Anxiety and depression levels have skyrocketed during COVID-19, and data everywhere is suggesting the actual intensity of the pandemic’s collateral damage.
A recent poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) shows over half (53%) of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the virus.
“Stress takes a toll on our health both physically and mentally,” says Karen Malkin, private health coach and regular guest on ESPN Sports Medicine Weekly Radio.
“The immune system in particular is impacted by the stress response in complex ways and can be both stimulated and suppressed by different branches of the cascade. With that in mind, it’s important that we do our best to support the immune system in any way we can to keep it strong.”
Malkin is known for her work with high-profile names in the sports industry. She has channeled her passion to help clients build healthy habits, and specializes in brain health, weight loss. nutrition, and more.
She is one of the first National Board Certified Integrative Health Coach in the country, opening her practice in 2009 and serving as advisory on numerous boards including the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern Medicine; Gardeneers, an organization which sustains and provides curriculum for Chicago Public Schools; and Spiral Sun Ventures, a mission-based capital fund investing in health and wellness products.
We asked for her 5 top tips to cope with depression during these times, and here is what she said:
Use food as medicine. Good health starts with what’s on your fork! Aim for at least 5 servings of vegetables each day and 2-3 servings of fruit. Fueling your body with high quality protein sources, healthy fats and phytochemicals in disease-fighting fruits and vegetables will help the body and immune system stay strong through this pandemic.
Move your body. Physical activity has been demonstrated to reduce inflammatory cytokines as well as the risk for a number of chronic health conditions, including anxiety and depression. Exercise helps us cope with stress and improves resiliency, too.
Get adequate sleep. Compromised sleep is correlated with increases in viral infections, depression, and overall mortality. Poor sleep erodes mental health and dramatically increases the risk for mood disorders. Insomnia can be a strong predictive factor for mood disorders as well. Healthy sleep patterns support healthy immune function and mood. Additionally, quality sleep ensures the secretion of melatonin, a molecule which may play a vital role in reducing coronavirus severity.
Be mindful. Mind-body practices nurture the parasympathetic nervous system part of our autonomic nervous system and allows us to get out of fight-flight mode and into a physiologic relaxed state. Examples include: guided imagery, mindfulness, walking or mantra meditation, tapping, and breathwork. Sit and be with uncertain feelings while still doing what needs to be done to take care of yourself.
Practice gratitude. Acknowledge the good in your life and focus on the positive rather than fixating on the aspects we’re unable to control. Research out of the University of California, Riverside, posits that a gratitude practice can increase subjective well-being by ~40%.
Listen to your body, take care of yourself, surround yourself with loved ones (even if it has to be virtually!) and do the best you can every day.