By Dr. Tamer Issa- Doctor of Physical Therapy
There seems to be a lot to worry about these days with the toll of the COVID-19 virus on our nation and a historic election that has yet to be decided. The uncertainty about the future that abounds creates a force that is affecting most of us on a real and deep level. That force is STRESS.
There are different forms of stress... to put it simply, let us say good and bad stress. Good stress is necessary for our physical and mental state to adapt and change in response to stress. Think about what happens to your muscles as you start to push and demand more of them through resistance exercises. Muscles adapt and get stronger. The same can be said for someone who struggles through a difficult period of one's life. The adversity can lead someone to a happier, more resilient future self.
The stress that many of us are feeling given the state of the current affairs can wreak havoc on our hormones and emotional states. Especially, if the stress is prolonged. Prolonged stress can lead to increased adrenaline and cortisol levels. These stress hormones tell our bodies that danger is on the horizon and prepares our bodies to get ready for a fight or to flee. These hormones are designed to help us deal with threats and danger, whether perceived or real. The problem is that prolonged, consistent elevation of these hormones can contribute to a myriad of health problems, like anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory or concentration problems.
There are plenty of unhealthy ways to deal with this type of stress... substance abuse, overeating, violent communication, TV binge-watching, obsessive social media intake, to name a few. Most of us have been there.
In times like this, it's more important than ever to recalibrate. There is the classic definition of recalibration related to making adjustments to an instrument in order to measure more accurately. I'm talking about recalibrating yourself. The second definition of recalibrating in the Cambridge Dictionary is... "to change the way you do or think about something". I love this definition and I think it's important for us to remember, especially during stressful times.
Here are several simple ways to recalibrate... your body, mind, and soul.
Recalibrate Your Body
Think back to your high school or college days when you were stressed about a big assignment that was due or an important test. In that state of mind, it may have been hard to get started or to concentrate on the task at hand. I bet some of you figured out that you could positively change your mental state by moving your body... or at least used it as a way to procrastinate a little longer. Moving the body and exercise is a great tool to help manage that negative energy and stress. It can be as simple as a walk outside, a form of aerobic exercise, or yoga. Getting the energy and blood flowing through your body through movement is an easy and healthy way to combat the ill effects of chronic stress. Your hormones are signaling you to get ready for action... so why not get moving?
Recalibrate Your Mind
Do you ever catch yourself thinking in a negative loop? Or find yourself in a state of worry? I recently heard that we can have around 50,000 thoughts per day. Wow, incredible, I definitely don't notice that. Guess what, according to the experts, most of them are negative. Those negative thoughts are the fuel to the fire for depression and anxiety. You need to recalibrate your thoughts... or at least slow them down. You can do this through paying attention to your breathing, by meditating, or by engaging in a creative activity that forces you to focus on the task at hand (like coloring, cooking, building something, playing, etc.). If you find yourself feeling agitated or irritable by what you are hearing on the news... stop surfing the net, get off your phone, and stop watching your TV. Try focusing on your breath, follow a guided meditation, or engage in an activity you enjoy. Even 5-15 minutes will help.
Recalibrate Your Soul
Even though I have been using self-care (exercise, meditation, eating healthy) as a way to better myself and cope, I still found myself feeling that I needed to do something to help. So I decided to volunteer my time to get out the vote. I wrote letters and called people leading up to this election sharing the importance of exercising their right to vote. The more I gave in my time and energy, the more I felt I was getting back. You can recalibrate your soul by giving. Giving to a local charity, spending money at a local business, or volunteering your time to a cause you care about. You can recalibrate your soul by listening to music, or dancing, or laughing, or whatever brings you joy. You can recalibrate your soul by connecting with others. Reconnecting with a friend or a loved one can help you feel less isolated and more at peace with the world.
Amidst uncertainty, there is a feeling of a lack of control. Many of us don't have a lot of control over what's happening around us as it relates to the rise in COVID cases or the outcome of the election. You can control how you choose to spend your time and energy. You can control how you process the stress you are feeling. You can change the way you do or think about something. You can recalibrate. For the sake of your well-being, I suggest you do it often.