The Helmkamp Guide to Wellness, Positivity, and Mental Health for 2020’s Pandemic-Related Stress
The current COVID-19 pandemic has been a significant adjustment for everyone worldwide and has impacted the stress levels in each of us. There are stresses around the fear of one’s own health and the health of family members and friends. Other stresses could include financial and personal ones, along with stress caused by the disruption of work-life balance whether it’s remote work or learning to newly interact with others in the workplace with masks, physical-distancing, and limiting any contact, such as shaking another person’s hand.
What’s more, is when your stress becomes chronic, it’s linked to inflammatory responses and can aggravate existing conditions and develop new ailments over time. Optimizing positive habits can become effective tools to overcome stress and its impact on the body.
Positivity, wellness, and mental health are vital for any well-balanced person, and although we typically focus on the physical safety of our employees and customers, we care about their mental health as well. 2020 has proven to be a challenging year, so with a little help from the American College of Immunology, here are the Top 3 tips across several categories you can use to balance and improve this stress:
First, and foremost, Sleep! Sleep deprivation activates the sympatho-adrenomedullary system, stimulating the release of catecholamines (a chemical that is made by nerve cells and used to send signals to other cells), such as cortisol and adrenaline. Chronically high levels of these chemicals drive the stress response, which can suppress the immune system, limit tissue repair, and reduce memory consolidation and cognitive function.
Top 3 Tips for Sleep:
- Try for 6-8 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period and keep a regular sleep-wake schedule.
- Reduce screen time and light exposure 30 minutes prior to going to bed to reduce alertness. If possible, switch electronics to “Night” or “Do Not Disturb” Mode. When you’re unable to sleep, consider soothing music or even tools found in online apps such as Headspace, Breethe, or Calm, that can promote relaxation and sleep without screen time.
- Reduce caffeine, alcohol, and large meals prior to bedtime. While exercise is great, avoid vigorous exercise within a few hours of bedtime. Practice routines promoting a relaxing behavior, such as a bath or shower, which promote peripheral vasodilation.
Top 3 Tips for Nutrition:
- Meal planning and preparation. If you are going into the office, try to bring your own meals. Even if at home, plan your meals with a healthy mix of fruits, vegetables and proteins. When eating, take a few moments to be seated and eat methodically while chewing and enjoying your food.
- Hydrate with water and non-caffeinated beverages throughout the day. Keep a refillable water bottle in your work area and keep drinking throughout the day.
- Excessive dairy and processed grains can contribute to excessive mucus – good to know during cold, flu, (and coronavirus) season! Of course, any foods that cause allergies or intolerances should be avoided.
Top 3 Tips for Exercise:
- Physical exercise has long been associated with improved mental health and well-being. With the closure of and potential anxiety around the safety of returning to gyms and fitness centers, people have lost their normal mechanisms of exercising. Perform fitness activities at home or outside. Even if at work or working from home, take a 5-minute break on the hour when you can walk/stretch your legs.
- Any amount of physical activity is better than none at all, and at least 30 minutes of moderate-vigorous activity is ideal. If you are able, consider walking or safely biking to work.
- Get some sunlight throughout the day. This can have both health benefits (exposure to Vitamin D) and be invigorating. When heavy pollen is present, make sure to wear a mask (which is recommended for slowing the spread of COVID-19 anyway). Showering after outdoor exercise can also help reduce pollen found in the hair from being outdoors.
Top 3 Tips for Mindfulness:
- Stretching exercises in the morning and throughout the day can be helpful for the body and to calm the mind. For those seated throughout the day (including kids), gentle “chair yoga” exercises may be helpful.
- Humor has been suggested as a way to combat feelings of anxiety and depression. This can be done with appropriate social distancing (memes, texts) or even laughter yoga… yes, we looked it up… that’s a thing.
- Meditation has long been used as a practice of relaxing and controlling the mind. Guided imagery is a similar practice using contemplative images as a calming method.
Top 3 Tips for Family Balance:
- Share your feelings with family and loved ones. This also presents a chance to spend quality time with children, spouses and other family members.
- Having children of all ages at home may present additional stress. It’s that much more important to maintain your and their normal daily routines established prior to the COVID-19 pandemic as much as possible.
- Focus on what you can control to keep yourself and family safe. Continue aggressive hand washing, maintain appropriate social distancing, and follow recommendations from trusted sources.
Top 3 Tips for Social Balance:
- Limit reading and listening to the news to 1-2x/per day for key updates. The news and media coverage around the virus and politics can be overwhelming.
- Reconnecting with hobbies like reading or hiking can be powerful and relaxing tools to maintain balance.
- Pace yourself! Keep a balanced daily schedule, making sure you have a specified time for work – and a hard stop, allowing you to spend time enjoying leisurely activities.
There you have it. These tips should help with resilience during these tough times and onward. It’s important to accept the phase we are all in and rise to meet this challenge in whatever capacity feasible. Exercising self-compassion during stressful times is also very important. Remember to be kind to yourself and maintain a positive attitude, which will help you stay strong and healthy. We’ll get through it together.
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