Control COVID stress to avoid chronic illness

stressed woman

As most of you already know, I tested positive for COVID-19 in April.

My whole family went down with it one by one… and honestly, I still don’t think we’re 100% over it.

I get fatigued more easily than I did before… my husband has persistent gastrointestinal issues… and everyone has complained about body aches at one point or another over the past few weeks.

The uncertainty of how long it will take for us to return to normal has itself become a source of stress.

Added to the day-to-day stress of working, running a business, raising kids and running a household… is a lot.

And for those of you who have avoided catching the virus so far, I know you’re worried about keeping yourself and your loved ones healthy… which is yet another major stressor.

The thing is, stress isn’t just a mental thing or an inconvenience. It’s physical, and it’s dangerous.

Stress and inflammation go hand in hand… they feed each other.

It works like this…

The brain and the immune system are in constant communication.

When you’re stressed, the brain sends defense signals to the endocrine system, which then releases hormones that not only get us ready for emergency situations (fight or flight), but also severely depress our immunity.

Normally, your stress hormone — cortisol — would shut this process down. But researchers have found that when you’re stressed that process goes haywire. Your body continues to pump out immune cells, inflammation continues to build and, eventually, chronic inflammation sets in.

It’s a vicious cycle, and, because the effects of stress are cumulative, even ordinary, day-to-day events can lead to serious health issues.

Luckily, this cycle can be broken.

There are two steps you can take. First, you should try to reduce your stress levels… after all, it’s what’s kicking off this whole cycle to begin with.

Second, you must fight the inflammation. This step is absolutely vital since inflammation puts you at an increased risk for heart disease (hello, that’s the last thing anybody in my family needs!), diabetes, Alzheimer’s and more.

Here are some easy ways to tackle the first step. Lowering your stress levels is mind over matter.

#1 — Fake it ’til you make it

The first step to calming that stress is to put on a happy face, whether you feel like it or not.

Research published in the journal Psychological Science discovered that faking a smile has the power to lower your stress. Basically, they found that “grin and bear it” actually works.

#2 — Watch your posture

A 2015 study found that maintaining an upright posture can help fend off your natural stress response.

In fact, after the study, participants who sat upright reported higher self-esteem, more arousal, better mood and lower anxiety, compared to those who slumped.

#3 — Stop and smell the roses

Seriously… get a good whiff. The Journal of Physiological Anthropology found that people who either touched or smelled plants felt less anxious and stressed.

So, either get outside or bring the outside in.

#4 — Try aromatherapy

Along the same lines, results from a study from the University of Montana showed that taking the time to smell essential oils helped participants:

  • Feel less stressed
  • Sleep better
  • Improve their energy

Oils used in the study were lavender, clary sage and chamomile.

#5 — Put on some music

My final stress-busting tip is to put on music or nature sounds. This always works for me!

A Swiss study found that participants who listened to either the sounds of classical music or rippling water experienced a lower stress response than those who didn’t.

And now for step two…

Here are a few easy ways to better manage the inflammation portion of the stress/inflammation cycle.

#1 — Eat an anti-inflammatory diet

Antioxidants work by reducing the number of free radicals in your body. Free radicals can lead to inflammation when they’re not kept in check.

Your anti-inflammatory diet should provide a healthy balance of protein, carbs and fat at each meal. Make sure you meet your body’s needs for vitamins, minerals, fiber and water.

Foods to eat:

  • Vegetables: Broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.
  • Fruit: Especially deeply colored berries like blueberries, strawberries and cherries
  • High-fat fruits: Avocados and olives
  • Healthy fats: Olive oil and coconut oil
  • Fatty fish: Salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel and anchovies
  • Nuts
  • Peppers: Bell peppers and chili peppers
  • Dark chocolate
  • Spices: Turmeric, fenugreek, cinnamon
  • Green tea
  • Red wine: Up to 5 ounces (140 ml) of red wine per day for women and 10 ounces (280 ml) per day for men

Foods to avoid:

  • Sugary beverages: Sugar-sweetened drinks and fruit juices
  • Refined carbs: White bread, white pasta
  • Desserts: Cookies, candy, cake and ice cream
  • Processed meat: Hot dogs, bologna, sausages
  • Processed snack foods: Crackers, chips and pretzels
  • Vegetable oils: Processed seed and vegetable oils like soybean, canola and corn oil
  • Trans fats: Foods with partially hydrogenated ingredients

#2 — Get some exercise

Exercise can decrease inflammatory markers and your risk of chronic disease.

According to James Gray, M.D., a cardiologist at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, “Regular exercise is an excellent way to prevent inflammation.”

His recommendation is to shoot for 30 to 45 minutes of aerobic exercise plus 10 to 25 minutes of weight or resistance training at least four to five times per week.

# 3 — Catch some zzz’s

Sleep, immune function and inflammation all share a common regulator… the circadian rhythm.

Circadian rhythm is the natural, internal process that regulates the sleep/wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours.

When circadian rhythms are out of sync, so is sleep.

Circadian rhythms also regulate our immune system, and with it, our levels of inflammation. When circadian rhythms are disrupted, so is normal immune function. We’re more prone to harmful inflammation.

One way to help keep circadian rhythms in sync is to maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Going to bed at the same time and waking at the same time every day reinforces healthy circadian rhythms.

Getting the right amount of sleep — for most adults, that’s between 7-9 hours a night — on a consistent basis also helps you avoid inflammation.

Along with your ability to function at your best mentally and feel your best physically, getting a full night of sleep every night makes a difference at a cellular level, in your body’s ability to keep inflammation in check.

#4 — Krill Oil

Omega-3 fatty acids like the ones found in krill oil have anti-inflammatory effects.

Krill oil is considered the most effective marine omega-3 source at fighting inflammation because it’s easily absorbed by the body… plus it contains astaxanthin, a pigment with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

The American Heart Association recommends taking a pure, high-quality fish oil to maintain normal inflammation levels.

In these unprecedented times, stress is virtually unavoidable. But don’t just give in to it… stress begets more stress… which results in inflammation… and eventually serious illness. Use these tips to try to break the cycle. Better days are ahead!