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How to Handle the Mental Stress of a Winter Lockdown

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We spoke to a well being psychologist for some easy-to-implement methods to deal with longterm stress.

By now, we’ve spent eight months navigating the coronavirus pandemic. Although we’ve already been by means of the stress and anxiousness of a lockdown and have slowly realized to regulate to an unprecedented state of affairs, the upcoming winter months will pose new challenges. Without the stress-busting retailers we’ve relied on this yr—resembling lengthy walks, picnics within the park, and different out of doors actions with associates—the chilly and darkish months forward would possibly show to be essentially the most isolating interval but.

To assist put together for a winter spent in lockdown, we spoke to Dr. Judith Andersen, a well being psychologist who makes a speciality of stress-related psychological and bodily well being points. During the early phases of the pandemic, she explains, we have been within the acute stress section and have been in a position to regulate to the quickly shifting state of affairs however the longer it continues, our our bodies are in a state of uncertainty as we’re undecided when the tense interval goes to finish.

“The less things are certain, the more uneasy we feel about the future,” she says. “Unease is a feeling but it has a physical component. Our stress response—that fight or flight feeling that stems from the sympathetic nervous system—is countered by the parasympathetic nervous system, which is calming. When you’re sleeping or having a good time, your parasympathetic system is in dominance. That’s when we digest our food, our immune system works really well, and we repair muscles. But when we’re chronically stressed we have a higher level of stress hormones and that feeds into our negative thoughts without us really realizing that it’s generated from a body response.”

Read on for Dr Andersen’s easy-to-implement options on the way to handle the bodily and psychological impression of longterm stress.

Learn some respiratory workout routines

“There are two techniques to know. One is the one-breath reset, which I’ve studied and measured in first responders and law enforcement officers,” she says. “Often when we start getting stressed it’s like a runaway train – your heart rate keeps elevating, your muscles get more tense and that shuts down the brain processes that help you change gears and calm down. What the one-breath reset does physiologically is it actually slows your heart rate down and triggers the parasympathetic nervous system to activate. That gives you a window of a few seconds in which you can then reset and focus on something more positive.” To do the one-breath reset, let all of the air out of your lungs, take a deep inhale, maintain on the prime after which do pursed-lip respiratory on the out breaths.

While the one-breath reset is for acute stress, Dr Andersen suggests one other strategy—paced respiratory—for longterm or power stress.

“Humans are very adaptive; your body is constantly working to adapt to new environments,” she explains. “Right now, our body’s trying to make things work but we don’t know what it’s supposed to work towards. So that can drain our physical and psychological resources. Paced breathing helps to deal with chronic stress. Breathe at 5 to 6 breaths per minute, which is slower than your average breath which is usually 10-12 breaths per minute. So you’re slowing the breaths down but not so slow that it feels uncomfortable. Do that several times during the day for a minute at a time. That puts your body into a parasympathetic state and that’s what you need to rebuild your longer reserves. Usually we would build our reserves by sleeping, or having some real relaxation without this overarching stress. But we can’t think our way into it. We actually have to do something physical to put ourselves in that state, and we can do it and it’s easy.”

Eat the suitable sorts of meals

“The gut microbiome is connected to the brain through the vagus nerve. What you eat and what you get exposed to in the gut can actually make you feel more anxious and depressed. When you eat a lot of highly processed foods or comfort foods, it makes us feel better in the moment but it affects the gut microbiome and that actually transfers signals to the brain and makes you more anxious. Something that’s good for your body is probiotics. If you’re feeling highly anxious maybe you want to try a food that you like that has more probiotics in it, like sauerkraut or kimchi or miso.”

Create a optimistic residence setting

“What we know from research is that there are multiple benefits to having plants in the environment. One, visually—they’re restful for the eyes and the brain. Two, working with plants, dirt and leaves boosts immune functioning. Working with plants actually transfers microbiomes from the plant to the body, so people that work with plants or have plants in an urban environment—even on the balcony or in their house—have a better gut microbiome which is better for the parasympathetic nervous system.” She provides that essential oils and scented candles can even assist soothe stress. “There’s scientific evidence that olfactory sense is also connected to the brain and can reduce anxiety. Try to create a balanced and positive environment with scents that stimulate good memories.”

Get some contemporary air

“Oxygen helps to fuel the body and the brain. People need to try to get outside and breathe as much as possible. Even if you have to stick your head out of the window, you need to breathe deeply outside because that oxygen is so good for you.” For these which might be bodily ready, she recommends bundling up and happening lengthy walks even within the snow. “Put those long johns on and get out there. It’s even more important to get fresh air now because of the heating vents and recycled air.” She additionally suggests light therapy lamps for when the times get even shorter. “Light is really important. If people are suffering from seasonal affective disorder or anxiety or depression, those special lamps are affective.”

Cut down on social media

If there’s something 2020 has taught us, it’s that “doomscrolling” can have a really actual impression on our psychological well being. Dr Andersen advises chopping down on social media time, notably proper earlier than mattress. “Cut out too much news watching and negative social media, because it can be overwhelming and anxiety-producing. That sense of doom in your brain comes from the emotional centre, the amygdala, but it’s actually changing the way your heart’s beating, your muscle tension, so it’s having a physical effect and it makes you feel more doomed because you don’t feel good. It’s a negative spiral.” She recommends staying off telephones and screens at bedtime, as a result of it could actually take as much as an hour for the mind to close down after display screen time, however if you’re in search of one thing to look at within the evenings, comedies and humorous movies are preferable as laughing relaxes the physique.


Make an effort to (nearly) socialize

“People who live alone should reach out for real social interactions. Schedule time with friends to talk–and actually talk, not just text. Schedule a Zoom or FaceTime. Scrolling or posting on social media is not the same as seeing someone’s face or listening to their voice. Try to schedule in different activities, so you always have something to look forward to. Also, volunteering is really helpful. Obviously we have to be isolated but there are volunteer services that somebody might be able to help with online or over the phone.” While social interplay is essential, on the identical time it’s additionally very important for many who dwell with others to carve out some private time. “Sometimes you do need time alone. Put on headphones and sit in a quiet room or space. Listening to music can be very positive and stimulate the reduction of stress hormones. Do the paced breathing when you’re in those quiet moments.”

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