Have pandemic related stressors been elevating your anxiety and causing feelings of isolation? You’re not alone. From fear of catching the COVID-19 virus to missing important activities and milestones due to social distancing, many of us may have felt the effects of heartbreak, which is something that concerns me greatly as a cardiologist and trained psychotherapist. Social distancing impacts both our emotional health and physical health, and I believe it has contributed to a “silent pandemic” of heartbreak that can be a real problem if left unchecked.
Here’s What You Can Do About It
While there’s no magic solution that can remove all of the pandemic induced stress and heartache we may be feeling during this time, there are certain practices you can integrate into your daily routine to safely manage stress and regain some of those feelings that human interactions give us.
1. Breathe Deeply
Breathing is related to laughing and crying which frees up an overcharged sympathetic nervous system, supports heart rate variability and has an overall calming effect on your mood. One of my favorite techniques is alternate nostril breathing. You begin by taking a deep breath in and out through your nose. Next, use your right thumb to close your right nostril and inhale slowly through your left nostril. Then, close both nostrils and hold your breath for a moment. Now, open your right nostril and breathe out slowly. Repeat the same exercise with your left nostril, and alternate between both nostrils to destress.
2. Virtually Connect
Although we may not be able to connect in-person, we can connect with family and friends virtually. I refer to it as connecting at the “heart level.” Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp and other similar applications have made it much easier to keep up in touch, and one of the positive reframes to take away from the coronavirus is how technology is working to bring us closer together. Many people are hosting virtual games nights with friends, talent shows with the children and family dinners.
3. Get in Gear
Do you want a powerful mood boost? Exercise will offer just that! When you exercise, it releases stress from your muscles, reduces your levels of cortisol (a.k.a. the “stress hormone”) and boosts your levels of feel-good endorphins. Some studies have shown that aerobic exercise is a quicker mood elevator than an antidepressant.
4. Ground Yourself… Literally
Take a step outside and be one with the Earth – its surface contains free electrons that are continually replenished through solar radiation and lightning strikes. Your body naturally absorbs those particles when you make physical contact with the ground, helping to keep your body’s innate electrical circuitry properly balanced. This helps to lower stress and increase calmness in the body by moderating heart rate variability, nervous system activity and stress hormone secretion. Grounding also helps to promote normal blood pressure, so if conditions allow, just stand outside walk barefoot. If you aren’t able to get outside, “get back to nature” with yourself by practicing deep breathing, meditation, yoga, Qigong or Tai Chi. These practices not only lower stress levels in the body but also allow you to cope more easily with daily stressors that you confront throughout the day.
5. Supplement With Ashwagandha
This nutrient is part of a group of herbs called adaptogens that help your body adapt to stress and stabilize its stress feedback loop, so it releases less cortisol. I’ve been taking it myself for more than 20 years, and it has made an enormous difference in my stress levels. Participants in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study saw a reduction in their serum cortisol levels, anxiousness, fatigue and irritability brought on by stress within two months of using Sensoril Ashwagandha. Participants also experienced an improvement in sleep quality, physical mobility, mood and concentration, all of which can positively impact emotional well-being and heart health – a big reason as to why I added it to my Omega Q Plus ULTRA supplement formula, in addition to other top-recommended nutrients to support your heart and overall health.
6. Eliminate Sugary Foods
Rather than stress eating cookies, cakes and other sugary treats this holiday, try opting for foods with DHA omega-3 fatty acids. This nutrient is a powerful mood-booster that builds receptors for the “feel-good hormone” serotonin, and it can be found in foods like wild-caught salmon, flaxseeds, nuts and DHA-fortified eggs. If you really need a treat, give dark chocolate a try – it contains a mood-boosting biochemical called phenylethylamine, which is the same chemical that causes the euphoric feeling we have when we are in love.
Better times are right around the bend, but for now, if we take this time to integrate some additional self-care habits that make us more conscious about our physical and mental health, we’ll come out of this pandemic even better than before.