Finding Calm in the Midst of Chaos

Author: Gael Wheeler, DO

With the unwelcome entrance of COVID-19 in our lives, we find ourselves in a tidal wave of uncertainty regarding the evolving impact of the virus both personally and as a society at large, leaving many to feel overwhelmed by worry and stress. Vigilance and concern are certainly warranted but it is important to be conscious of the tipping point where this becomes chronic stress and can affect our health.

As an integrative physician, I am acutely aware of the effect prolonged, uncontrolled stress can have on our immune system and our health. In the short term, intense stress can depress our immune system which we so vitally need to be robust right now. In the long term, prolonged stress can lead to blood sugar irregularities, heart disease, and altered brain function, among other concerns. It’s important we moderate the physiological effects of stress while we’re in the middle of it to avoid a second pandemic of stress-related illnesses down the road. For those who are interested, I will provide another piece discussing the physiology of stress and how it affects us, both in the short and long-term. In the interest of not stressing about stress-related illness, I want to focus today on ways we can moderate our stress response on a daily basis.

1. Don’t feed the fires of stress with information pollution. This pertains to both the quantity and quality of information. Avoid information overload by limiting your research regarding COVID-19 progression to 30 minutes a day. Secondly, get your information from a few trusted science-based sources. Popular media tends to sensationalize a topic, an approach that can leave you feeling more anxious than informed.

2. Turn your stress response around with conscious relaxation, meditation and practicing mindfulness in everyday life. We are wired for survival; when we feel a threat we naturally leap into fight or flight mode. We can catch this and turn it around with conscious effort. The more often you do this the easier it gets.

3. During stressful times, it’s easy to fall into negative thought patterns. Practice letting go of upsetting thoughts and instead, begin listing in our mind what we are grateful for. Cherish the parts of your life that make you happy when you find yourself caught up in negative thoughts. This may feel like an effort at first but over time helps you realize you have control over your thought processes and you can choose what supports your well-being.

4. Exercise decreases our stress response by altering brain function, taking us out of fight or flight mode. Exercise convinces that primitive part of your brain that you’ve done something physical and didn’t get eaten by the sabertooth tiger, so things must be OK. Find something that you personally enjoy and will do consistently, whether walking, doing yoga, putting music on and moving to it. Exercising in nature gives you an extra boost of positivity.

5. Contemplate resilience, personally and globally. In the past, many of us have been through exceedingly trying times and uncharted waters in our lives personally yet with persistence we found our way through. Many times in human history we collectively have faced challenges and threats that may at first have seemed insurmountable. Yes, step-by-step we found our way through. We can take comfort and find confidence in the fact that we humans are a resilient species. By working on the problem collectively we will find our way through this and we will all be the wiser for it.

6. Lastly, where you can, help with someone in need who’s been hit hard by this crisis. Many have lost their jobs and businesses and are personally going through very difficult times. Whether through your church, a community group or someone you know personally, if you’re lucky enough to endure this time in relative security, let’s do what we can to help our brothers and sisters who may be struggling. Together, we will all make it through.

In the meantime, check the Riordan Clinic website for things you can do to support your immune function during this time.
Be well, stay safe and cherish your happiness.