Staying healthy physically AND mentally

(Dr. Clayton Lawrence, CEO, shares his thoughts in a weekly column focused on overall wellness in an otherwise toxic world. (Always consult with your own physician before beginning any new diet/exercise routine.)

During times such as these, it becomes harder and harder to shut down the negative chatter and focus on the light in the world. After all – it has become pretty difficult to believe there is a light at the end of this bleak tunnel. But there is. And the road to get there is just as important as reaching the finish line.

There is a reason mental health is mentioned in most of the governors addresses across the nation. It can be so easy to become consumed by the news reports, the photos, the Facebook posts, the fear, but the truth is – the fear we often face during times of crisis is often way worse than how we would handle a crisis should it occur. Surely, if you are an older American or you are an individual who has underlying health conditions, there are legitimate concerns at this time, but even for those folks, it is important to take care mentally now so that the body and mind are prepared to fight this virus as it continues to spread.

We are a nation and a world that is truly in this together. We are all facing the same uncertainties, fears and anxieties, but it is important to find healthy outlets to adjust to the current situation. Allowing those stress chemicals to wreak havoc 24-7 will not be beneficial should any of us happen to pick up COVID-19. So, aside from the common sense ways to stay physically healthy (frequent handwashing, disinfecting high-touch surfaces, self-quarantines and coughing or sneezing into a tissue or elbow), consider of a few of the following ways to allow yourself to remain informed, while curbing the development of a more serious condition, such as depression or chronic anxiety/panic.

Stop once in a while to recognize what you’re feeling. Take note of how your body feels. Is it tense and tight? Is your breathing short and from your chest? Is your heart rate faster than normal? Take some time to readjust your body. Lower the shoulders, relax the facial muscles, uncross your legs and simply sit for a few minutes. Regulate the breathing and allow it to slow down and along with it, the heart rate will follow.

If negativity is frequenting your thoughts, make a conscious effort to change your process. Instead of focusing on the uncertainty and fear, which could lead to comments like: “I can’t handle being sick” or “I know it’s only a matter of time and I’ll be hospitalized,” curb the catastrophic thinking by taking control of those thoughts and the situation. Take action, doing things that will allow you to feel in control by implementing the above suggestions, like frequent handwashing and self-quarantining. Change the above thoughts to “I can handle this” and “I’m taking all the proper precautions – my chances are very low and even if it does hit me, I trust that the healthcare system will get me through this.”

Take some of that anxious energy and do something positive while in isolation. If you’re alone during this time, there is no shame in snuggling up with a few good books or binge watching a few Netflix series. Take a look at some of the online exercise resources and challenge yourself to complete a workout each day. Today marks the official start of spring, so take this time to complete a deep clean of your living space, including closets, drawers and cupboards. If you are worried about the economy and if you’re off without pay, check out some remote ways to earn some income through resources like Fiverr, FlexJobs and Upwork. You’ll be keeping busy and making some money in the process. If you are quarantined with others, find fun things to do together, such as playing games, taking a walk, baking or stocking the freezer with pre-cooked meals.

Recognize that anxiety is contagious, not only for others, but for yourself. Family and friends can surely pick up on how we’re feeling because anxiety and depression often lead to mood changes, can cause our tempers to be short and we often experience a lack of patience with others. When we are constantly voicing our concerns, eventually those we’re speaking to pick up some of those same fears and experience those anxious feelings, as well. And when we, as individuals, become trapped in the anxious cycle, our bodies are constantly overstimulated, releasing chemicals that keep us ready for the worst-case scenario. Those chemicals, while beneficial if being chased by a robber, are not good on our systems. Stopping the cycle even just for a moment of calm with some of the above suggestions can eventually break the cycle altogether and stop the “spread” of stress chemicals that keep our senses heightened and unable to relax (which also can have a detrimental effect on our body’s ability to fight off illness).

The moral of the story? Take care of yourself. As selfish as it sounds, put yourself first once in a while. Consider how you are feeling in this very moment and take the necessary steps to bring yourself back to a sense of rational clarity and calm. We’re all in this together – take comfort in that.