By: Tatyana Morton, MD, Internal Medicine, CareMount Medical
October 21, 2020
The holidays can be stressful, but for different reasons this year because of COVID-19. We don’t know what lies ahead with the coronavirus, and cold weather is likely to keep people indoors and less connected. With all that’s going on around us, it’s normal to feel anxious. We not only worry about ourselves, but we’re concerned about what the future holds for our children and grandchildren.
There is much around us that we cannot control. We can, however, control how we react to and manage stress. Speaking candidly with your doctor about your feelings and concerns – in person or virtually – is a good place to start.
When I see patients who tell me they are feeling unsettled and anxious, one of the most frequent recommendations I give is, “Just breathe”. And then I offer tips on how to practice breathing in order to relax. Even though we already breathe every second of every day, we don’t usually think about it. All it takes is simple practice. One of the breathing exercises I recommend, is:
Close your eyes. Relax your stomach muscles. Place one hand just below your ribs. Take a slow, deep breath through your nose. Feel your hand go up. Now breathe out slowly through the mouth. Be sure to breath as slowly as possible, counting the breaths. Try to challenge yourself to breath out several times, each time increasing the number of counts for the exhalation. Do this five times at a time and several times a day. When you feel overwhelmed or anxious, turn to your breaths and start counting as you exhale slowly.
We hear a lot about “mindfulness” these days, which is defined by mindful.org as the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” In other words, being mindful is being in the moment without looking back at the past or projecting what might happen ahead. It is actually a form of meditation you can do while seated, talking, standing and moving. You can take short pauses throughout your everyday life to be mindful.
Remember the Mind/Body Connection
The National Institute on Aging reminds us that the benefits of exercise go beyond just physical well-being to: reduce feelings of depression and stress; enhance your mood and overall emotional well-being; increase your energy level; and, improve sleep.
Go for a walk and take-in the beauty of the season with friends or just by yourself, to clear your mind. Just be sure to dress appropriately. It it’s too cold for outdoor activity, look into indoor activity you can do at home during the winter months. Stay connected by joining an online, live exercise, Zumba or tai chi class. Another option is to work virtually, one-on-one with a personal trainer. Your doctor will be able to recommend the level of exercise that is appropriate for you.
There’s no one big remedy for the stress and uncertainty we all feel now, but simple steps with guidance from your healthcare provider can help!