As a practicing sports chiropractor I am used to dolling out advice. However, I don’t like telling people what to do. I prefer to provide my patients with information and options so they can make an informed decision for themselves. Instead of telling a patient what to do I like to tell them what I would do in their situation based on all my knowledge and experience. So, I am going to do the same for this article. Based on all my knowledge and experience here is what I’ve been doing to stay calm, positive and resilient during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Since my gym was shut down due to a government lockdown, I’ve had to change my exercise routine. I’ve been going for walks, doing some push-ups, core stability exercises, squats, lunges, taking my young boys down to the park to run around with them which also gets them to expend some energy and keeps them calmer for the rest of the day. Exercise – as most people know by now – has been shown to have a tremendous effect on mental health and wellbeing. I heard a well know doctor say in a podcast a few months ago that if exercise came in a pill, that she would prescribe it to every single one of her patients. When directly compared to the top pharmaceutical drugs on the market for anxiety, and depression, exercise blows all medications out of the water. The added bonus when compared to medications is that exercise has almost no side effects, other than pulling up sore there are other far less common side effects like tearing a muscle or dropping a weight on your foot, but they can often be avoided if the proper precautions are taken. Another huge advantage that exercise has over medications, is that it is free. You don’t need to go to a fancy gym or even pay a personal trainer (although, if you have no idea how to train, a personal trainer might be a good idea) in order to exercise. Most people can at least do some basic form of exercise, whether it is going for a walk, push-ups, dancing, bike riding, swimming, anything to get you moving and gets your heart rate up.
Admittedly, I am not the best meditator, but boy to I feel better when I do it. Every time I meditate, I feel amazing and I think to myself: “Why don’t I do this every day?” Well when the Covid-19 pandemic first started to cause problems for my business I started to get agitated, fearful, anxious, and stressed out. All these emotions were making me unpleasant to be around and were taking a toll on my physical health. Luckily, I noticed this pattern early on and decided to take steps to help myself overcome these negative emotions and stay calm and positive.
I know from my tertiary education that the negative emotions I was experiencing were turning on my sympathetic nervous – the fight or flight mechanism. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates bodily processes and is a very useful tool when I’m being chased by a lion in the jungle or need to fight someone breaking into my house. However, it is not helpful when there is a virus causing a global pandemic and my business is suffering. In fact, it is the opposite part of the autonomic nervous system called the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) – the part that inhibits body processes – what would be useful in this situation. The parasympathetic nervous system helps the body process food, sleep, heal, and reproduce. When we meditate it is the PSN that is switched on, which in turn helps calm us down and allows us to make better decisions, sleep better, digest food better, and heal from injuries and medical conditions. All these things sound good to me, so give me more PNS stimulation please!
As I mentioned earlier, I am not the best meditator, so I bought a device that helps me meditate. It’s called Muse, it is a device that you wear like a headband, it measures your brain waves with an EEG (electroencephalogram) and gives you real-time feedback about how effectively you are meditating. If you are thinking or distracted you hear the sound of rough seas (waves crashing), if you are meditating correctly the ocean sounds fade away and you start to hear birds chirping. I really like the device and find it helps me meditate, my partner on the other hand finds the noises distracting and she meditates better without the device. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
I have been speaking with friends and family a lot during the Covid-19 pandemic. As we are being told to stop our face to face interactions and adhere to social distancing, I’ve been texting, chatting on the phone, and making video calls to stay in touch with those I care about. It makes me feel good when people check in with me, to see how I’m going. With that in mind, it behooves me to share the love by checking in on friends and family.
Even though I’m in a low risk group due to my age and health, the chance of me getting seriously ill from the virus is improbable; I do worry about the elderly and other high risk groups. Secondarily, I am also anxious about the economy, and my business. I’m sure we all have similar worries at the moment, so this is a way I work through some of these worries. I find voicing worries and concerns with certain individuals that I trust and respect cathartic. I also gain some valuable insight from those I trust and learn some tips and tricks to get through these difficult times.
I’m sure you’ve all heard about how important sleep is. I could write a entire book on the subject, but in an effort to keep this article short I’m going to go over a few basic concepts here.
Firstly, sleep is hugely important for our overall health and wellbeing, and even more so in times of extreme stress. Sleep is when your body goes into maintenance and repair mode to optimize your mental and physical health.
There are two main components of sleep that we need to talk about: sleep quantity and sleep quality. Sleep quantity is easy to understand, it is the total time you are asleep per night. If you go to bed at 10pm and wake up at 6am you’ve had a total of 8 hours sleep. Lots of people think that as long as they get 8 hours sleep, they are ticking their sleep box, and everything is all good. Rarely is this the case, you may be in your bed for 8 hours, but if you toss and turn for 40 mins, and wake up to go to the toilet (10 mins to do your business and fall back to sleep), and wake up to get a drink (10 mins to fall back to sleep), then you are actually only getting 7 hours sleep. If this occurs over the course of a week, you have lost 7 hours for the week which is the equivalent of an entire night’s sleep! During this stressful time, it is even more important to get at least 8 hours sleep.
The second component of sleep is sleep quality, which is more difficult to quantify because you need a wearable device like a Fitbit, or an Oura ring to measure the different stages of sleep.
Sleep quality looks at the different stages of sleep which are non-rapid eye movement (NREM), and rapid eye movement (REM). NREM can be further broken down into two categories: light sleep and deep sleep. The most restorative stage of sleep for physical health is NREM deep sleep, and REM for mental health. For example, if you are sleeping 8 hours per night, but you are getting less than 1 hour of NREM deep sleep and less than one hour of REM sleep then you won’t wake up feeling rested and revitalized. This is essential information to have, because better quality sleep could be the answer to many of your physical and/or mental health problems.
There are several ways that you can increase your NREM deep sleep and REM sleep such as exercise, meditation, avoid blue light 1-2 hours before bed (computers, tv, tablets, mobiles), replace your night lamps with red spectrum lights (helps secrete melatonin a hormone that helps with sleep), no caffeine after noon, avoid/minimise drinking any liquids just before bed, and take some magnesium or lion’s mane mushroom just before bed. There are many other sleep hacks out there, feel free to research these on your own.
To summarize, there are many things you can do to stay calm, positive and resilient. I have simply given you some insight to what I’ve been doing, is it the best way? I’m not too sure, but it seems to be yielding some positive results for me so I’m sticking to it. I recommend trying a few of my tactics, but do try other methods as well, as they may work better for you. Life is like a rollercoaster, there are ups and there are downs. I try to enjoy the ups and get through the down parts. The good news is that the Covid-19 pandemic will eventually end so why not make the most of your down time if you have some. Instead of watching Netflix or looking up Instagram all day, why not do something more productive like learn a new language, start exercising, read some books you’ve been meaning to read, learn to play the clarinet, write a book, start a podcast, you are only limited by your imagination and your devotion. My hope is that we, as a human race, can all learn from this experience so that something good can come from all this adversity.
Stay calm, stay positive, this too shall past.