Stress: What can we Control?
- Posted on: May 11 2020
Here are some suggestions for dealing with the stress you may be feeling from the Covid-19 pandemic. First, a couple of thoughts about stress. The relationship between stress and increased pain has been well studied, providing clear evidence that increased stress leads to increased nervous system response and increased inflammation, which in turn results in increased levels of discomfort and pain. We know that with prolonged stress the body struggles to combat negative effects which in turn can lead to chronic pain. The good news is that we have the ability to control stress in the short term so that its negative effects can be reduced and even eliminated.
For many of us, Covid-19 has created a difficult and uncertain environment. As a result, we may be dealing with increased stress levels which are taking a toll on us both mentally and physically. Fortunately, there are simple and accessible ways we can address our personal situation, decrease stress, and replace uncertainty with a healthy measure of control.
Being proactive by setting a daily schedule and maintaining a regular routine are good ways to ensure that we have a healthy, stress-reducing plan. Three things we can take control of in our daily routine are food, physical activity, and sleep. Why are these factors so important and what should we do? Let’s start with food. A balanced diet provides the body with natural building blocks that helps us heal, and build and maintain health. In times of stress, the body’s natural response is to gravitate toward “comfort food” or foods high in sugar and fat, including alcohol. While this impulse is satisfying in the short term, junk foods and alcohol increase inflammation in the body and have a negative impact on mood and energy levels. To an already stressed system, this only increases the body’s pain response, delaying healing and negatively impacting sleep.
Let’s turn to suggestions for physical activity. This does not mean we should go run a marathon or pump iron for five hours a day. We can do something as simple as taking a 15-minute walk two times a day along with gentle stretching. Physical activity is important in stress modulation because it decreases stress hormones and produces endorphins which act as the body’s natural pain killers and help improve mood.
And now some suggestions about sleep. Sleep is so important because the hormone released with sleep, melatonin, aids in regulating cortisol which is the primary stress hormone. Sleep also aids in the healing process by releasing hormones which promote growth and repair. We have all experienced a sleepless night related to stress, and restful sleep for many of us has been particularly difficult during this time because stress alters sleep cycles. However, there is a lot that is still within our control to help with a good night’s sleep. Lack of sleep during this time may be caused by something as simple to control as a lack of structure caused by mid-day naps or late nights spent on Netflix and getting lost in endless google searches, followed by late mornings in bed. Because sleep is one of the body’s most powerful mechanisms for healing and stress regulation, it is important to set a well-regulated sleep schedule, which means going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. Maybe you’ve been lying in bed too long. If six or seven hours’ sleep leaves you rested, set your clock accordingly. If you need eight hours, regulate the time with your alarm clock.
To summarize, we can take better control of our lives during this uncertain time and decrease internal stressors by planning more health-conscious food choices, taking exercise every day, and improving our sleep by sticking to a regular sleep schedule.
Posted in: Physical Therapy