By Dr. Corrin Schreyer
As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, it affects nearly every aspect of our lives: from home and work, to children and everyday routines. You may be wondering, like many others, when will the chaos be over? How should I navigate my life in the midst of this?
We are excited to share some evidence-based information to help you to meet your health-related goals in a time of crisis, while maybe even building some new habits that can improve your health and mindset for the future.
Understanding your stress and your body
As a healthcare team, we understand that stress can have a major effect on your body and the pain you may be experiencing.5 Here is the science behind it:
There are several systems within the body that get turned on when we are in a stressful state or in a state of anxiety. Repeated and long term activation of these systems can lead to changes in the body within the immune, cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, and metabolic systems. All of these systems play a huge role in controlling how your body communicates with itself.
Relating to the musculoskeletal and neuromuscular system, this alter in communication can cause microstructural damage and lead to things like musculoskeletal disorders and local muscle tension, which changes what the nerves in your body communicate to each other, including increasing or activating a pain response.4,5 This can further affect our mood, fears, negative perceptions, and preconceived notions.4
It is important to also recognize that many people react to stress differently, and this is a good time to be sensitive to others’ experiences. Stress during an infectious disease outbreak can manifest in various ways, including:3
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
So how do I manage my stress through this?
Limit news consumption
One way to curate a less stressful outlook is by limiting screen time, especially time spent watching the news or consuming horror stories and/or statistics with the pandemic. While it is important to be informed, consuming high-stress events can fill your blood stream with stressful hormones. News stories are typically more “negatively biased”—they have a motive to not only inform, but to also highlight the negative things. As humans we can be attracted to these topics, which makes us want to continue watching. Meanwhile, this type of information can be detrimental to our stress levels. 2
Create (new) routines
Humans are creatures of routine. We feel comfortable with predictability and knowing what steps come next.1 Your routine prior to the COVID-19 outbreak is most likely not your current routine. Changed circumstances like working from home, the addition of homeschooling kids, or not working at all can be significant disruptors to a sense of order.
It is normal to feel a little lost when your life routine gets turned around. However, this drastic uprooting in your environment and previous daily habits creates a ripe opportunity for your brain to create a new set of habits that is beneficial for your health and your family.1
What if you took time out of your day today to consider the things that you have been wanting to implement into your life but haven’t gotten around to it yet? Here is a short list of ideas to jumpstart your brainstorming:
- Daily meditation
- Regular physical activity
- Spending time outside
- Listening to music
- Preparing and eating healthy food
- Digitally connecting with friends and family
- Eating more whole foods
- Scheduling regular family time
- Scheduling regular alone time
Whatever you choose, this unique time could be the start of new habits and routines in your life—for the better.
Resources to manage your stress and create a routine
- The Kresser Institute has put together a fantastic guide for adapting with COVID-19. You can use this as a means to develop new habits that can assist you during this time and also carry over beyond this pandemic period.
- Dr. Chris Kresser, an author and leader in functional medicine, has offered a book recommendation list that is specific to topics of thriving during difficult times:
- Full Catastrophe Living (Revised Edition): Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, by Pema Chodron
- Turning Suffering Inside Out, by Darlene Cohen
- Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness, by Rick Hanson
- The CDC offers helpful, fact-based information to better understand COVID-19, such as How it Spreads, Protecting Yourself, Protecting Your Family, Protecting Your Home, Stress and Coping, and many other resources.
Attitude becomes action
Throughout life (and especially right now), stresses beyond our control come and go. However, there are two things that we are able to control: Our actions and our attitude. It is our hope that by providing such resources that we can help you “in pursuit of your best life,” per our clinic’s mission. Amidst stresses, change, and so many unknowns, we can better understand stress, how to manage it, and how to make lemonade out of all these lemons.
Reach out if we can help
With our multidisciplinary team, we’re here to help you with stress management, physical activity, pain management, and lifestyle medicine. You can schedule a telehealth visit with our integrative nurse practitioner, chiropractic physician, or physical therapist. And if necessary during this COVID-19 outbreak, we can still schedule in person visits if essential. Request an appointment here.
- Clear, James. Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results: an Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Avery, an Imprint of Penguin Random House, 2018.
- Heid, Markham. “Is Constantly Reading the News Bad For You?” Time, Time, 31 Jan. 2018, time.com/5125894/is-reading-news-bad-for-you/.
- “Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23 Mar. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html.
- Tatta, Joe. “Harnessing the Power of the Mind to Treat Chronic Pain – Physical Therapy.” INTEGRATIVE PAIN SCIENCE INSTITUTE, 7 Oct. 2019, www.integrativepainscienceinstitute.com/harnessing-the-power-of-the-mind-to-treat-chronic-pain-with-physical-therapy/.
- Wippert PM, Wiebking C. Stress and Alterations in the Pain Matrix: A Biopsychosocial Perspective on Back Pain and Its Prevention and Treatment. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(4):785. Published 2018 Apr 18. doi:10.3390/ijerph15040785
Share this Post