If the pandemic has made you stressed, you’re not alone. There’s no shortage of things to worry about—from the fear of catching the virus to activities and milestones missed, not to mention the economic toll it’s taken on us individually and collectively.
But beneath these obvious pressures is a silent stressor – one that concerns me greatly as both a cardiologist and trained psychotherapist. It’s the impact that quarantining and social distancing has had on both our emotional health and physical health. In many ways, social distancing is the “silent pandemic”—and, if left unchecked, can lead to serious health issues.
You Can Proactively Protect Your Health
While there’s no magic pill that can remove all of the stress and heartache we’re experiencing during these times, there are many things you can do to manage stress while safely regaining some of the human interactions we’re all craving.
Emotions like anger and sadness are the Achilles’ heel of the cardiovascular system. When you hold your emotions in, it affects you physically, leading to everything from headaches to high blood pressure. The solution is to allow yourself to release that stress and anger by crying. It’s important to realize that crying is not a sign of weakness, but rather the opportunity to release all of that negative energy, stress and tension you’ve been holding in.
- Connect (virtually)
It’s important to remember that even when we can’t connect with others in-person, we can connect with them virtually. I refer to it as connecting at the “heart level.” Zoom, Skype, Facetime, WhatsApp and other similar applications have made it easy to not only hear from family and friends but to see them as well. One of the positive reframes we can take from the coronavirus is that, in many ways, technology has brought us closer together. I also encourage you to think creatively. Many people are having virtual book club meetings, playing games with others online and having socially distanced dinners with friends. I know one family that cooks together once a week. The “head chef” sends out a recipe in advance so everyone can buy the ingredients, then they all cook together online.
- Get Moving
Exercise is one of the most powerful mood boosters there is. When you exercise, it releases stress from your muscles, reduces your levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol and boosts your body’s level of feel-good endorphins. Some studies have shown that aerobic exercise is a quicker mood elevator than an antidepressant.
- Stay Grounded
The Earths’ surface contains free electrons that are continually replenished through solar radiation and lightning strikes, and your body naturally absorbs those particles when you make physical contact with the ground. These electrons help to keep your body’s innate electrical circuitry properly balanced, which lowers stress and increases calmness in the body by moderating heart rate variability, nervous system activity and stress hormone secretion. Plus, it helps to promote normal blood pressure. So, if conditions allow, just go barefoot outside. If you can’t get outside, you can also “get back to nature” within yourself. You can do that with deep breathing, meditation, yoga, Qigong or Tai Chi. These practices not only release stress but allow you to cope more easily with the stressors you encounter throughout the day.
- Use Ashwagandha
This powerful herb is part of a group of herbs called adaptogens that help your body adapt to stress. It works by stabilizing your body’s stress feedback loop, so it releases less cortisol. I’ve been taking it myself for more than 20 years, and it has made an enormous difference. Participants in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study saw a reduction in serum cortisol levels, anxiousness, fatigue and irritability brought on by stress within two months of using Sensoril Ashwagandha. Additionally, participants experienced an improvement in sleep quality, physical mobility, mood and concentration, all of which can positively impact emotional well-being and heart health.
- Have a Consistent Bedtime
It’s much easier to cope with stress when you’re rested. Strive to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Go to bed early rather than staying up late to watch the news or peruse social media feeds – all of which can rev up your stress levels. Keep your room cool and dark and remove all electronics from your sleeping space. If you have trouble calming down, try drinking a cup of valerian tea.
Finally, remember that no matter how difficult this has been, there will come a time when things adapt and get better. We’ll reconnect with our loved ones, get back to the activities we enjoy and have more freedom to plan for the future. If we can all take this time to practice some extra self-care habits, we’ll come out the other side even better off than before.
Dr. Stephen Sinatra is one of the most highly respected and sought after cardiologists whose integrative approach to treating cardiovascular disease has revitalized patients with even the most advanced forms of illness. He has more than 40 years of clinical practice, research and study, starting his career as an attending physician at Manchester Memorial Hospital in Connecticut. He is known as one of America’s top integrative cardiologists, combining conventional medical treatments for heart disease with complementary nutritional, anti-aging and psychological therapies. He is an author, speaker and adviser for the research and development of nutritional supplements with Healthy Directions. Sinatra is a best-selling author of more than a dozen books, including, Heartbreak and Heart Disease, The Great Cholesterol Myth, Reversing Heart Disease Now, Heart Sense for Women, The Sinatra Solution and Metabolic Cardiology.