(By The University of Tennessee Medical Center)
As coronavirus news floods our news and social media feeds, it is easy to become overwhelmed by fear and anxiety. The anxiety felt because of coronavirus uncertainty, or many other stresses, can affect your physical and mental wellness in numerous ways. Headaches, insomnia, panic attacks, depression, stomach aches, and muscle pains are just some examples of the health issues caused or increased by anxiety. However, in these times of fear and unrest, Dr. Clayton Bell, an integrative medicine specialist at The University of Tennessee Medical Center (UTMC), offers some tips on how to alleviate stress and become more grounded.
“When experiencing stress, the first thing I try to remind myself and my patients to do is pause and breathe,” said Bell. “When we get anxious, our breath shortens. I suggest intentionally taking deep breaths to activate the diaphragm muscle and parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”) or relaxation arm of the autonomic nervous system.”
Bell suggests some other actions to mitigate anxious feelings:
· “Take breaks from watching or reading news stories, especially in the evening before bed. Meditate or read a good book instead.”
· “Eat healthy, well-balanced meals, made from whole foods. It’s very important to optimize your nutrition during this time as real foods are full of immune boosting vitamins and minerals. Processed foods made from nutrient-void white flour or with added sugars actually prevent your body’s white blood cells (immune system) from fighting off infections.”
· “To boost your immune system and keep down stress, get outside and move your body every day. Make sure to get plenty of sleep as well.”
· “Talk about your concerns and how you are feeling with people you trust. Now is the perfect time to connect with loved ones, rekindle old friendships via telephone, or have a Zoom/FaceTime party or dinner with family and friends.”
Bell says making these simple changes to your daily routine boost your immune system as well as help you maintain a sense of calm and purpose.
“We often focus so much on our own anxiety, that we may forget that others around us are also feeling anxious,” said Bell. “Children are very susceptible to the energies of others and they react according to what they see and feel from the adults around them.”
According to Bell, children express anxiety through different emotions and habits. Some of the most common ways are excessive fussiness or crying, regressing back to behaviors they have outgrown, excessive worry or sadness, unhealthy eating or sleeping patterns, and avoidance of activities they enjoyed in the past.
Bell recommends the following steps for parents or caregivers to practice with anxious children:
· “Don’t be afraid to talk with your child about the COVID-19 outbreak. It is much better to learn what is going on from you than from the media.”
· “Share with your child how you deal with stress, so they can understand they are not alone with their feelings and can learn healthy techniques that can help them cope as well.”
· “Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of coronavirus, including social media.”
· “Have a daily routine. Create a schedule that includes learning, relaxing and fun activities. This is especially important while schools are closed.”
Bell explains mental health is always important, but especially right now.
“When we neglect our mental health, our physical health will also feel the repercussions,” said Bell. “Making small, daily changes will create long term benefits and make lasting impacts on how you experience and deal with anxiety.”
Bell says it is important to remember that you are not alone during this time.
“We all are feeling the effects of the coronavirus, and it is important to take the necessary steps to maintain good mental and physical health in addition to following the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), such as practicing social distancing, washing your hands, and avoiding touching your face,” said Bell.
For reliable information on taking care of your health or a loved one’s health, contact UTMC’s Health Information Center at 865.305.9525 or online at www.utmedicalcenter.org/hic. Staffed by medical librarians and certified health information specialists, the Health Information Center offers an extensive health library, digital and printed resources, walk-in assistance, and help with the research on specific health conditions – all free of charge and available to the public.