Wherever you live in the world today, unless you are one of the 5 million people who live in New Zealand, you are feeling the effects of COVID-19. I am not saying you are actually infected physically but you are likely to know somebody or someone who knows someone who has been ill or possibly even died recently as a result of COVID-19. This knowledge alone has an impact on your mental state and your body’s physiology.
We are living in unprecedented times through a pandemic which is the worst to hit the planet since the Spanish Flu of 1918. During the influenza pandemic of 1918, which was caused by an H1N1 virus, about 500 million people were infected with roughly 50 million deaths. Death rates were particularly high in children under the age of five and healthy adults between the ages of 20-40. If this pandemic was to have happened in today’s times, we would have been better equipped to deal with the secondary effects of infections and would have had better control methods for isolation and personal hygiene.
I mention the Spanish flu to highlight how far we have come in the last 100 years in terms of medical progress. Knowledge of the simple things, (isolation, quarantine, social distancing, handwashing and face masks – I just realised I am sitting on my own and forgot to take it off…), back then would have made a huge difference to the number of deaths and the rate of infections.
While our hospitals are starting to get full and laboratories are not coping with the number of COVID test samples they are receiving, people are wondering if they should cancel their law-breaking visits in the homes of friends and family or face up to the looming depression and anxiety that is building up from the continued social isolation. Tough balance…..risking contracting COVID and passing it on to a susceptible person who may be at high risk. Stay home and ZOOM your friends and family.
Chronic Stress Effects
The effect of stress on your body causes a release of hormones that lead to a range of changes in your body including a racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, shallow quick breathing, tense muscles and even beads of sweat on your forehead. This effect is known as the “fight or flight “ response, it evolved as a survival mechanism for people and other mammals to be able to react quickly to life-threatening situations. Your bodies way of adapting to fight off a threat or flee to safety. This mechanism was more ideally suited to life in the dark ages or if you became the hunted while hunting an animal for a meal. In today’s times, our bodies tend to overreact to day to day stressors, which are non-life-threatening, such as traffic jams, work and family stress.
We are now able to understand how this overreaction from day to day stress affects our body’s over long periods of time. Studies show that the response to chronic stress can contribute to high blood pressure, blockages in the arteries and brain changes leading to anxiety and depression as well as addiction. Research is also showing this chronic stress effect may lead to obesity.
For many people, the effects of this chronic stress are too much to handle without some help from outside of their body and mind. In our society, it has become commonplace for people to use pharmaceutical medication to assist them in coping with their day to day stressors – and I am not against this when it’s necessary. However, there are other options that you can try first.
Alternative Methods to Assist You in Coping with the Effects of Chronic Stress on Your Body
- Traditional Chinese Medicine
- Herbal Medicine
- Tai Chi
Here is a simple breathing exercise for you to try on your own. Find a place where you can sit or lie down undisturbed. Get comfortable, make sure there are no distractions. Rest your hands over your belly to make sure you breathe with your abdomen and not your chest.
Take a slow breath in from your nose, to the count of four, hold your breath for four counts, then breathe out your mouth for a count of eight. When you are breathing out, rest the tip of your tongue just behind your top front teeth. With your hands resting on your belly, make sure your stomach rises when you breathe in and sinks on your out-breath. Repeat this process for about two minutes. As you get more comfortable doing it, you will be able to continue for longer. You should find this to be a very relaxing process and it only takes a couple of minutes.