17th November 2020
The Mardyke Arena UCC is teaming up with the Echo during this lockdown period to give readers weekly tips on how to stay fit and healthy. In this edition, advice on reducing stress levels during the pandemic, and how what you eat is so important.
Managing stress during COVID 19
DESPITE numerous stress management techniques and prevention efforts, Covid-19 stress poses significant issues among individuals, both young and old globally writes Laura Harrington, Chartered Physiotherapist at the Mardyke Arena UCC.
Stress, defined as a mental and physical condition, resulting from pressure or demands that exceed one’s capacity or perceived capacity to cope, has been at the forefront of many people’s lives since the start of this pandemic.
Symptoms fall into three general categories: physical, mental and emotional. Some of these, but not all, include headaches, fatigue, gastro-intestinal (GI) problems, lack of concentration, sleep disturbances and anxiety, as well as heart problems (palpitations). Behavioural changes may also occur, including isolation, disruptive eating patterns, over/under-eating, increased smoking or alcohol consumption.
When threatened by environmental/socioeconomic changes and demands, we experience a variety of physiological and psychological changes. If the demands of the situation are deemed to be greater than the available coping resources, a ‘Fight-or-Flight response’ is generated. Various physiological processes occur in the body’s systems and, emotionally, people tend to become anxious and restless.
If the person is able to successfully manage or avoid the stressor, the body returns to homeostasis. However, chronic exposure to stress over time can begin to take a toll on a person.
The goal of stress management is not to eliminate all stress, as mild to moderate levels of stress are part of everyday life and wellbeing.
Stress management techniques are designed to keep stress levels within a healthy range. Participating in healthy lifestyle behaviours can help to reduce stress and maximise a long healthy life. Many stress management techniques have been consistently supported and advised. These include physical Activity and exercise (PA and E), Mindfulness and Meditation as well as Social Support.
Physical Activity and Exercise
The association between PA and E and health outcomes is well established. Those who exercise have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. There is a similar picture for exercise and mental health outcomes. Those who exercise suffer from less depression, anxiety and fatigue.
Regular engagement of moderate intensity exercise such as a brisk walk strengthens the immune system and decreases the rate of illness. Exercise also strengthens body muscles, including the heart; increases muscle mass and helps with weight management.
Exercising regularly helps to relieve stress, improve memory, ensure better sleep and improve overall mood. People who exercise regularly tend to do so as it gives them a huge sense of wellbeing, providing more energy throughout the day. It makes people more relaxed and positive about their lives, through the release of endorphins, powerful chemicals in the brain which make you feel good.
Thirty minutes of moderate intensity exercises, five times a week is advised.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Relaxing gives your mind and body time to recover from the stresses of everyday life. Finding something you enjoy and making a conscious effort every day for ten minutes will allow you the down time to help manage your stress better. Breathing techniques and remembering to be present are beneficial. Diaphragmatic breathing or deep abdominal breathing is a technique designed to slow one’s breathing, regulate oxygen intake and help one to reach a state of relaxation down.
It has long been said that “Laughter is the best medicine”. It’s important to reach into your support network including family and friends and social groups when dealing with stressful events. Laughter has been shown to reduce BP and blood sugar levels as well as increase blood blow and improve energy levels.