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Three Tips to Take Care of the Pandemic Blues

Updated: Feb 9

At any point in time, approximately 20 percent of adults experience significant mental health issues. That’s two out of ten adults with mental health issues that impact their level of functioning. Things like getting or holding a job, maintaining healthy relationships, or practicing adequate self-care. At times of widespread stress, like a global pandemic, this percentage can surge much higher.



Three Tips to Take Care of the Pandemic Blues


At any point in time, approximately 20 percent of adults experience significant mental health issues. That’s two out of ten adults with mental health issues that impact their level of functioning. Things like getting or holding a job, maintaining healthy relationships, or practicing adequate self-care. At times of widespread stress, like a global pandemic, this percentage can surge much higher.


Stress can negatively impact our physical health in many ways, from headaches to appetite changes and gastrointestinal changes to muscle tension. It affects our mental health, too. Many of us manifest stress in worry, anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns and the ongoing and seemingly never-ending time of living in isolation and unknown during the pandemic definitely isn’t setting any of us up for a stress-free life.


While medical interventions may be needed for some, others greatly benefit in reducing, managing, or warding off stress by leveraging one of these three strategies that I share with many of my clients. When you feel life spiraling out of control and you feel at a loss for what to do next, consider giving one of these strategies a try.


1. Take a Breath


Stop for a moment and take a deep breath. I’m talking about the breath that starts in the depths of your lungs, pushes them to expand to their fullest, and the elongated release that normally is accompanied with a heavy sigh (and feelings of calmness and peace). Deep breathing is a self-control strategy that I encourage any and everyone to embrace because in addition to just feeling good, it holds mental health power. A single breath is powerful.


Slow, deep breathing immediately reduces anxiety. It can also improve focus and calm, which is why it’s incorporated into mindfulness activities such as yoga. Understanding how the brain works unlocks a deeper understanding of the power of a breath. I’ll save you the medical jargon and jump to the cliff notes version.


When we take shallow breaths, we inadvertently lower the carbon dioxide levels in our blood which can trigger chemical receptors in the brain and, as a result, trigger a panic attack. The symptoms can be reduced by breathing slowly and deeply, in through the nose and out through the mouth. This is because slow breathing stimulates the vagus nerve which, in return, indirectly stimulates the release of noradrenaline and serotonin which regulate mood and energy, among other things.


Next time you feel your body tighten, your brain fog and the anxiety and stress creep in, take a deep breath like you are smelling an aromatic rose and then a long exhale like you are blowing out candles. You’ll thank me later!


2. Take a Step

Exercise is incredibly important for good mental health. This probably seems obvious, but as recently as a decade ago this was not widely accepted. We’ve all heard that exercise releases endorphins, and this is a good thing. But what does this mean and how does it work?

There are 50 types of neurotransmitters in the brain and many subtypes of receptors for them. They’re called endogenous, meaning they come from within. We discovered many of the drugs that impacted the receptors before scientists discovered the endogenous compound that triggers them. When we take the drugs, they bind to receptors in the brain. But those receptors weren’t sitting around waiting for us to ingest drugs, they were working with endogenous compounds already found in the brain.

For opiates, these compounds are often called endorphins, where the endo part comes from the ancient Greek for within. For tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) from cannabis plants, the compounds are endocannabinoids. When we exercise, there’s a significant release of both endorphins and endocannabinoids. Yes: exercise releases internal compounds that bind to both opiate and cannabis receptors. No wonder there’s such a thing as a runner’s high!

Exercise can have both short-term and long-term benefits on mental health as well as physical health. It may be one of the most important components of wellness. Exercise does the mind (and the body) a world of good.


3. Think Positive

You probably know someone who is just immensely grateful all of the time; they see the silver lining in life’s challenges and the beauty in the messy. Whether you’re one of them, or you despise their happy-go-lucky outlook on life, the science is there to prove that positivity – especially radical positivity – can have a positive impact on mental health.

The focus of gratitude and positivity as a means to appreciate what one has in life—as opposed to agonizing over what one does not have—is easier to describe than to achieve. That focus, however, allows people to acknowledge goodness in their lives, to feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, deal better with adversity, and build strong relationships. Cultivating regular gratitude can go a long way in helping build resilience to life’s challenges.

There is evidence that being around others who have these positive attitudes makes it easier for us to feel more positive ourselves. Of course, the opposite is also true: being around people who are negative will make you feel more negative yourself. But rather you’d like to admit it or not, you already knew that.

Radical positivity is a technique where the goal is to identify a positive in every situation, and then tell somebody about it. This can really help some people, which is why it makes sense that elements are incorporated into therapy programs. We may more easily find ourselves feeling grateful for grand gestures, but the practice is more about learning to appreciate the small, ordinary things that occur in any given day: the sun shining, a warm cup of coffee, or the joy of some puppy love. These snippets of joy can improve one’s overall well-being, shifting the brain from moments of negativity to periods of happiness and optimism.


When life feels out of control, focus on what is within your grasp.


We all carry more power than we know. And with small, but meaningful, shifts in how we care for our physical bodies, how we focus our mindsets and even how we breathe, we may be able to impact our mental health even during unprecedented times. The pandemic doesn’t appear to be leaving our world any time soon … in fact, it’s likely reshaping how we experience things we once took for granted. But instead of dwelling on what we can’t control, this New Year, make a pact with yourself to focus on taking control of the things you can.



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