Well-Being in the Face of a Pandemic:
Apr 30, 2020 09:00AM
By John Montes and Fran Bieganek
Supporting Physical Well-Being
Physical well-being, beyond absence of disease, is about the choices we make to prevent and find a place of dynamic balance of body, mind and spirit. Our choices help us counterbalance the effects of internal influences such as genetics and external influences like environmental toxins and stress. Advances in research have let us understand those relationships and help us put theory into action.
Throughout research literature from both conventional and alternative medicine, stress is highlighted as having a strong role in the development of diseased states. Acute and chronic stress manifest differently. Acute stress can have immune enhancing effects that are linked to the actions of the fight-or-flight response. This state of heightened sensitivity and increased circulation exists for mere survival and its immune protective qualities are short-lived. On the contrary, chronic stress has a definitive immuno-suppressive effect on the body, particularly in relation to respiratory and inflammatory diseases, not to mention effects on mental health.
Stress is defined as a response to emotional pressure in which an individual perceives they have little or no control, much like our current situation. As we collectively go through this health crisis, we have an opportunity to do activities that not only help us get a sense of control because of their immune-promoting qualities, but also address deeper issues that affect us long term.
As we socially distance and/or stay home, there are many things to do to help reduce the effects of stress and boost immunity:
- Rest: Sleep is necessary for repair, for processing and healing. Prioritizing sleep is essential for your immune system to catch up and for your body to be stronger.
- Hydrate: Drinking plenty of fluids can help us replenish nutrients and flush toxins. For some, a timer on the phone might be a good idea. Make sure to minimize the intake of inflammatory drinks laden with sugar or alcohol.
- Stay Active: There is a direct link between exercise and resistance to disease via the fight or flight mechanism. Whether you have led an athletic or a sedentary lifestyle, getting a minimum 20 minutes of low to moderate intensity exercise a day will help increase circulation and maintain your immunity. Take advantage of this time to create a routine, let your body get used to it, and maintain it past the quarantine.
- Nutrition: While it might be recommended to have emotionally satisfying treats around, make sure that for the most part you stick to natural, unprocessed or minimally processed whole foods as this will help decrease inflammation and provide your body with adequate building blocks for energy, healing and immunity. Take some time to be mindful about what you are eating, giving yourself time to chew and savor it.
- Supplements: There are plenty of recommendations out there about supplements and herbs to help you stay stronger and ward off disease. It is important to discontinue the use of immune-boosting herbs and supplements if you start experiencing viral symptoms as most immune boosters can exacerbate a COVID-19 infection.
- Breathe: Breathwork is the best way we have to help our nervous system go from a stress-response state into a rest/healing state. Inquire about diaphragmatic breathing and practice it three times a day for five minutes.
- Fresh Air: Now that the weather is better, open your windows routinely to clear the air in your home. If allowed in your place of residence, take walks in green spaces, breathe the fresh air and soak in the healing beauty of nature.
Supporting Psychological Well-Being
Psychological well-being encompasses several areas: cognitive functioning, emotional states, social interactions and spiritual connection. In times of significant uncertainty, even the most robust psychological system can be shaken and begin to experience dysregulation. This can manifest in a variety of ways: a sense of helplessness, fear, anxiety, grief, sadness, confusion, loneliness and feeling alone. Add to this the impact of being quarantined: sensing a lack of control, feeling stir-crazy and bored, missing social connection. To minimize the impact of all this, it can be helpful to engage in activities that provide a protective shield for you and strengthen your psychological immune system. A list of possibilities:
- Find someone (friend, family member, clergy, therapist) you can talk honestly with about your current experience and from whom you can feel supported sharing concerns, fears, struggles. When feelings are approached, you have much more capacity to manage them. If they are pushed aside, the more likely result is they will manage you. So, share them, feel them.
- Normalize your routine as much as possible. Normalizing creates a sense of security to help offset the uncertainty. Keep to a schedule. If you’re working from home, get up at the same time, take breaks at the same time, stop working at the same time. If your employment has been suspended, keep to the schedule you had when you were working, filling in the work time with other activities. Keep up with rituals or create new ones.
- Make future plans. Adopting a strategy of “acting as if” can support a feeling of hope during this time of such uncertainty.
- Find ways to experience pleasure. It’s a good distraction mechanism and some distraction can be a perfectly healthy way to manage stress. Be sure to engage all your senses. Some examples: play, music, nature videos, favorite foods, nurture your physical body.
- Engage in activities that give you a sense of purpose and meaning. They don’t need to be profound. The simplest of tasks can have meaning. Some ideas: support others, volunteer, time with loved ones, complete tasks.
Supporting Social Well-Being
- We are social beings. Lack of social connection is associated with increased levels of stress hormones. So stay connected: virtual hangouts, call/text often, acknowledge others when walking, time with pet(s), small doses of media to stay connected with the world.
Supporting Spiritual Well-Being
Cultivate compassion for all. There is much scientific research to support the practice of compassion in lowering stress levels. Loving kindness meditation is a helpful practice. Bring into your mind the image of the following: someone you care about, someone who makes you smile, someone you know is suffering, someone who is difficult for you to think about, yourself. Send each one loving kindness by repeating this phrase throughout the meditation: “May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe, may you live with ease.”
- Process your grief. There are specific losses you may be experiencing: job, health, income, physical contact with loved ones. And, there are those losses that seem to permeate all aspects of life right now: loss of certainty, loss of security, loss of trust. Sharing your pain, your fear, your stories are necessary aspects of moving through grief.
- Spend intentional time feeling gratitude. “Gratitude is wine for the soul. Go on. Get drunk.” (Rumi) Go ahead, create your list and share it!
John Montes is a licensed acupuncturist, manual
therapist and herbalist practicing at Bhakti Wellness Center. With over 18
years of experience, his area of expertise is Orthopedic Acupuncture and
Traditional Chinese Medicine. He is taking new patients and is available for
remote consultations for self-massage, acupressure and herbs. For more
information, call 612-568-8889 or email [email protected].
Bieganek is a licensed psychologist practicing holistic psychotherapy and
neurofeedback at Bhakti Wellness Center. With over 20 years of experience, she
currently specializes in the areas of trauma, anxiety, depression, grief and
loss, and well-being. She works with both individuals and couples and is
currently accepting new clients. For more information, call 612-564-9947, email
[email protected] or visit BhaktiClinic.com.