The stress impact of COVID-19: 5 ways to cope and protect your health
The millions of infections and hundreds of thousands of deaths that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought globally are creating stress over everything from personal health to employment, lifestyle, and finances.
Given these difficult circumstances, it’s more important than ever for people to know about coping mechanisms to better manage stress, protect their immune system, and increase their chances of staying healthy, says Dr. Nammy Patel, DDS (www.sfgreendentist.com), author of Age With Style: Your Guide To A Youthful Smile & Healthy Living.
“COVID is maximizing stress for so many people,” Dr. Patel says. “It has a far-reaching impact into every part of our lives, and if we don’t manage the stress, it severely affects our bodily systems – causing burned-out adrenals, high cortisol, and thyroid issues, to name a few consequences of high-stress levels. Thus, the immune system is lowered, and we are more vulnerable to illness.
“This era we are living in is very traumatic, and it’s very concerning. In dentistry, gum disease, sleep disturbances or apnea, and teeth breakage can all be evidence of stress. Poor oral health, as studies show, can be a gateway to medical issues. People often don’t identify how much stress they’re under, and how it’s affecting them physically, until they actually get sick.”
Dr. Patel has the following suggestions people can incorporate into their daily lives to better deal with stress:
- Adhere to a healthy diet. While in quarantine or a new normal in which people are spending the vast majority of their time at home, having healthy foods at home and not over-snacking are vital considerations. “We must be more mindful of the foods we put in our bodies,” Dr. Patel says. “Eat as many greens and whole foods as possible. Avoid dairy products as they increase mucus production in the sinus and the chest, leading to lots of sneezing and congestion. The coronavirus enters the nose and makes a home in the sinus, and to increase immunity, it’s important that the sinus and chest are not inflamed. Food prep makes it easier to eat healthy while working from home. Prepare salads and other healthy meals in advance.”
- Don’t over-indulge in drinking. “For some people, drinking is the only source of enjoyment during the pandemic,” Dr. Patel says. “And we see people who are isolating having Zoom calls with friends while drinking wine. The problem is that one glass turns into two or more, and with the sugar content of wine, you may wake up during the night. This disturbs sleep, and sleep is when the immune system regenerates. Restorative sleep is essential to our health.”
- Take vitamin supplements. “Often, those with adrenal fatigue don’t take in enough essential nutrients as stress increases their body’s nutritional demands,” Dr. Patel says. “To address adrenal and cortisol burnout, take multivitamins in order to get trace minerals.”
- Develop a morning ritual. “Deep breathing exercises can be calming and get you out of the hyper state,” Dr. Patel says. “You want to get rid of the ‘fight or flight’ mode and enter the ‘rest and digest’ state of mind.”
- Find a stress management activity that works for you. Many people don’t like to exercise, but Dr. Patel notes exercise doesn’t have to be rigorous to be effective. “A type of exercise one enjoys doing at home like walking, running, or yoga goes a long way toward releasing stress hormones,” she says. “And for those who like intense workouts, it’s all good in terms of reducing stress. Another good stress management technique is using biofeedback mechanisms like alpha state meditations to increase immunity.”
“The disruption of daily life by COVID-19 has caused us to rethink many things that we do,” Dr. Patel says. “How we deal with stress needs to be a priority now, and it’s not overly difficult if you develop good daily habits.”