms. One of the best forms of stress management is exercise. Doing something physical helps get your mind and body out of the fight or flight stress response, so your body feels better. Virtually any form of exercise or movement can increase your fitness level while decreasing your stress. The most important thing is to pick an activity that you enjoy!
- For a mind-body exercise, try yoga, Pilates, or Tai Chi.
- For structured activity, try running, biking, interval training, or strengthening exercises.
- Unstructured activities like yard work, washing the car, gardening, and organizing or cleaning your home are also great ways to get moving.

2. Eat Well

Eat to Feel Good:

When feeling stressed, it's not uncommon to turn to unhealthy food. Unfortunately, seeking foods high in calories and low in nutrients only makes matters worse. Instead of stress eating, you can eat to reduce stress by choosing vitamin-rich, anti-inflammatory foods such as:
- Folate-rich: Leafy greens contain folate, a vitamin that helps produce the feel-good brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine. Asparagus, broccoli, citrus fruit, Brussels sprouts, and garbanzo beans also contain folate.
- Healthy fats: Salmon, flax, and chia are seeds containing omega-3 fats, which have been shown to combat the stress hormone cortisol.
- Antioxidant: Blueberries contain antioxidants and help produce the stress-fighting chemical dopamine.

3. Breathe

Breathe like your life depends on it:

There is one sure-fire way to stop stress in its tracks, breathing! We tend to breathe shallowly throughout the day, and stress can naturally make that breathing quicker and even more shallow. Unfortunately, shallow breathing can then feed into our stress response and increase our feelings of stress. However, when we take a moment to breathe more deeply, fully utilizing our lung capacity, our entire physiology changes. When you breathe deeply, your brain responds by sending the body a message to calm down and relax.

Here’s the basic procedure for diaphragmatic breathing:
1. First, sit or lie in a comfortable position with your shoulders relaxed
2. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
3. Inhale through your nose for about two-four seconds. You should experience the air moving through your nostrils into your abdomen, making your stomach expand. During this type of breathing, make sure your stomach is moving outward while your chest remains relatively still.
4. Purse your lips, as if you’re about to blow out a candle, and press gently on your stomach as you exhale slowly for about two-four seconds.

Repeat these steps several times for the best results.

Once you’ve mastered belly breathing, you can try a more advanced technique, such as 4-7-8 breathing where you breath in through your nose for a count of 4 and hold for a count of 7 and then breath out through your mouth for a count of 9. These are my favorite simple breaths because most people can master them quickly and they instantly reduce stress.

4. Rest

Get Your Beauty Rest:

Sleep is a crucial aspect of stress management and physical self-care. Adults need anywhere from 7-9 hours each night. Stress can be the cause of troubled sleep. However, the lack of sleep often leads to increased stress levels. To ensure a good night's rest, try creating a bedtime routine to help signal your body, it's time to wind down. Try to go to sleep and wake at the same time each day, even on weekends.

Some relaxing activities you may want to try: 
- Stretching
- Reading
- Mediating
- Taking a hot bath
- Drinking a cup of warm tea

Try to avoid using electronics 30 minutes before sleep and resist the urge to scroll through social media or check work emails. Lastly, avoid vigorous activity, large meals, and caffeine close to bedtime. 

5. Connect

Connect with friends and family:

Social health refers to your relationships and the connections you have with the people in your life. Out of necessity, we’ve evolved into social beings. Cooperation with one another enhanced our ability to survive under harsh environmental circumstances and our nervous system feels better when we feel connected. Deep connections to others is a vital aspect of well-being. The best way to cultivate and maintain close relationships is to put time and energy into building your relationships with others. We all have different social needs, meaning this isn’t a set amount of time we require social interaction to benefit. Unfortunately, it's easy to neglect your relationships when life gets busy, and before you know it, stress and loneliness can creep in. Make time for meaningful connections where you can share your concerns and reassure your nervous system that you do have a tribe to look after you!

We hope these tips improve your ability to handle stress and enjoy the sweetness of all the common daily things we didn’t know we would miss until we lost them. #BeWell.

If you are interested in more professional nutritional guidance, schedule a consultation with our licensed nutritionist, Julie Wendt, MS, CNS, LDN

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