A brighter brain helps beat the blues

mental_health

My family has only recently started to emerge from our quarantine after our experience of being sickened by coronavirus.

And as I’ve explained in my previous updates, anxiety plays such a large role in the illness… simply because it keeps you guessing.

Just when you think you’ve turned the corner and are getting better, it repeats. You find yourself experiencing the same symptoms again.

My symptoms started with chest pain and shortness of breath, then sinus pain, followed by fever, chills, body aches and then sore throat right into cold symptoms like sneezing, runny nose and a mild cough.

After about five days of no fever, the whole thing started again.

It was really very strange and unlike anything I’d experienced before. A combination of allergies, cold, flu and bronchitis is really the best way to describe it…

But one symptom was constant, anxiety. You can’t help but wonder if tomorrow is the day you or a loved one will have to go to the hospital.

And although we’ve recovered…

I’m still anxious about the virus (and whether reinfection is possible) because there is still so much we don’t know about it.
I’m definitely “spooked.” And apparently, I’m not alone.

A recent Harris Poll revealed that Americans are more worried about the mental health repercussions of this pandemic than we are about paying our bills or even about losing our jobs.

In particular, we’re most worried about the increased anxiety we’re sure will blossom among us as a result of the isolation that’s been necessary to preserve our physical health.

We’re concerned about our emotional health

According to the poll, the vast majority of Americans (84 percent) say that if social distancing continues longer than they expect, it will have an impact on their mental health.

For me, that’s clearly the case. I’m not yet truly ready to trade the security of my home for my life before this experience.

First it was weeks, then a month… maybe two. And even as some states and countries start to loosen stay at home orders in an attempt to reopen businesses, health officials are still stressing that some level of social distancing will be necessary, at least through the summer, to avoid a spike in new cases.

They’ve also warned that a second wave of the virus in the fall is highly possible.

No beach. No visits with friends. No summer vacation. Left to wonder whether in-classroom learning will even resume in the fall…

There’s so much we don’t know about how this virus behaves, what bodily systems it damages, how immunity is built up.

With new information about the virus emerging daily, often contradicting the “facts” we’d considered true the day before, staying at home is beginning to feel like it will be our new way of life… at least until more definitive answers emerge.

It’s no easy task to stay mentally and emotionally healthy during this time. But it would be a mistake not to pay attention to your emotional well-being.

How the mind affects immunity

Research has proven that laughter can strengthen your immune system. The flip side of that coin is that chronic anxiety and depression can weaken your immune system and make you an easy target for every sickness going around.

While my family and I were sick, I had a no news policy. I honestly couldn’t bear it. So, we turned to sitcoms, goofy movies and internet cat videos for solace.

But several studies show the effects of quarantine — in terms of depression, anxiety and addictive behavior — can be long-lasting.

In one study, health care workers in China who were quarantined during the 2003 SARS outbreak showed an increase in alcohol abuse and dependency three years after their quarantine had ended.

To survive the stress of the present pandemic, we must acknowledge the risk and take active steps to protect our fragile mental health. We can do this by giving ourselves a pass on “perfection” and lessening the responsibilities we had in our pre-virus life as best we can. Put simply, you need to give yourself a break. But it’s going to take some work…

Things you can do to cope

1. Establish routines. They may not be anything like your prior routines, even if you’re used to being at or working from home. And they honestly shouldn’t be the same.

If you’re new to working at home, and especially if you’re doing it while meeting the needs of children or are the caregiver to elderly parents, routine will be especially important for you. Not having a routine can leave you feeling directionless, and you’ll be more susceptible to those nagging anxious thoughts.

It doesn’t really matter what the routine is… just as long as it works for you and you stick to it.

I’ve personally seen my children and husband struggle with this. Their whole routine and social lives were literally thrown out the door with about a day’s notice.

Even just going to bed and waking up at the same time each day is a huge help and will ensure you get the full night’s sleep you need to support immune health.

Whatever you do, do not stay in bed or spend the day in your pajamas. This is terrible for your mood. Even though you’re likely dressing more casually at home, you’ll feel better if you don’t throw your normal level of grooming out the window.

2. Be as active as possible. Get up from the couch or your desk every hour to move and stretch your body. Go for a walk outside. Go dig in your garden. On rainy days, try this link for a wealth of resources on where to stream workouts for free during the coronavirus outbreak.

My husband and I made a plan to take a walk together with our dogs at the same time each day… a luxury we don’t get under normal circumstances.

I even made dates with my kids to take one-on-one walks with them most days as well.

3. Combat frustration and boredom. Keep working on projects you’ve started. Work them into your routine. Make a list of things you want to accomplish, but also give yourself some slack and time to chill. Don’t put excess pressure on yourself to learn a new language or how to play an instrument. It could be too much in addition to the pressure of our current situation.

Be realistic to avoid adding stress…

In addition to our walk and his daily workout, my husband spent his time away from his job cleaning out the garage, cleaning out cabinets and catching up on yard work.

Long story short, accomplishing manageable tasks can offer you a sense of purpose, competency and control in a time when so much is beyond our control.

4. Communicate. Distancing doesn’t have to mean isolating. Find ways to stay in touch on a daily basis.

Call family and friends.

Send texts.

Use videoconferencing like Zoom or Facetime to meet face to face… maybe even share a meal or a drink.

Check in with friends and family who are alone.

Write a letter.

5. Stay informed, but not overwhelmed. Pick a few trusted sources for your news and only pay attention to those. I’m old school and prefer my local newspaper. I try to avoid scrolling through never-ending news updates and watching hours of cable television news shows that only increase my anxiety and give conflicting information.

Give yourself permission to drop out of social media if it’s no longer enjoyable or not supporting your mental health. Focus on things that will support your mental health, not sabotage it.

6. Consider adding a nutrient that supports brain health and mood to your daily health routine. During times of stress, our brains don’t work as well as they should. Brain fog and hazy thinking hang like a cloud over our heads.

And memory and sharpness naturally decline as we age… adding to our sense of anxiety and fear. Honestly, your brain starts to feel like its full of cobwebs.

Phosphatidylserine, also known as PS, is a vital building block for your brain that can help. PS is backed by hundreds of studies that show it helps support the release of natural chemical transmitters that promote better brain function.

Put plainly, it can help you…

• remember the names of familiar people.
• recall the location of misplaced objects.
• remember appointments and obligations.
• improve verbal and written abilities.
• gain new mental confidence by chasing away the clouds and cobwebs.

And frankly, this will boost your mood and make you feel better about yourself so you’re better able to cope with the current situation at hand.

Years ago, when my son was going through a rough patch in high school, he gave me a bracelet inscribed “this too shall pass.” It honestly brought me great comfort. To this day I look back on it with fondness. What could have been a sour memory turned sweet due to that one gift. But that does not mean the challenges of that time are completely forgotten.

Although we are collectively going through a time of great distress and tragedy, I believe we’ll have the opportunity to look back and remember the good that happened… and the selflessness of so many who put their own lives at risk to help others.

But it will take time, and we all need to protect our precious mental health by not putting extra pressure on ourselves, forgiving our own personal reactions and allowing ourselves time to adjust and grieve what we’ve lost.