You probably already know that you should manage your stress level. After all, it is widely acknowledged that stress has been linked to many of the most common health problems. But have you ever considered that stress is a problem linked to your body’s energy system?
In traditional Asian medicine, the flow of life energy, also known as chi or qi, is the foundation of health and vitality. So, when a blockage or imbalance arises in your energy system, health problems will soon follow.
Stress is often the source of these blockages since it creates tension and imbalance within the body. Fortunately, there is much you can do to ensure the health of your energy system and to mitigate the effects of stress.
Editors note: You don’t have to be a devotee of Asian medicine to benefit from these techniques. They will work for you whether you believe in Western or Eastern theories of stress.
According to the principles of Eastern medicine, too much stress is quite unhealthy for your energy system. This is because it turns your energy flow upside-down.
When you are feeling good and your mind is calm, your energy flows according to the pattern known as “Water Up, Fire Down.” In this healthy condition, the hot fire energy of the body sinks to the abdomen, while cool water energy of the body rises to the head.
When we are ill, emotionally upset, or under a lot of stress, the opposite happens. That is, hot energy rises to our heads and our intestines become cold and sluggish. We become red-faced if we are angry or have a fever. We develop poor digestion and unfocused minds when we are stressed.
Here are some of the symptoms that indicate a reversed energy condition (Editor’s note: In Western medicine, we say they are the result of stress):
Fortunately, you don’t have to be an expert or even a believer in Asian medicine to observe and manage your energy flow. In fact, the “Water Up, Fire Down” energy principle is easy for anyone to use as a tool for stress management and health maintenance. It’s just a matter of learning to notice when your energy is in a reversed state and then taking action to reestablish proper balance.
Creating a Water Up, Fire Down state when our condition is reversed involves another principle of energy: “Where the mind goes, energy follows.”
You can see that this is true in a practical way in everyday life. For example, if you never think about your car’s maintenance, you probably won’t take care of it. This can lead to the car needing expensive repairs later on. If you put a reminder on your phone to do your oil changes and to have your brakes checked, you will probably be more likely to complete those tasks.
When you think about it, everything any human does starts with a thought about taking some action. Whether you want to get up and make a cup of tea, or you want to complete a mission to Mars, it all starts with a thought.
In your energy system, this is also true and in a very literal way. Your energy goes wherever you focus your mind. When you are feeling stressed, energy tends to pool in the head because so much of your energy is devoted to thinking, contributing to a reversed energy state.
Dr. Nick Hobson, Founder and Chief Behavioral Scientist at The Behaviorist and a Lecturer at the University of Toronto, links stress-related disease directly to our tendency to over-analyze our problems:
“Our heightened anxiety has its roots in the way we think…We’re analytic thinkers, meaning we see the world in a linear fashion, carving out separate events and peering at them through a lens of cause and effect.”
To avoid the debilitating effects of stress, we need to bring energy down from the head—the overheated brain—into the body, where that energy can be used for action instead of for more thinking.
When your energy is upside-down, as it tends to be when you are under stress, you should do what you can to bring fire energy back down from your head into your abdomen, to create the proverbial “fire in the belly.”
Here are 5 ways to do it:
Tap your head with your fingertips. Keep exhaling while tapping. Concentrate on your outgoing breath, imagining heat leaving your head through your exhalations. Tap the crown of your head about 30 times; then move forward and down, tapping along the centerline of your head. Now tap evenly around the top of your head. Then tap in sequence on the sides, back, and lower back of your head (where the head and neck meet).
Sit on the floor or in a chair. Tap the left side of your chest with your right fist, using the side of your hand leading into the thumb. Spend about three minutes tapping your chest, including the area below your left collarbone. While tapping, exhale through your mouth, and focus on the sensations in your chest. Switch hands and tap the right side of your chest with your left fist for about three minutes. Now use whichever hand feels more comfortable and tap along the centerline of your body. Then sweep down your chest with your palms.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and bend your knees slightly. Place your palms on your lower belly. Pull your abdomen in toward your back, hold it for a moment, and then relax, releasing your belly naturally. Repeat 100 times, pulling and releasing your abdomen while you focus on the feeling of it. When doing this exercise, you don’t necessarily have to sync your breathing with your intestinal movements. Just concentrating on the exercise will naturally lead to deeper breathing.
Sit on the floor or in a chair in a comfortable position and straighten your lower back. Relax your neck, shoulders, and arms. Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your lower abdomen below your navel. When you breathe in, let your abdomen expand like a balloon filling with air. When you exhale, let your abdomen contract. The hand on your chest should remain relatively still. Try to keep your mind on the feeling of your lower abdomen, both the movement and the feeling inside, to help bring down the energy in your head. Relax any tension in your body and mind, and breathe comfortably. Once you’re familiar with breathing this way, lower your hands and place them comfortably on your knees or at your side. Breathe only through your nose, if possible.
Walking is one of the best forms of exercise for clearing the mind and relieving stress. Walk faster and more forcefully than usual. Keep your upper body straight and step with heels first, extending your legs as far as you can. If you bend your arms, moving them forward and backward as you walk, you’ll put more power in your steps.
Amplify the effectiveness by making your strides longer than normal and putting your focus on the bottom of your feet (the part of your body furthest from your head). Tighten the muscles of your waist and belly as you walk, sensing that your muscles, pelvis, and gut are being worked with every step.
By looking into the principles of traditional Asian medicine, we can see new ways of thinking about and managing stress. Applying principles such as Water Up, Fire Down to the way we approach stress involves a personal experience of these principles that makes us more aware of our stress level and energy state. With this enhanced awareness, or what is often called mindfulness, we can take simple actions every day to alleviate stress and prevent the well-documented effects of chronic stress.
Financial Disclosure: Contents of this post are related to, but not quoted from, Ilchi Lee’s newest book, Water Up Fire Down: An Energy Principle for Creating Calmness, Clarity, and a Lifetime of Health*** Ilchi Lee’s prior book, I’ve Decided to Live 120 Years: The Ancient Secret to Longevity, Vitality, and Life Transformation*** served as the basis for a prior post on TDWI, These 8 Life-Changing Tips Will Help You Age Well.
***Indicates that these are affiliate links. That means that we earn a small commission from each sale made via this link. It does not cost you anything, but the earnings help us run our business.
Early in the pandemic, Dr. Deborah Birx, the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, reminded the public of the critical importance of individual and collective human behaviors to change the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said,
“It’s communities that will do this. There’s no magic bullet. There’s no magic vaccine or therapy. It’s just behaviors. Each of our behaviors translating into something that changes the course of this viral pandemic over the next 30 days.”
The pandemic continues to profoundly change our “normal” lives many months later. The good news is that we appear to be coming off of the devastating third wave of the pandemic. Further, vaccinations are proceeding at a decent pace – more than 2 million per day.
Recently, the CDC announced guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals that begin to normalize their lives. For instance, it’s now ok for them to gather in very small groups with others who are also vaccinated. (Read the full recommendations here).
However, we are not home-free yet. Some experts predict that early reopenings with full relaxation of public health measures in many states could be followed by a fourth wave. This once again reminds us of the importance of human behavior in combatting the pandemic. Despite tireless, ongoing efforts, until we reach levels of vaccination that approach herd immunity, we are still at risk of relapse.
There has been some good news on the therapy front. Clinicians have gotten much better at treating hospitalized COVID patients leading to a drop in the death rate. Further, there are a number of new drugs that significantly alter the course of the illness. The bad news is that the continued global pandemic has resulted in the spread of many new strains of the virus. Some are more infectious and some more virulent. We still don’t know for sure how effective existing vaccines will be in halting transmission of the virus.
So, for now, we continue to depend on human behavior to contain the spread of the virus.1 And, according to experts, we will do so for the coming months (or longer) until most of the population is fully vaccinated.
The challenge of employing human behavior to combat a crisis of this magnitude is that behavior is often unreliable and unsustainable. We’ve already seen this play out in some areas of the country where people are agitating for freedom from the public health mandates of masking and distancing. Because of these challenges, and the fact that a medical solution is still somewhere in the future, many are asking, “how do we move forward?”
A good place to start is to gain a deeper understanding of why people act the way they do during times of immense stress and uncertainty. Behavioral science can help inform our country of the next steps we need to take to enact real, meaningful change in our country’s overall response to the coronavirus.
In this piece, we’ll explain how stress can influence our behavior. And, we will share actionable insights that can be used to inform both our individual and collective responses to the coronavirus pandemic.
Are We Prepared for Increased Healthcare Needs Post-COVID-19?
In times of crisis, most of us are exposed to increases in both acute (in-the-moment) and chronic (consistent over time) stress. Stress2 can impact us in a variety of different ways, including how we process and perceive information in the world around us.
As a function of evolution, we’re wired to preferentially notice, process, and remember emotional information3 over non-emotional information. For example, many of us can vividly remember that embarrassing moment from middle school. However, we might be hard-pressed to recall what we had for breakfast three days ago.
Stress has many physiological and psychological effects.4 One is the heightening of our awareness of negative, rather than positive information.
Again, this is an evolutionary response. Humans become stressed because there is a threat in our environment. Heightened awareness of negative information increases our chances of identifying and dealing with the source of our stress.
Today, we are seeing, hearing, and experiencing a large amount of negative and fear-inducing information. And, we are more likely to retain that negative information, and have it be top of mind.
That chronic exposure to emotionally-negative stimuli can lead to increased stress. It can also provoke neurobiological changes that predispose us to be more likely to notice other negative stimuli.
One classic example is the phenomenon of many experiences after breaking up with a romantic partner. To them, it seems like every song they hear on the radio is about breaking up or falling out of love.
While this is helpful for survival in some cases (being hyper-aware of animal noises while walking in the woods at night, for example), it can be very cognitively taxing for us in situations like the one we are in right now.
Chronic stress impacts our decision-making. In fact, even in “normal” circumstances, much of our behavior, including buying, is driven by a balance between two motivations:
Those two cognitive “needs” operate more or less in balance with one another. This balance is disrupted by negative emotions, such as:
Under those conditions, our desire to make ourselves feel better gets amplified. And, we put much less effort into controlling our impulses. That is why many of us went out and stocked up on toilet paper and other essentials when the pandemic first began. We did it even though we knew we didn’t necessarily need it or could have saved it for someone else.
With a deeper understanding of how stress impacts human behavior, we can start to make informed decisions about the most effective ways to move forward.
There are steps we can take both individually and collectively that can enact meaningful change and help change the course of the coronavirus pandemic for the better.
Individually, we can work to reduce our negative exposure and protect ourselves from becoming overly stressed by:
Physical activity,5 even around the home, can mitigate the production of stress hormones like cortisol. It also reduces anxiety-like symptoms. Physical activity also promotes oxygenated blood flow to the brain. This can both reduce cognitive load and promote long-term brain health.
Social interaction6 provides myriad mental health benefits. Even virtual interactions, via webcam or even text-based communication, promote the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin7 is a reproductive hormone that can increase feelings of bonding and closeness. It also drives prosocial behaviors.
Although these responses are mitigated for virtual, rather than in-person, interactions, maintaining social relationships has obvious benefits over social isolation.
Effortful regulation of our emotions8 can be challenging. But it is very effective for our well-being. We may be tempted to turn off the news, close our laptop, and avoid as much negative information as possible. However, this strategy of emotion suppression – ignoring or pushing away our negative thoughts and feelings – only delays (and, sometimes, amplifies) negative emotional states.
Reappraisal9 is a method of thinking critically and re-framing the negative information we are exposed to and reframing how it relates to us. This way of thinking is much more beneficial to our long-term emotional health. Further, it can have protective effects when we encounter new, negative stimuli. Reappraisal often takes cognitive effort, but the long-term effects are worth it.
Related Content: Natural Remedies That Support Positive Mental Health
As a society, we choose to focus on and highlight the positives as much as possible. We do this both for our emotional health and also for effectiveness in our communication.
Emotionally, there is a lot to feel negatively about right now. Many of us have lost loved ones, our livelihoods, and social relationships. Those things, of course, are incredibly difficult to deal with.
Acknowledging those negative stressors is important. However, ruminating10 on them is harmful to ourselves and to others around us.
Highlighting negative information is a less-effective communication strategy. For example, there has been ample research over the last three decades on anti-smoking PSAs.11It shows that a focus on the negative health outcomes of smoking are often ineffective at promoting smoking cessation.
This is because our default response is to shut out that information. We think, “This can’t happen to me” or “I don’t want to see that.” In some cases, those PSAs12 may actually prime smoking behavior13 because they cue smokers to think about nicotine.
More effective messaging focuses on the positive consequences of behavior change:
Whether you are a manager, a health official, or even a parent, understand that negative information can get peoples’ attention. However positive information can be more effective at promoting behavioral change.
We are all the main characters in our own story. However, getting through a crisis is a collective and social experience.
It can be difficult to be vigilant to the needs of others. But, putting in the effort to do so is critically important.
Try not to become frustrated or hurt if your partner wants to take a few hours to read a book quietly. Or jump to conclusions about work ethic if a team member needs to take an afternoon off to decompress.
Do something, even if it is small, like reminding yourself, “That’s what they need to do for themselves right now.”
It can be an effective way to reappraise the situation. And, it helps you put yourself in the shoes of someone else.
As we await the official end of the pandemic, our behaviors remain an important weapon in the fight against coronavirus. Despite its unpredictable nature, especially in times of crisis, we must find ways for human behavior to help, not hurt or hinder, our response to the pandemic.
We must take what we know about human behavior during times of chronic stress, and apply it to how we move forward as individuals and a collective. It will help us shape a response that is better suited for human behavior. One that can, ultimately, change the course of coronavirus.
Published 6/28/20. Updated by Patricia Salber, MD on 3//9/21.
Women in medicine are at risk of physician burnout due to COVID-19 due to many different factors, including:
Further, they must continue to deal with all of the job-related stress that existed before the pandemic, including:
No wonder women in medicine are feeling overwhelmed and are at risk of burnout.
Since the onset of COVID-19, people worldwide have had to learn to adapt to change quickly. The problem with this, however, is that our brain doesn’t like change. It likes to predict the future and when we face change, this means one thing: uncertainty.
The pandemic has turned the world as we knew it upside-down. Things we previously took for granted, like getting together with friends or going to work, became risky.
In addition to dealing with the possibility of contracting COVID through everyday activities, medical professionals are also at increased risk of contracting the virus through the treatment of their sick patients.
While they are needed now more than ever, medical professionals are losing their jobs and experiencing a reduction in pay and hours. Those who have not yet been affected are worried about the future of their career and financial stability.
Because most schools in the United States have switched over to a digital format, much of childcare and homeschooling have fallen on parents. Traditionally, women have been the primary ones to handle work within the home . Therefore, it is not a far stretch to imagine that they are also the ones who are taking on most of these domestic tasks now.
While these women might be high achievers, many say they are working hard for their families. The trouble is their career takes up so much of their time that they have less time to spend with their loved ones. Even when they have the time, they often experience emotional exhaustion,  that may keep them from being fully present.
Perhaps, that is why 40 percent of female physicians end up leaving or cutting back their hours by their sixth year . A similar trend can be seen with female nurses whose turnover rates are purported to be as high as 38 percent . However, working less can bring up additional stress related to paying back student loans and other financial debt.
For all these reasons, being a woman in medicine now more than ever can feel like being in survival mode. Indeed, when demands are excessive and resources are short, this is a recipe for burnout .
As it turns out, 42 percent of physicians reported being burned out according to a recent online survey . A similar trend can be seen with nurses who normally experience emotional pressures in their jobs which, during a pandemic, can lead to stress and burnout .
When these professionals are not at their best, they suffer a decrease in energy, morale, and job performance. And, the quality of their medical care goes down.
The effect of this trickles down to patients who receive poorer quality care. And they may suffer higher rates of infections and increased mortality rates due to medical errors .
Some women in medicine may turn to junk food or overindulge in drugs or alcohol to cope with stress. Such maladaptive coping translates into weight gain, poorer health, and addictions. All of these things have further consequences that negatively affect sleep, mood, and relationships.
While the external stressors they face are real, it is up to the individual to learn to manage their thinking to avoid feeling anxious, overwhelmed or burned out. This is possible even during COVID-19.
In addition to environmental stressors, part of the reason why anxiety and burnout are an epidemic among healthcare workers is because of the stigma around mental health in the field of medicine.
There is an expectation that healthcare providers are superhuman. And, that they can manage to deal with emotionally draining and sometimes traumatic experiences while navigating challenging work-related conditions without being affected. This is clearly unrealistic and very damaging to their long-term well-being.
Nevertheless, not all hope is lost. The key to staying afloat amid the chaos is self-management. It may seem that the reasons for the stress are external factors and therefore beyond your control. However, our response to stress is a product of our minds.
Think of a time when you were in the same situation as someone else. While you may have been negatively affected by the circumstances at the time, your friend or colleague was unphased.
The reason for this difference in outcomes relates to perception. It is not what happens to us that makes us feel how we do. Rather, it is how we think about what happens to us that leads to those feelings.
When we misunderstand someone’s intention, we can feel upset by our interpretation. Once we realize what they truly meant, our perception shifts. Consequently, so do our feelings.
The same is true in the workplace. It is your thinking that creates your current emotional state, not the circumstances. When you shift your mindset, you shift your anxiety into a state of calm.
The next time you find yourself ruminating about mistakes you’ve made or worrying about the future, bring yourself back to the present moment. Recognize that you have a choice about where you focus your mind.
The world around you will remain imperfect. The healthcare system in which you work will continue to be deeply flawed.
When you fixate on what should be different, you’ll only feel frustrated. Instead, focus inward on what you can control. This is because the only thing you have control over is yourself.
By learning to manage your thinking, you can make positive changes, such as:
The responsibility of self-management and self-care may seem like an added burden to your already burdened life. However, by increasing Emotional Intelligence and managing your energy, you lighten your load.
What may have seemed overwhelming previously may feel easier when your perspective shifts, when you are in a state of balance, and when you are able to accept aspects that exist outside your control.
You are stronger than you realize and no matter what, remember—you always have a choice.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, women in medicine have been faced with heightened demands and lower than normal resources. This combination can overwhelm and bring about anxiety and burnout.
By focusing internally rather than externally, you can regain control over your reactions and refocus on what really matters long-term.
Mindfulness, even when inadvertent, can have powerful effects on your brain. I know because it happened to me. Let me tell you the story.
A while back, I was having breakfast in the backyard, reading the “newspaper” on my laptop. (Actually, there was no paper and very little real news.) I was simultaneously listening to music on my favorite classical music station, KDFC out of San Francisco.
They were playing some sweet piano music (a nocturne by Chopin). It was so enchantingly beautiful that I closed my eyes, savoring it. And, then something strange happened.
It can’t be fully described in words, except to say that I felt “one with the music.” All of my attention was focused on it, on every note, every nuance in the almost imperceptible changes in tempo and loudness.
I had known and loved this piece for many years, but it was that morning, at that very moment that I discovered the tonality of it—the way Chopin arranged the composition around a central note.
What was going on in my brain? I realized that I was unintentionally practicing mindfulness. To some, the very word evokes a smirking dismissal of “new age” psychobabble. I know because I have done it myself.
But that sublime encounter with Chopin profoundly affected me and led me to delve more deeply into the notion of mindfulness.
Simply put, being mindful means being acutely aware of, without reacting emotionally, what is happening now. This is instead of the usual state-of-mind where your thoughts drift into the past or you muse about the future, Mindfulness is the opposite of a wandering mind.
When I listened to that piece of music, I enjoyed it more than I ever had before. I was acutely aware of every note. But at the same time, I discovered the tonality, or the mechanics, of creating the music. This gave me the intellectual satisfaction of discovery but none of the emotional uplift of the music, itself.
Of course, this episode hardly matters in the grand scheme of things. If this is all there is, enjoying music on a deeper level, than it’s really not worth taking the time to read this post. But my Chopin moment is only a metaphor for a much bigger phenomenon. So read on.
What’s the difference between fear and anxiety? Fear is generally elicited by particular cues or contexts. My dog becomes fearful at the sound of thunder. In the context of the African savannah, the image of a leopard is fear-provoking, but in the zoo or on TV, it is just a handsome, powerful cat.
Anxiety, on the other hand, can occur in the absence of triggers. In its chronic form, it can be quite debilitating. How debilitating? PTSD is an extreme example.
Stressful experiences can precipitate acute episodes of PTSD in vulnerable people. The momentary stress we all experience when we hear a car backfire close by can trigger an anxiety attack of devastating proportions in a veteran of the Iraq war.
The natural reaction to attacks of anxiety is to try and avoid them. This can take the form of alcohol and drugs, or cognitively “taking your mind off it.” Both responses are ineffective and tend to accomplish exactly the opposite—that is increasing, instead of decreasing the anxiety.
Mindfulness employs a Jiu-Jitsu approach. Rather than trying to avoid or numb the unpleasant feelings, being mindful means acknowledging the cues that precipitate the response while remaining completely detached. People are taught to do the following:
This is because when you observe and analyze something “clinically”, you rob it of its emotional punch.
Let’s take a look at some studies:
Melissa A. Polusny, Ph.D, of the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System, and her colleagues randomly assigned 116 veterans with PTSD to treatment for their disorder.
Half of the group (58 individuals) were assigned to receive nine sessions (8 weekly 2.5-hour group sessions and a daylong retreat) of mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy (MBSR). These sessions focused on teaching patients to pay attention to the present moment in a “non-judgmental, accepting manner.”
The other half received something called present-centered group therapy (PCGT) consisting of nine weekly group sessions focused on current life problems. Outcomes were assessed before, during, and after treatment and at 2-month follow-up. Here are the results:
The results are certainly modest. The main problem is the relatively short duration of the improvement. So it remains to be seen if a more prolonged practice of MBSR would result in a commensurate prolonged effect.
But the study does demonstrate that stress reduction through the practice of mindfulness definitely works.
A lot of research on the neurobiology of meditation and its offshoot, mindfulness, has been done. Unfortunately, the vast majority of it is of poor quality.
Despite that, the anatomy of brain regions that participate in mindful meditation is coming into light through the use of fMRI.
Britta Holzel and her co-investigators, in a study published in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, measured the gray matter density of the hippocampus. This is an area of the brain that is known to store and regulate memories. It also plays a role in the regulation of emotions.
The researchers found significant increases in the density of the left hippocampus. This study confirmed that structural changes in this region are detectable within 8 weeks following the participation in mindfulness training program. Other areas of interest in the brain that served as controls had no such changes in gray matter density.
The investigators then went a step further. Rather than stop with the pre-selected “areas of interest”, they looked at the whole brain. And, that was quite illuminating. Here is what they found in various brain regions:
Exploratory analysis of the entire brain revealed four clusters with significantly greater gray matter concentration post-training compared with the pre-training time-point in the MBSR group. One cluster was located in the posterior cingulate cortex where an area called the insula is located.
The insula is known to be impacted in interoceptive/visceral (basically, what’s going on in your body) awareness as well as in empathic responses (your ability to know what’s going on physically and emotionally in the other person). More generally, it plays an important role in human awareness or consciousness.
One cluster was located in the left temporoparietal junction (TPJ). It has been suggested that the TPJ is a crucial structure for the conscious experience of the self, mediating spatial unity of self and body.
Impaired processing at the TPJ may lead to the pathological experience of the self, such as disembodiment or out-of-body experiences. Furthermore, the TPJ is also involved in social cognition (a.k.a. social intelligence), i.e., the ability to infer states such as desires, intentions, and goals of other people.
The researchers also identified two clusters in the cerebellum and brain stem. These areas of the brain are associated with the more primitive functions of the brain, such as maintenance of fine movement and balance. So what does it have to do with emotional well-being?
Some scientists suggest that in the same way that the cerebellum regulates the rate, force, rhythm, and accuracy of movements, it also regulates the speed, capacity, consistency, and appropriateness of cognitive and emotional processes. In other words, it modulates behavior automatically around a homeostatic baseline.
Other stories by this author:
Given the importance that the regulation of emotions and cognition play in healthy psychological functioning, the morphological changes in these regions might contribute to the positive effects of mindfulness meditation on the salutary changes in well-being.
Indeed, more recent studies corroborate the initial findings of imaging studies on the neuronal and molecular levels. An excellent summary of these studies can be found in the ” Handbook of Mindfulness: Theory, Research, and Practice.*
The bottom line
It is becoming obvious now that mindfulness is not mere psychobabble gobbledygook. It has a solid neuronal basis and there is increasing evidence of its salutary effect on emotional health and behavior.
So go ahead, and practice some mindful meditation. Ten minutes a day will do you good.
*This link is an Amazon affiliate link. We earn a small commission if you purchase this book through us.
First published in August 2015, this article was reviewed and updated by the author for republication on 9/19/20.
Source: cottonbro (Submitted by Author)
The sudden outbreak of the Coronasvirus has caught all of us off guard and unprepared on many levels. This unprecedented pandemic has disrupted our daily routines, and our healthy habits. It has affected every aspect of our lives – the way we work, the way we socialize, and the way we take care of ourselves.
When situations unexpectantly change for the worse, you feel like bad news is happening every day. These unexpected changes may become overwhelming and take a toll on your mental and physical health.
During these trying times, it is a challenge to keep up with the healthy habits established before the spread of the virus..
Luckily, there are simple ways to prioritize your health and keep it from deteriorating while following the safety practices that have been put in place to ensure safety and physical health.
Source: Ella Olsson (Submitted by the Author)
Stress and worry can make us resort to highly processed foods. And when you include boredom in the equation, it is understandable why people tend to snack on junk food even when not hungry. To deal with these issues efficiently and alleviate the cravings, keep healthy snacks like fresh fruits, nuts, yogurt, and similar at hand.
Since what we eat and drink affects our body’s ability to prevent, fight and recover from infections (and also affects the likelihood of developing other health issues), the World Health Organization published general guidelines on how to eat healthily to support our immune systems.
Source: Karl Solano (Submitted by the Author)
When stuck at home for a prolonged period it is common for your daily activities to become reduced, so it is more important than ever to move your body more! Research has shown that physical exercises improve not just your shape, but also reduces the risk of chronic diseases, boost your mental health and immune system.
So, even if you are working long hours during the crisis, make time for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. Strength training exercises are also recommended. So try to work on all major muscle groups at least twice a week.
If you are spending most of your days at home, adding a daily physical activity to your schedule is advisable. Even though public gyms are still closed in most countries, there is no reason not to work out in the comfort of your home! During the Pandemic, many established fitness companies and world-renowned fitness coaches have offered their training programs and videos for free, so you can take your pick!
If you need a little guidance and advice on getting started or amping up your workouts, here is a selection of best YouTube fitness channels. Whether it is cardio, weight lifting, or looking for ways to tone up, there is a channel for every fitness goal, and what’s even greater – they are all posting content free of charge!
If you are allowed to go outside, take advantage of the mild weather, and enjoy outdoor activities like walking, hiking, jogging, cycling, roller-skating, etc.
Source: Madison Inouye (Submitted by the Author)
It can be tough keeping your mood up when the news is bleak, but fortunately, there are ways to keep a healthy outlook. One of them is to limit your exposure to news. When in need of information, make sure to consult credible, science-based sources.
Stay away from stressors and start doing activities that help you relax. And, include those activities in your daily routine where possible. Start using activities that help you relax and keep your thoughts away from stressors. Remember, maintaining your physical and mental health during COVID19 takes more practice than your daily routine. You are creating a new routine that will become easier as time goes on.
Don’t forget about the importance of social support. Staying connected is essential as isolation and loneliness can negatively impact our health and well-being. When talking to your friends and family, commit to discussing other topics and not let Coronavirus dominate the conversation.
It can be tough keeping your mood up when the news is bleak, but fortunately, there are ways to keep a healthy outlook. One of them is to limit your exposure to news. When in need of information, make sure to consult credible, science-based sources.
Photo Source: Unsplash Photos
Journaling is a simple practice with surprisingly many benefits on mental health. It can be easily incorporate it into your daily schedule whether working or self-isolating at home.
Writing a journal can improve your mental health, boost your mood, reduce anxiety and depression, and enhance your sense of well-being, among other positive effects.
Don’t forget about the importance of social support. Staying connected is essential as isolation and loneliness can negatively impact our health and well-being. When talking to your friends and family, commit to discussing other topics and not let Coronavirus dominate the conversation
Source: Pixabay (Submitted by the Author)
An essential part of a strong immune system is quality, restorative sleep. It is not uncommon during chaotic times like these to experience disrupted sleep. However, there are steps you should take to get a good night’s rest.
Staying in Touch
Source: Andrea Piacquadio (Submitted by the Author)
People react differently to trying times, and not everybody will be motivated enough or well enough to practice healthy actions and create healthy habits. Just stay positive and motivated.
Staying in touch only by technology has been hard for many people. The threat of the infection, practicing social distancing, isolation, and human emotions can have negative effects. Stay positive and remember modern technology does afford your family and loved ones the comfort of your voice and the look on your face.
People react differently to trying times, and not everybody will be motivated enough or well enough to practice healthy actions and create healthy habits.
Remember, maintaining your physical and mental health during COVID19 takes more practice than your daily routine. You can create a new routine that will become your NEW “daily routine.”
If you become depressed, try working out, get away from the negative news, and stay positive. If this persists, or if you feel overwhelmed with worry, anxiety, or depression, consider talking to a therapist or a counselor.
Just stay positive and motivated.
Author: Morgan Elliott
Journaling is an amazing practice that serves so many different purposes. At first, journaling was perceived as an activity reserved for writers and high-school teens. Of course, that is no longer the case, as people of all ages have discovered that journaling is a valuable tool for improving one’s mental health.
Keeping a journal allows you to establish, track, and achieve your goals, improves the quality of life, and helps you alleviate or eliminate pressing mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or stress. Besides the reduction of negative symptoms, journaling will improve your cognitive and emotional power, allowing you to explore your full potential.
So how come writing in a journal has such a tremendous impact on our mental health and wellbeing? After all, journaling is the simple act of putting words on a piece of paper.
Writing in a journal requires the application of the rational left side of your brain, which is basically the analytical part of your mind. While your left brain (left hemisphere) is “busy” or “occupied”, the right brain (right hemisphere), which is the creative and sensible side of you, will be free to wander and play.
While your creative juices a triggered, you’ll become more intuitive, inspired, and confident in your own thoughts.
Overall, journaling is known to be useful for:
The Cambridge journal suggests that journaling/expressive writing is particularly useful for individuals who suffer from PSTD conditions and also for those who have a history of trauma. The journal suggests that writing about our deepest fears and challenges can help us reduce our inhibited emotions (and the stress that comes with them).
Besides, it can help us confront, process, and overcome the memories of terrible events and make us stronger in the face of similar, future experiences.
Since depression is one of the most daunting mental health issues, people have been struggling to find effective ways to combat its effects on a regular basis. After many years of scientific research, journaling has been identified as an incredibly helpful practice that can aid people in managing their depressive symptoms.
Here are some scientific studies that document the effectiveness of journaling for combating depression:
In short, the benefits of keeping a journal for people who suffer from depressive symptoms are quite clear. It helps them maintain a positive frame of mind, allows them to confront and diminish negative thoughts and emotions, and gives them the opportunity to enhance their sense of well-being.
Related Content: How Writing Can Help Your Personal Growth
Anxiety and depression are two different yet highly similar mental health issues. Many times, depression is triggered by high doses of anxiety, and the other way around. Journaling is a universal tool that fights both of these terrible mental conditions, making people’s lives easier to cope and digest.
To address our disempowering thought patterns, we must first identify them. As psychiatrist Barbara Markway suggests the best way to acknowledge and understand your thought processes is to simply write them down.
A journal is our best friend when it comes to that because it is our intimate channel of communication that allows for an effective communication with ourselves. If we keep practicing, we’ll identify the primary roots of our pressing problems and our subconscious mind will be able to start “working on it”.
Here’s how journaling can positively shape and affect your moods and emotions while dealing with anxiety symptoms:
As for the scientific proof, here is a small sampling of resources that showcase concrete evidence on how journaling is effective for diminishing the effects of anxiety disorders:
While anxiety and depression are two serious diseases that must be managed and controlled, their arousal can often be prevented by reducing the levels of stress that we experience each day.
Elizabeth Scott, a successful coach that specializes in stress management, suggests that,
“Journaling is an effective method of diminishing the daily stress because it allows you to explore your past and present thoughts, emotions, and actions. It releases tension and helps you fully integrate your past experiences into your mind.”
Besides the mentioned effects, keeping a journal can also help you alleviate your stress symptoms through:
Related content: Natural Remedies that Support Positive Mental Health
Stress, anxiety, depression – these are the extreme situations that can be managed with the use of this amazing practice. However, besides the recovery aspects, daily journaling can also facilitate the following benefits:
Scientific journals and studies provide evidence of the benefits of keeping a journal. The experiences and benefits that journaling brings are different for each and every one of us because we’re obviously facing different problems, we come from different backgrounds, and we have different goals.
Our journals are for us and us alone, allowing us to be authentic, honest, and transparent with every thought and feeling we experience. That’s something that you can hardly achieve when talking to our family, friends, or even psychiatrists. All you have to do is give it a try. I promise you won’t regret it!
 Classen, Wales Holmes, Koopman, Palesh, Ismailji, 2005
 Gortner, Rude, Pennebacker, 2006
 Deldin, Krpan, Berman, Kross Askren, Jonides, 2013
 Rohde, Burton, Stice, Bearman, 2006
 Norozi, Hasanzadeh, Khoshknab, 2012
 May, Moore, Flinchbaugh, Chang, 2012
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First published June 2018, this article has been reviewed and updated for republication on April 11, 2020.
Various forms of mental illness, including generalized anxiety disorder and depression, are quite common in ordinary times. However, when you overlay the fear and disruption of lives caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many more people are developing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Although many people with these disorders will require some form of medical treatment (medication, talk therapy, or both) to get relief, there are natural remedies that may support positive mental health, particularly in times of stress.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is one of the leading causes of disability in the world. It is also a major contributor to the overall burden of disease globally.
They also condition accounts for a hefty economic burden as well. The Center for Workplace Mental Health estimates that major depressive disorder (MDD) is responsible for an annual economic burden of $210.5 billion.
But depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, and other mental health conditions don’t have to make such a strong impact on our day-to-day lives. For many individuals, a combination of prescription drugs and cognitive therapy effectively manage the symptoms of mental illness. Other individuals may need additional help.
While technological innovations such as virtual reality have shown promise as treatment options for mental health disorders, the majority of alternative treatments are much more down to earth. There are a variety of techniques and approaches that are natural and that may be beneficial in calming frequent symptoms of a variety of mental health conditions.
Aromatherapy, using various herbs and tinctures, is a practice that dates back to at least 3500 B.C. The ancient Egyptians were some of the first to utilize herbs as a therapeutic tool to promote positive mental health.
Even if you’re a beginner when it comes to essential oils and their benefits, implementing aromatherapy into your life is easy. Some people put drops of various oils into their bathwater. Conversely, you can use a diffuser, which distributes the aromatic scents around the room.
If worrying is one of your symptoms, you may find that calming lavender, sandalwood, and chamomile are ideal essential oils that may help manage your fear and anxiety. To promote uplifting feelings, try lemongrass, peppermint, or invigorating bergamot.
Studies have shown that your diet and your mood are connected. So, it makes sense that changing your diet may help calm your symptoms. Cut out refined sugars and as many processed foods as possible. If you’re a coffee drinker, consider switching to tea instead.
Tea is loaded with antioxidants and contains significantly less caffeine than coffee. What’s more, all varieties of tea are a staple in numerous homeopathic remedies. The catechins (a type of antioxidant) in green tea may promote healthy brain activity, keeping negative thoughts at bay.
Many people living with a mental health condition take prescription medication that has uncomfortable side effects, such as an upset stomach. Oolong tea, also called “black dragon tea,” may help combat stomach discomfort and promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
Sipping tea may also help with mindfulness, promoting a calming effect and inspiring you to live more in the moment.
Mindfulness has been shown to effectively help combat stress. It’s also a great first step towards a minimalist lifestyle, which comes with its own potential mental health benefits.
A cluttered mind can lead to a cluttered life, but it doesn’t have to. There are numerous benefits to adopting minimalism as a life philosophy. According to lifestyle experts,
“by getting rid of the things that matter little in life, we are left with the things that matter most.”
Minimalism is easy to adopt, and it doesn’t mean you have to completely get rid of all of your possessions. Start small, by identifying cluttered areas in your home and putting unused items in storage areas or a donation pile.
Downsizing can become part of your routine: Consider setting aside one hour a week to organize and declutter your home. You may just find that your mind is more clear following your weekly “purging” session.
Related Content: Want to Be Happier? Think with Your Senses, Feel with Your Mind
Journaling is one of the easiest ways to de-stress and get rid of negative thoughts. However, you can take your passion for writing a step further and make an impact on others struggling with mental health issues.
Finding a community of like-minded people is integral to those with mental health issues. And that community is growing and sharing their experiences in the form of blogs.
The recent rise in mental health blogging suggests a high readership. It also tangibly demonstrates how honest writing can benefit both the author and the reader.
You can get started by reading articles and blog posts written by others living with a mental health condition. Perhaps their candid stories, self-awareness, and bravery will inspire you to share your own experiences with mental health success and pitfalls.
Related content: Can Journaling Improve Your Mental Health
When you’re ready to share your own story, you can use your social media channels as a writing platform, and grow your audience from there. Or, if you’re computer savvy, consider diving right into blogging by starting a WordPress account and adding “publisher” to your list of accomplishments.
If you’re not a writer, you can still use your passion as therapy. Whether your interests lie in watching movies, reading, scrapbooking, or bird watching, spending your free time doing what you love is another natural approach in mental health support that has proven benefits.
Idle time can be a figurative death sentence for many individuals living with a mental health disorder. By keeping yourself busy, negative thoughts and faulty behaviors are denied the chance to ruin your days.
In fact, researchers have found that cognitive functioning, memory, and reasoning improve significantly among individuals who participate in sustained activities that they enjoy.
Natural remedies, even if they are supplementary to other treatments prescribed by a healthcare professional, can be key to combating the challenges of mental health issues.
Related content: Do Optimism and Pessimism Impact Health Outcomes
Numerous individuals have found successful symptom management using a combination of medication and natural techniques or approaches. The best part of natural mental health support is its individualistic nature. You have the ability to find the right combination of techniques that lead to symptom management.
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First published on Dec. 30, 2018, this post was reviewed and updated for republication on Apr. 9, 2020.
There are many problems with how we approach the disease of addiction. A particularly troubling one from a medical perspective is the practice of random drug testing. This method of monitoring tends to treat many addiction sufferers punitively, instead of effectively addressing the underlying disease of addiction.
If we want to change the course of the addiction crisis in America changing the way we conduct drug testing should be an aspect we carefully consider. There are methods we can apply to substance use disorder (SUD) recovery, whether it coincides with an actual criminal offense or not, that would do away with the punitive approaches that are now ubiquitous in the treatment industry. Moreover, implementing more data-driven positive reinforcement methods would help reduce the stigma which is so damaging and hinders better treatment outcomes.
A healthy start to a transition away from punitive practices would be ending “random” drug testing and replacing it with planned and regular drug testing. Planned and regular drug testing fits within a strength-based clinical approach to treating the disease of addiction.
All other chronic diseases, like cancer or diabetes, have some form of ongoing deliberate and consistent testing in order to manage the condition. If we approached drug testing in the same way, it allows us to gather better data, helps to normalize the SUD diagnosis, and creates a trustworthy standard across the treatment spectrum in patients, their families, treatment providers, and officials.
This idea of “random” drug testing being counterproductive is not actually new by any means. This makes our current system seem even more archaic and outdated.
The United States military replaced “random” drug testing with what has been termed “consistent drug testing” almost a decade ago. This method has been used with incredibly effective results to treat certain service members suffering from SUD.
Dr. Kevin MacCauley, who started the Institute for Addiction Study, was first exposed to the military’s approach to drug testing and recovery from SUD while serving as a naval flight surgeon for airborne divisions of the Marine Corps. In this role, he witnessed many pilots self-report their addiction, get necessary medical treatment, and be returned to flying status under monitoring. As he puts it:
“These were charismatic and otherwise highly-capable, self-disciplined pilots who did come forward and ask for help – and they all got better and went back to flying! That just destroyed the prejudice I had picked up in medical school that addicts never ask for help and once an addict, always an addict.”
The willingness of these service members to be so forward about their addiction struggles was due, in large part, to the Navy’s policy of treating SUD primarily as a safety issue rather than a moral or criminal issue. Their treatment outcomes numbers far exceed those of the addiction treatment industry. So perhaps at the civilian level, we should adopt at least some of those measures to more effectively combat the addiction crisis in America.
Drug testing as a common practice in America, to some degree, finds its roots in the military. This is interesting given that the military is also leading a positive reform to the practice they introduced. After the Vietnam War, the military had to figure out how to deal with the plethora of veterans that came back home addicted to heroin.
This issue created the initial practice of monitoring recovering veterans through random drug testing. Unfortunately, the parts of civilian society which adopted this seemingly logical solution to monitoring substance abuse did so without the same infrastructure or goals of the American military.
Drug testing, by and large, was adopted by civilian society as a marker for punitive action. This is true in the justice system, the workplace, and other areas of society. Because of this, the first exposure that many individuals have to a SUD diagnosis is as a result of criminal charges or a punitive measure on behalf of employers.
This has created a system in the addiction treatment continuum that exacerbates the punitive aspects of treatment and monitoring, instead of focusing on the disease, its’ symptoms, and the legal and behavioral consequences that led to trouble in the first place. This creates a sort of endless cycle of negative reinforcement surrounding a SUD diagnosis.
Often, people, under this type of stress and threat, seek to hide the initial onset of the problem and their progressive suffering over time. The potential shame, embarrassment, and devastating effects of losing employment or going to jail actually keeps the addiction in the dark where it grows and becomes worse over time.
Random drug testing and the punitive actions that follow create a culture of secrecy and shame that keep people from reaching out for meaningful help. An entire industry has developed in support of hiding drug use and people spend significant resources in buying products to hide their use.
Because of this culture some SUD individuals entering treatment, either by choice or as a legal repercussion, directly associate any type of ongoing substance use monitoring as a punitive measure.
In addition, many times people in recovery are under threat of legal, financial, or other repercussions if they do relapse. This low or no threshold approach to relapse in recovery is one of the worst ways to approach treatment for any type of condition with a mental component. Especially for a chronic disorder like addiction that generally has been created in some part by past negative social determinants.
Beyond those who are introduced to their SUD diagnosis through legal trouble, even those who come to treatment as a result of family, friends, or professional environments—the idea of “random” drug testing inherently creates a negative consciousness. This is no surprise given the social image that’s been created around drug testing. This culture of testing deters people from entering treatment earlier or being forthcoming about substance issues they may have. This is because the system is built around punitive and psychologically discouraging measures.
Ongoing drug testing and extended recovery support can be approached in a more clinical manner through frequent and deliberate testing. This would reduce some of the negative aspects associated with our current system.
Instead of random drug testing, an individual in recovery would participate in consistent drug testing. This would be administered on an ongoing scheduled basis, and they would know the exact schedule on which they would be tested.
This is a more effective approach for multiple reasons, including:
Some might criticize this approach by saying if an individual in recovery knows exactly when they will be tested, then they are more likely to “cheat” on the test or resort to quick detox methods. However, the available data from this type of drug testing seems to show that the opposite is true. The Institute for Addiction Study conducted trials utilizing almost this exact type of approach and have shown more positive impacts on addiction recovery outcomes as a result.
Regardless, our current testing methods do not display outcomes data that support continuing to pursue those same methods if our goal is indeed to improve recovery. Any transition can bring with it unexpected bumps in the road. This would be countered by observing longitudinal data and adjusting testing methods over time.
Any responsible method of treatment is created and maintained through a foundation of positive longitudinal outcomes data. So, once we replace random drug testing with consistent drug testing there needs to be systems in place to monitor the outcomes data of those involved in such drug testing.
With any other disease that health care providers have eradicated or improved outcomes for, there has been an adjustment period for treatment methods that led to more positive outcomes. As of now, random drug testing is the primary monitoring option that we utilize, and the results of this method are not good. Consistent drug testing needs to be implemented on a larger scale so that we can test the efficacy of this method and the positive benefits it could hold in our efforts to combat the addiction crisis that is currently taking so many American lives.
In addition to implementing consistent drug testing on a larger scale, we also should utilize the data we already have from military treatment to educate the general public about the positive benefits of treating addiction as a chronic disease, a public safety issue, and not a moral failing. This would help destigmatize the disease of addiction further and help those who suffer silently in active addiction to be more willing to come forward and receive treatment.
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During the end-of-the-year holidays, it’s easy to overstuff your gut and regret the results later. All that glorious comfort food begs to be eaten. What can you do to have a healthy holiday season this year?
You can still have your comfort food, but you also have to remember your health. It’s tempting to forget exercise routines, deny yourself sleep, and skip healthy food choices during the holidays.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to invest in and maintain healthy routines during this holiday season so full of temptations. Here are 10 of them.
The holidays are the worst time to start a diet because the overabundance of rich food will tempt you to binge eat. There will be endless banquets and potlucks in the near future to more than satiate you.
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Leading up to a holiday, make healthy food choices with a balanced diet. The key is balancing out your plate with protein and colorful sides, like leafy greens and carrots. Eat the rainbow. You’ll feel less guilty about treating yourself on the days full of holiday parties.
When the holidays come around, go halfsies. I am not saying you have to deny yourself favorite treats—just be realistic and practice smart portion control.
Whether it’s Auntie Rose’s pumpkin pie or Uncle Fred’s fried turkey, pick your guilty pleasure and serve yourself up a reasonable amount. Balance the rest of your plate with healthy choices. Skip the brown sugar on the sweet potatoes. Put more greens on your plate.
If you are attending a potluck, the one to bring the healthier option, do it. How about a fruit tray or hummus dip with cucumbers substituted for chips? Healthy appetizers are the best foods to fill up on before taking on mashed potatoes and gravy.
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Before you ingest food, drink one to two 8-ounce glasses of water and wait 15 minutes. Are you still hungry after drinking water? There is some evidence that drinking 2 cups of water before meals is associated with weight loss Some say cold water also helps suppress appetite, although the magnitude of the effect has been shown to be quite small.
Some family gatherings encourage you to imbibe, either from all the drama or from the fact that your family members love their holiday toasts.
Remember, it is certainly OK to opt for water. Another approach is to pour yourself less wine or dilute it with ice cubes.
When drinking, don’t mix your alcohols, and it’s reasonable to limit yourself to one or two drinks. Just make sure you drink a glass of water for every glass of alcohol you have. You don’t want to get pulled over by the police after the party.
Add movement to your day. Any kind of movement is an improvement.
Go for a walk after dinner. Do a few stretches before your morning coffee. Shake it all about—do the hokey pokey!
Related content: Rethinking Exercise to Counter the Epidemic of Physical Inactivity
Take dance lessons once a week. After all, dance has been shown to improve memory. It iss one of the most accessible ways to exercise and make new friends.
Yoga is a safe and effective way to reduce the effects of stress that have built up in your body (tight back neck and back muscles, clenched jaws, tension headaches).
Yoga has been shown to calm stress response systems, effectively lowering blood pressure, easing respiration, and improving heart rate as well as improving pain tolerance in patients with fibromyalgia.
Integrating yoga into your daily routine will help you cope with stress and become more present and mindful of the small things in life that bring great joy. You can think of your yoga practice as living medicine.
The holidays are full of hustle and bustle as you try to complete your shopping list and arrive on time for family meals. It’s easy to sacrifice sleep for stuff on your to-do list.
However, sleep deprivation impacts your mood and enjoyment of the holiday season. Prolonged lack of sleep also affects your physical health, since you aren’t giving your body time to heal itself.
Get your seven to eight hours in, even if you have to break your sleep into two slots of four hours. Introducing a bedtime routine, such as reading or turning down the lights, helps cue your body into sleep mode.
Who has time for themselves this holiday season? You do. You have to make time for yourself, or you’ll get stressed out trying to please everyone else.
Practice small acts of self-care and kindness. Take a long bath. Close your eyes for an extra 10 minutes of sleep. Stop for yoga class on the way home. Or take a long walk in the park. Write down your worries and what you are thankful for.
Stop and smell the roses. Appreciate what you have going for yourself. You may not be able to afford a grand feast this year or you may feel you haven’t accomplished everything that you.
Instead of obsessing about what you don’t have or haven’t done, look at your situation in a new light. Your home is filled with love. You have amazing eyes. You worked your butt off and finally got the promotion you deserve. Go you!
The point of the holiday season is love and goodwill unto others. One of the best ways to feel interconnected is to give back. Pay love forward with small acts of kindness.
Donate food to the food pantry, even if it’s a few cans from the dollar store. Hug a friend. Pay for a stranger’s food.
It’s incredibly easy to get stressed out and sacrifice your health during the holidays. It is also easy to give in to temptation and forget healthy routines you’ve established.
Instead, try to be kind to yourself, compromise on food choices, move your body a little at a time, and be thankful for what you have. When you have the chance, give back.
More by this author: 10 Tips for Sticking With Your New Year’s Resolutions All Year
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First published on 12/15/17, this article has been reviewed and updated, including adding new references for republication on 12/24,19.
Much of the health care establishment operates under the assumption that the cure for physical inactivity is more physical activity. Yet, when you take a closer look at the effect inactivity is having on our physiology, the solution is not as simple as just moving more. The solution starts with rethinking exercise.
When we are stressed, our bodies are programmed to be ready to move, to fight or flee the threat. Blood glucose, blood lipids, and blood pressure increase. Inflammation in the whole body rises.
It’s the combination of being stressed and sitting still that is draining our health because our bodies are not able to get back to the ‘heal and repair’ mode of what Dr. Herbert Benson described as the relaxation response.
I believe that movement that is not stress-producing is the antidote to sitting and being stressed.
Most of us don’t, however, choose to move more in response to stress. We are more likely to choose the socially acceptable ways to de-stress such as comfort food, social media, alcohol, and drugs.
These are more readily available than movement and more guaranteed to make us feel better instantly. The catch is they only distract from the stress. We don’t end up in the heal and repair mode that can come from stress-free movement. Rather, we only end up with a mind distracted and a body that is more inflamed.
Often, we try to solve the problem of being still and stressed by doing stress-producing, not stress-reducing, activities. Step goals are a case in point: we multitask while walking, join competitions, and create challenges to make us get more steps.
These are not likely to put the body in heal and repair mode—quite the opposite. Given that the World Health Organization has now made burnout an official medical condition, do we really need to create more people feeling pressure to accomplish more in a day?
When we use terms like ‘sitting disease’ as a motivator to mend our sedentary ways, it certainly gets our attention. Fear is a great motivator, in the short term anyway.
In the long-term, though, we sacrifice the desire to improve public health for the short-lived, pseudo-solution of simply moving more. We have created a society that feels good when they meet their step goal, but more stressed if they don’t.
Fear-based motivation to move, and guilt when we don’t move, can compound the stress of this sedentary lifestyle problem.
The problem is not so much a lack of movement. It is the loss of strength, stamina, and mobility that comes from not moving the body in the specific ways that will help it maintain these qualities. Simply stated, inactivity results in deconditioning. It is one result of living in our sedentary society in a body that gets used to what little we give it.
Deconditioning is an under-recognized side effect of a sedentary lifestyle. This is a big deal because it contributes to a lot of medical conditions, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, depression, anxiety, and pain. Unfortunately, we often end up simply medicating these conditions instead of addressing the role that physical activity could play in ameliorating symptoms. For example, it is known that physical activity can delay the onset of disability related to arthritis. And, exercise can not only alleviate symptoms of depression, but it may also prevent it from occurring in the first place.
A body that is deconditioned is less comfortable to be in both when still and when moving. It feels stiff, weak, and tired. It does not sleep as well, digest as well, or heal as well.
When we heed the message to move more, our deconditioned bodies feel more uncomfortable. We are embarrassed by the state of our body and that adds to the stress of trying to be healthy. This makes us less likely to move and more likely to lose strength, stamina, and mobility. The downward spiral of deconditioning has begun.
In a body that is deconditioned, it’s easy to do too much too soon when we try to get moving again. Doing too much may stress us out and raise, rather than lower, inflammation, further compounding the strain on our bodies.
All too often, the word exercise is equated with sweat and soreness. Further, success is measured by athletic performance, calories burned, miles moved, or weight lifted. We have made the antidote to stress another contributor to stress.
When we need fitness challenges, tough trainers, insane fitness classes, and weight loss competitions to make us exercise so we ‘see results’, it is a sure sign we have strayed far from the true definition of exercise.
As a result, too many ‘exercisers’ are people who can keep up with this cultural definition. The others are left to wait until they lose weight or succumb to the idea that they ‘can’t exercise’.
Most people are unaware of the fact that the field of fitness is largely unregulated. Anyone can call themselves a fitness expert or trainer. This leaves us surrounded with exercise advice that is based more on personal experience than scientific facts.
Imagine if other professionals in the business of helping the body could do this. It would be complete mayhem! Yet that is the state of the fitness industry and the fitness consumer is paying the price, with their wallet and their body.
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The word ‘exercise’ is defined in the dictionary as ‘something practiced to improve a skill or ability’. Physical exercise can be defined as ‘movements practiced to improve a skill or ability’. Exercise is a type of physical activity, but not all physical activity is exercise.
We don’t just need to move more, we need to move in a specific way that will re-condition our bodies and reduce our stress all at the same time. Yet, the association with the word exercise is still powerfully off-putting for many people. Helping then rethink exercise can be the start of the solution.
The word practice is key here. We know what is involved in quality practice for something like a musical instrument. You practice the specific instrument you want to learn, not a different instrument. You practice regularly, not sporadically. When you practice, you do not multitask because it takes full, focused attention to improve the skill or ability. The level of your practice is just challenging enough so you improve, and you progress only when your skills improve enough to move to the next level. If you stop practicing, you are not surprised that your skills fade. When you start practicing again, your skills return. This process of practice is not questioned in any other area of life, except when it comes to exercise.
The concept of good practice is missing in culturally-defined exercise. We do exercises because they ‘worked’ for someone else. Exercises are largely designed for ‘sculpting’ or ‘targeting’ areas rather than practicing movements for daily life.
We are drawn to ways to make faster progress. We tell ourselves pain is a sign of progress. We believe that when we lose weight we will function better, so we suffer through grueling workouts to burn more calories and melt more fat.
In order to get through this discomfort, we use all kinds of strategies to distract us. We hire someone or join a competition to push us so we can stick with it until we see results. We are focused on getting to some future state where we will live ‘happily ever after’ and life will be easier. We skip over what science says about exercising to make life easier now.
Considering the pace of our modern life, with stress as a major drain on our health, a more updated definition of exercise could be:
‘movement to reduce the stress and strains of daily life so you feel and function better, now and in the future’.
The distinction is essential because exercise, not physical activity helps with each fo the following:
Exercise is an opportunity to take a time-out, away from stress and truly restore wellbeing.
Hidden in the pages of every exercise physiology and biomechanics textbook are the answers to how to exercise and become re-conditioned for improving health and function in daily life, no matter what the state of your body.
When the principles of exercise training are followed, exercise reverses the spiral of deconditioning. Like other scientific principles, when you follow them, you get results that last.
Interestingly, these principles align perfectly with what we know about good practice. Therefore, we don’t need to learn anything new. We just need to rethink exercise so we can apply science to how we approach exercise.
The principles of exercise training can be summed up in one sentence:
Your body gets used to what you give it.
The general guidelines that recommend getting ten thousand steps per day or 150 minutes of physical activity per week do not adequately take care of deconditioning. Getting more steps, or doing more of the same limited movements you do in daily life, will not help your body regain the strength, stamina, and mobility lost from physical inactivity. To gain the specific skills and abilities your body needs, you need to move it in those specific ways. Just like practicing the musical instrument you want to play better, you need to move your body in the ways that will improve the specific ability you want to regain.
If you give a plant too much water, it does not grow faster. It withers. Like a plant, your body has a natural growth rate. When you give your body just the right amount of exercise each time, it cannot help but grow stronger. It’s the same process as everything in nature: change takes time and there are no shortcuts. Just like practicing a musical instrument, gradual progression of the level of challenge is the way to keep your body learning, without it being overwhelming or boring. Like a plant, the only way to know is by paying attention to your own body. This brings us to the next principle.
Your body responds differently from other people’s and responds differently day-to-day. The idea that there is one flat rate of movement in general, or that someone else can tell you how much is enough, is limiting. Relying on someone else to tell you how much is enough reduces your ability to listen to and trust your own body. You are more likely to ignore signs and symptoms of doing too much, too little, or the wrong kind of movement for your own body. Just as everyone learns a musical instrument at a different pace and capacity, your body adapts to exercise in a different way than the people around you. The only way to practice movements is to pay attention to your own body in the present moment. When exercise is done with this mindset of listening to your own body, taking care of it, in the present moment, you add the power of mindfulness to exercise. Mindful exercise improves the function of your mind and body!
Your body gets used to what you give it in both directions. Regular, specific, just-right-level practice leads to maintaining skills and ability. When you stop, stamina, strength, and mobility fade. When you start again, they return. This is true for exercise at every age and bodies of any size.
The biggest problem is that when the first three principles are ignored, exercise doesn’t feel good. You may not stick with it and, then, the results won’t be as good not will they be lasting.
Habits are sometimes explained by neuroscientists in this simple way: the brain is hardwired to repeat what feels good and avoid what feels bad. You can override this with willpower for a while, but in the end, lasting habits are formed when something makes us feel good right away. This explains why comfort food, social media, and alcohol are the go-to ways to reduce stress. They make us feel good quickly so that we keep coming back for more.
Unfortunately, moving more does not necessarily make us feel good right away. It does not reduce stress or re-condition instantly. Rather, these benefits accrue over time.
I believe if we can rethink exercise in this way, people live longer. They would also be healthier, happier, more satisfied with life, less stressed and inflamed.
We would be treating the root problem of inactivity rather than using a pseudo-solution like setting step goals. We would be living well in this modern life because we would exercise as a personal resource for reducing stress and functioning well, all at the same time.
This means shifting away from movement that is painful, over-challenging, complicated, time-consuming and often dreaded toward getting the right amount and type of movement. This should be calibrated to reduce the stress of daily life so you feel better now. Over time, as deconditioning lessens, it will reduce strain because you now have enough stamina, strength, and mobility to do what you need and want to do in life.
Related Content: Is ‘No Pain, No Gain’ Good or Bad When It Comes to Exercise?
The goal is for each person knows how their own body is designed to move well. The exercise information they would access is based on the science of exercise for health and well-being. It is not built on the need to sell products or drastically improve athletic performance. Each person would understand how to keep their body conditioned at any age, any size, and any level of fitness.
Each person will have the skill of listening to their own body, trusting it as the best guide for moving well and improving function.
When exercise is considered a break, rather than a task, to rid the body of stress while re-building the skills needed to move with more ease, exercise will truly be the medicine for our modern world.
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Brewer, J. (2017). The Craving Mind; From Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love – Why We Get Hooked and How We Can Break Bad Habits (1st Edition). Yale University Press
Ding, D, Lawson, KD, Kolbe-Alexander, TL, Finkelstein, EA, Katzmarzyk, PT, van Mechelen, W. The economic burden of physical inactivity: a global analysis of major non-communicable diseases. The Lancet. Vol. 388, Issue 10051, p1311-1324, Sept. 24, 2016 https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(16)30383-X
Mcardle, WD, Katch, FI, Katch VL. Exercise Physiology: Nutrition, Energy, and Human Performance 8th Edition. LWW; 8th edition (March 4, 2014). Lippencott, Williams and Wilkins
Nada Sallam, N and Laher, I , Exercise Modulates Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Aging and Cardiovascular Diseases. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2016. 10.1155/2016/7239639
Medical careers require dedication, a competent attitude, and a lifestyle fashioned around long hours and overnight shifts. The latter can cause both physical and emotional stress. Most healthcare professionals can regularly be found running to their next emergency, managing a busy ward, or tirelessly overseeing bustling outpatient and waiting areas. With today’s fast food options and easy access to processed foods, developing a healthy eating routine can be difficult even in the best of circumstances. For healthcare providers like doctors and nurses, it can seem nearly impossible.
However, with these healthy eating tips and tricks, you can stay on track with your diet and manage your nutrition for a healthy, happy work week at the hospital.
Downtime in the healthcare field is hard to come by and even harder to enjoy. Doctors and nurses don’t often receive long meal breaks, if at all. And, they are understandably exhausted from long shifts. Most healthcare providers work inconsistent schedules, alternating day and night shifts. This disrupts the circadian rhythm, which can cause headaches, gastrointestinal issues, fatigue, and other problems.
Because mealtimes are often irregular, busy schedules can lead to snacking on quick processed foods like chips or unhealthy fast foods. Consuming these high-calorie low-nutrition meals can lead to a bevy of health issues down the road, including weight gain, fatigue, and heart health issues.
Irregular schedules also lead to missed meals. When we skip meals, our blood glucose levels drop. Skipping meals can cause tiredness, irritability and force the body to convert energy from less efficient sources. This equates to difficulty in thinking clearly and dizziness, which can impair performance and working ability. Skipping meals also leads to overeating when you do finally find time for a meal.
Related content: The Physician Burnout Burden: Why Doctors Need Help from Leadership
Staying hydrated is an essential part of overall nutrition for everyone, but, for individuals with high-intensity work shifts, it is even more critical. Keeping your body hydrated helps to decrease the likelihood of headaches and diminish fatigue, as well as improve digestion, circulation, and body temperature.
Drinking water also helps us to feel fuller for longer, which means you are less likely to reach for snacks when you are well-hydrated. Always aim for the recommended eight 8-oz. glasses of water every day. You can easily monitor your water intake by packing a reusable water bottle for work.
Pro Tip: Add slices of cucumber, lemon, mint, or other fruits and berries to your water bottle to infuse it with a refreshing taste.
Many of us fall into the trap of reaching for sugary and caffeinated drinks when we need a boost of energy to get through a long shift, but caffeine might be sabotaging your efforts. While coffee is a natural stimulant that will increase your alertness and ability to concentrate in the short term, it also has long-term addictive qualities that can lead to caffeine dependency, nervousness, restlessness, muscle tremors, increased heart rate, upset stomach, and even insomnia.
Caffeine addiction is a vicious circle: The more tired you are, the more you drink, and the more you drink, the more incapable you become of getting a good night’s sleep and the more reliant you become on the effects of caffeine. As an alternative, reach for water instead. Or, if you are partial to the taste of coffee and tea, insist on the decaffeinated varieties. Green tea is an excellent option because it is low in caffeine and contains an amino acid called theanine which is said to improve mental alertness.
Pro Tip: If you do continue to consume caffeinated drinks, try to limit them to the first half of your shift, so the effects of the caffeine wear off before you go home and sleep.
No matter what shifts you are working, make sure to maintain a regular eating schedule. Even if your “morning” is at 3 p.m. when you wake up, make sure to have “breakfast” and base the timing of your following meals and snacks off this first meal. Aim to eat your meals every four to five hours with small snacks in between.
Pro Tip: Remember, eating regular, small amounts of food is better for maintaining a healthy weight then eating one large meal to get all of your nutrition and calories, as this often leads to overeating and weight gain.
When we think of the word “diet,” we conjure up images of people unhappily restricting themselves to small amounts of tasteless and unenjoyable foods. What “diet” really refers to is our pattern of food consumption.
Eating a healthy diet does not mean you restrict yourself entirely. Instead, you seek to maintain a balanced eating routine that includes items from all the basic food groups to ensure your body is getting the daily nutrients it requires.
Doing so is rare when your food sources are limited to take-away and the hospital vending machine. Eating healthfully does not mean eating bland foods; it means you make informed (but still delicious!) choices when it comes to your foods. Make sure meal times include some form of protein like eggs, grilled chicken, beef, or Greek yogurt. Vegetarians should look for sources of protein from the vegetable kingdom, such as tofu or nuts or the many new plant-based products, such as Beyond Meat coming to supermarkets these days. Protein helps you to feel fuller for longer and provides the body with much-needed energy during busy shifts.
Vegetables and greens provide essential vitamins and minerals that enable the immune system and metabolism to function correctly and prevent deficiencies, such as anemia. At each meal, aim to have vegetables taking up at least one half of your plate, with the other half divided between protein and carbohydrate sources. You can easily ensure your nutrition is en pointe by taking the time on your off days to meal prep for the week.
Pro Tip: For healthy snacks between meals, pack protein-heavy items such as nuts, healthy protein bars (check the label for calories and sugar), and yogurts that will make you feel full and provide much-needed energy. But remember, snacks cannot and should not replace full meals.
Developing a healthy eating routine takes a little bit of preparation and dedication. With a little bit of will power and commitment to your new healthy lifestyle, you’ll notice you feel more energized and capable, and that your favorite pair of scrubs fit a little bit better than they used to. Use these essential nutrition tips and tricks to take charge of your nutrition and invest in a healthier, stronger you today.
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I remember being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder as a teenager. Mostly, I felt relief to have an answer about what was wrong with me. I finally understood why I felt the way I was feeling and how my body was reacting. But I did not yet understand the role that grief and acceptance after my diagnosis would play in helping me to make the lifestyle changes I needed to better manage my condition.
My anxiety is well managed now but for a time it wreaked havoc on my body and my mind. I rebelled against my diagnosis. I allowed it to swallow me up. I was plagued with debilitating stomach aches, panic attacks, and rashes. I refused to take my medication or make the lifestyle changes that my doctor recommended. This pushed me into a depression and allowed my anxiety to run the show.
Many people, after learning any type of serious diagnosis go through different stages of grief. Grief doesn’t just apply to death, it applies to other types of loss as well.
For some, hearing a medical diagnosis means grieving over what life could be without it. For those who are learning that they have a potentially life-threatening diagnosis, the feeling of grief can be much more profound.
Grieving is not restricted to medical diagnoses. A person can grieve the loss of a relationship, job, or even a big life change.
As I mentioned, almost any type of diagnosis can trigger the stages of grief. It is important to work through these feelings and make the necessary lifestyle changes so you can deal with your diagnosis.
The refusal to believe it’s happening. Feeling shocked or numb
Feeling that the situation is unfair and frustrating.
Feeling guilt, working through “what if” scenarios, and making imaginary deals to make the pain or the reason for the grief go away.
Hopelessness, being in a fog, and immense sadness.
Not a comfort with the grief, but an acceptance that it happened and that it can’t be changed.
Though my diagnosis wasn’t terminal or even that unique, the beginning of my journey through anxiety was rooted in the first four stages of grief. For some, the denial stage is rooted in the shock of the diagnosis.
For me, denial, anger, bargaining, and depression created a pushback. The acceptance stage will only kick in when you begin to live more meaningfully and mindfully.
A medical diagnosis is not only a loss of normalcy, but it’s also a loss of control. Most diagnoses come with a treatment plan. There are medications to take and appointments to make. You have to do many things that you did not do before. And these changes in your life may squeeze out things you enjoyed doing in your life before the diagnosis.
The pushback that occurs in the beginning stages of grief, arises, in part, from the need to have some say over what is happening.
For someone like me, who felt a sense of relief from my diagnosis, I still felt the need to rebel against it and what it was going to mean for my life. I didn’t want my anxiety to control me. However, pushing back against my diagnosis allowed it to have an even tighter hold.
Pushback isn’t uncommon even in the most serious cases. In fact, in a small study of cancer patients, 29 percent of males and 50 percent of women reported that they were not following guidelines for a healthier lifestyle after their diagnosis.
Unfortunately, this pushback is damaging. Though it’s often a necessary part of grief in order to get to acceptance, the reluctance to make changes and follow protocol can have lasting effects.
For someone hearing that they have a chronic illness, a terminal diagnosis, or even a temporary medical ailment, the decisions made during the pushback can have large implications.
The need to make positive changes for your life and your body is not unique to a person with a medical diagnosis. That can be a helpful realization when someone is feeling the pushback. Many medical diagnoses require a person to change their diet or their exercise habits in order to help their symptoms. This can feel forced and unfair when things are already so hard.
For example, someone with GERD may be told to stay away from alcohol. But, they feel like this will limit their social life. Someone with cancer may be told to avoid simple sugars. This can be enormously frustrating during an already overwhelming time. These feeling occur even when the person understands that those changes will help with symptoms and prevent further complications.
The great thing about making changes to the body is that they often affect the mind in the process. For example, eating food for nourishment instead of for comfort and prioritizing exercise to benefit the mind are two such changes. They both can have a lasting impact on the emotional impact of grief after a diagnosis. Physical wellness and mental health are important considerations when coping with a medical diagnosis.
But lifestyle changes are not only about diet and exercise. They are also about acknowledging limitations and embracing self-care. Some diagnoses can force a person to accept that their body can’t do certain things which is frustrating. However, making the needed lifestyle changes can be liberating and, ultimately, critical for long-term health.
Making the necessary lifestyle changes after a diagnosis is a giant step in the grief process. In part, this is because it is a sign of acceptance.
This is not to say a person won’t still feel angry or depressed at times. Acceptance doesn’t simply mean feeling okay about the diagnosis; it’s about understanding that it can’t be changed. Deciding to make the lifestyle changes necessary to manage a diagnosis shows acceptance of the problem – no matter how frustrating it may be.
Acceptance does not mean abdication. You can still make joint decisions about your treatment with your doctor. For instance, many in the medical community are turning to cannabis research for answers. This openness to alternative treatments or second opinions isn’t necessarily a sign of pushback as it is a sign of acceptance, openness, and ownership over a diagnosis.
Though the journey through a diagnosis may have ebbs and flows, it’s important to come back to a place of acceptance. That’s not always a permanent place, as many ping-pong back and forth between stages of grief and the acceptance necessary to make important lifestyle changes.
Some people experiment with treatment plans and different lifestyle changes to see what works and what doesn’t. Sticking to a plan or variations on that plan is all about maintaining acceptance and working on a positive outlook through a diagnosis.
In truth, some feel a stronger sense of spirituality and self-love because of their diagnosis. Though that’s not true for everyone and isn’t attainable in certain stages of grief, it’s a thought process that can be helpful through a diagnosis long-term.
Having a panic attack in a setting that most people can navigate with ease leaves me feeling frustrated and bitter. Bouts of depression plague my treatment. And I often beg the world to allow me to live without medication. However, that’s not my reality. For me, my lifestyle changes had to do with my diet, my mental health, and an understanding of my limitations.
Though my diagnosis has been a difficult journey, it’s also been a lesson in how impactful it is to make the appropriate lifestyle changes for your health, no matter how difficult it can be.