As we've taken steps to protect ourselves and others, physically, during this pandemic, our mental and emotional health may have suffered.
According to the American Psychological Association, and a study they conducted called Stress in AmericaTM 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis, (conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of APA), nearly 8 in 10 adults (78%) say the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives, while 3 in 5 (60%) say the number of issues America faces is overwhelming to them. Gen Z adults, on average, say their stress level during the prior month is 6.1, on a scale from 1 to 10 where 1 means “little to no stress” and 10 means “a great deal of stress.” This compares with a reported average stress level among all adults of 5.0.
We look at some proven stress relievers: meditation and mindfulness.
A large, 2020 observational study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that meditating was associated with a 35% lower risk of high cholesterol, a 14% lower risk of high blood pressure, a 30% lower risk of diabetes, a 24% lower risk of stroke, and a 49% lower risk of coronary artery disease.
If these benefits weren’t enough, another study (2016) from Mount Sinai, the University of California, San Francisco, and Harvard Medical School measured the “resort vacation effect” compared with the “meditation effect.”
Studying female participants over a 6-day stay at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, half experienced a regular resort vacation there, while half also did a daily meditation program. Findings: both groups showed significant, immediate changes in genetic expression associated with stress and immune pathways – while the meditation retreat, for those who already meditated regularly, was also associated with antiviral activity. And the molecular signature of long-term meditators was distinct from the non-meditating vacationers.
Can’t vacation? Try meditation.
Diana Hendel, PharmD, and Mark Goulston, MD, co-authored a book for healthcare heroes who are dealing with COVID-related stress called Why Cope When You Can Heal?. Their suggestions for ways to stop stress in the moment are valuable for anyone wanting to reclaim a sense of calm and control.
Grounding is a great way to reduce anxiety and arrive in the here and now. Use it anytime you feel carried away by anxious thoughts or feelings.
• Find a comfortable place to sit (or stand). If sitting, rest your hands on your legs. Feel the fabric of your clothing. Notice its color and texture.
• Next, bring your awareness to your body. Stretch your neck from side to side. Relax your shoulders. Tense and relax your calves. Stomp your feet.
• Look around and notice the sights, sounds, and scents around you for a few moments.
• Name 15-20 things you can see. For example, the floor, a light, a desk, a sink.
• As you keep looking around, remind yourself that “Right now, in this moment, I’m safe.”
Pause and take a few deep breaths. We tend to hold our breath whenever we are stressed, but this only exacerbates feelings of anxiety. Instead, use “box breathing” to calm yourself and heighten your concentration. Box breathing is the technique of taking slow, deep, full breaths.
Slowly exhale your breath through your mouth. Consciously focus on clearing all the oxygen from your lungs. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose for four slow counts. Hold your breath for four more slow counts. On the next four counts, exhale again through your mouth until your lungs are empty. Hold your breath again for a final slow count of four beats.
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