4 Tips to Combat Pandemic Stress & Anxiety
As the U.S. continues to battle COVID-19, the ongoing pandemic can bring feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, helplessness, and worry. While social distancing is necessary to prevent exposure, it can have negative consequences. Many people are facing a huge disruption to their normal way of life. Working from home, schools being shut down, restaurants being closed, etc. can lead to stress, frustration, and depression.
Stress and anxiety can also have a negative toll on your immunity. Cortisol levels are elevated during periods of social isolation and confinement, which can inhibit many critical functions of the immune system. Stress reduces the ability of our T-cells to multiply in response to infectious agents. It can also reduce ability of certain effector lymphocytes to recognize and kill cells that have become cancerous or infected.
It is vitally important that our immune cells maintain their ability to redeploy. These cells ‘patrol’ vulnerable areas in or body (such as the upper respiratory tract and the lungs) to prevent viruses like COVID-19 and other pathogens from gaining a foothold. This process is also important to minimize the impact of the virus and to expedite viral resolution should we become infected.
So what are some ways we can fight back against pandemic stress?
1. Keep a Set Routine
While it may be easy to just watch Netflix for hours, consider putting some of your extra time to better use. Now that we are limited from our typical activities or distractions, it’s a great time to start forming good habits. Good habits can not only help you cope with pandemic stress, but can also enhance your lifestyle once pandemic conditions improve.
Having some form of schedule can help maintain balance in your life during this turbulent and uncertain time, and better prepare you to return to a normal life once the threat of COVID-19 has decreased.
You don’t necessarily have to plan every hour of the day. Start by setting a better sleep schedule, planning healthy meals to cook, and scheduling exercise for at least 30 minutes each day. If you are working from home, set a reminder to get up every hour even just to stretch. Think about things you could implement in your day-to-day to combat feelings of anxiety or helplessness instead of staring at your phone or tv screen. Simple things to break up the day’s monotony can help you maintain a sense of normalcy in your life.
2. Get Outdoors
Being stuck indoors with nowhere to go may be making you a little restless or stir-crazy. Take advantage of the fresh air and sun if you have access to a rooftop, garden, or patio with limited exposure to other people. Or take frequent walks around your neighborhood. The fresh air and vitamin D will help lower your stress levels. If you have the space, you can even do some workouts outdoors!
3. Take Care of Yourself
It may feel like we don’t have much control over our lives, but we do have control over how we take care of ourselves and our mental health. Take the time to slow down and participate in activities that promote good health and reduce daily stress and anxiety.
Self-care could look different depending on the person. As a baseline, you should make sure to take care of yourself with nourishing foods, lots of sleep, and deep breaths. Mindful meditation is a powerful practice that can help you banish stress while heightening your awareness and focus on the present.
With self-care, you can better equip your mind to cope with current stresses in life and take each day in stride.
Of course, taking care of oneself also includes regular exercise. It is recommended to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. This is not just for losing weight or getting fit during the quarantine. Exercise is important because it has a ton of mental and physical benefits.
According to research by the American College of Sports Medicine, exercise is also known to have a profound impact on the immune system. Each bout of exercise, particularly cardiorespiratory workouts, instantly mobilizes billions of immune cells that are capable of recognizing and killing virus-infected cells.
We know that exercise has a positive effect on the immune system. But it is also known to counter the negative effects of isolation and confinement stress on various aspects of immunity. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain which can zap away the stress that’s weighing you down. Although there is no scientific data regarding the effects of exercise on coronaviruses, there is evidence that exercise can protect you from many other viral infections including influenza, rhinovirus, and herpes viruses.
Therefore, it is imperative that we try to maintain regular activity levels. While exercise may not completely prevent us from being infected if exposed, keeping active will likely boost our immune system to help minimize the effects of the virus, lessen our symptoms, expedite our recovery time, and lower the chances of infecting others around us.