July 09, 2020
We all know that the last four months and even before have been extremely stressful for everyone due to a variety of issues surrounding Covid-19. While stress is a big part of our normal everyday lives, it is how we respond to the stress that affects our health. Long-term stress can increase an individual’s risk for depression and anxiety, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, type 2 diabetes and many other health problems.
As Hans Selye, known as the “father of stress research,” demonstrated in the early 1900s, mental health and physical health both depend upon an individual’s ability to cope with stress. Selye was first exposed to the idea of “biological stress” during his second year in medical school. He observed that patients with different illnesses had the same generic complaints of looking tired, having no appetite, losing weight, preferring to lie down rather than stand and not wanting to go to work. For many years thereafter he studied and wrote numerous volumes on his finding regarding the response of the body to stressors. Dr. Selye’s research is the basis for our understand of the relationship between long-term stress and many health problems.
Only a few months ago we would not have imagined having to experience social distancing. The thought of not being able to go to work, go to church, go to the gym, go to school, go to the library, travel, visit with our adult children and grandchildren or friends was unimaginable at the time. It was also unimaginable that a virus would swoop down and cause so much illness and death across the world. Whew! Basically a lifestyle change for the world!
When you tune into the news you are constantly being bombarded with updates about the massive numbers of those who are ill or dying from Covid-19. How about taking a break with me for a few minutes to look at tips to improve your overall health and perhaps even to change the way that your body responds to the current Covid-19 stress!
Here are my tips:
Know what you are eating/drinking: This is an excellent time to address what you are eating and drinking. Start with reading labels and know that the healthiest foods do not come in wrappers. Focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Choose whole fruits instead of fruit juice and eliminate the sugary drinks and sodas, also known as empty calories, from your pantry. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Get the children involved in cooking healthy food. Save sweets and desserts for special occasions. Take action to ensure that you and your family members use alcohol safely.
Kick the sedentary lifestyle: Get moving! Unless your health will not allow you to do some form of daily exercise, listen to the Nike shoe add and, “Just Do It!” The Centers for Disease Control and Health Promotion, (CDC), recommends that adults get 150 minutes weekly of “moderate-intensive aerobic activity” such as brisk walking or 75 minutes weekly of “vigirous-intensity aerobic activity” like running. There are multiply ways to satisfy this requirement.
Get a good night’s sleep: Seven to eight hours of sleep a night for adults is recommended for helping to reduce stress. Finding ways to wind down an hour before you plan to go to sleep may help to insure a good night’s sleep. This might include replacing electronic devices and television with a good book at least one hour before bedtime. A bedtime that allows you to get the recommended amount of sleep can be a positive step toward improving your immune system and ability to cope with stress.
Seek assistance from the medical community: If you have symptoms of illness, do not delay consulting your physician and asking for referrals for health-related problems that he/she is unable to provide. If you do not want to visit with your physician in person, many medical communities now offer Telehealth.
Follow CDC’s Covid-19 guidelines for protecting yourself and your family: Wear a mask, and be cautious about returning to pre-Covid activities. Your health may literally be in your hands if you rush to return to what used to be “normal” before it is safe to do so.
Seek spiritual guidance by participating in your church’s weekly activities: It is difficult to know how each church is reopening following the initial shut-down with Covid-19. If your congregation is offering activities on the web, participation in those activities is a good way to connect with other church members and to find out how they are coping with the shut-down. If you need to talk privately with your pastor, do not hesitate to seek his/her assistance!
- Coronavirus (Covid-19) How to Protect Yourself, What to Do if You are Sick, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cdc.org.
- Stress on the Body, American Psychological Association, apa.org.
- Tan, Siang Yong, MD, Yip, A, MS, Hans Selye (1907–1982): Founder of the Stress Theory, Singapore Medical Journal, 2018 Apr; 59(4): 170–171, ncbi.nim.nih.gov.
- US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, (ODPHP), health.gov.
Cornelia Pearson, RN, MN
Member, St Andrew Lutheran Church
Franklin, TN 37027