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Long-Term Social Distancing May Be Traumatic. Here Is What To Expect And What To Do

Passover, Easter and Ramadan are occasions that typically bring families together to pray, reflect and celebrate – fellowship needed, perhaps, now more than ever – will look different this year as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The loss of those traditions is added to a growing list of losses that North Americans are facing as they endure at least another month of social distancing and with it an extended departure from routines, habits, social circles and normalcy.

The protracted disruption to life as it was, mental health experts say, could bring feelings of anger, depression, anxiety and even grief.

“There is literal grief like losing loved ones,” said Dr. Vaile Wright, the American Psychology Association’s director of clinical research. “But there is a grief of experiences that we are losing right now. There can feel like there is a lot of loss right now, a loss of freedom, a lot of things we took for granted.”

The next few months may take a toll on the nation’s mental health, experts say, but it is possible to mitigate the stress.

North Americans’ collective trauma

Extended isolation and stress from the pandemic can affect everyone differently, said Dr. Dana Garfin, a health psychologist.

It could put strain on families, send children home to abusive situations, make those living alone feel isolated and threaten people’s sense of purpose by keeping them from work, Garfin said.

And those experiencing financial insecurity in the midst of the pandemic have an added stress that is difficult to resolve, said Dr. Baruch Fischhoff, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University.

Despite those differences, the experience of staying home together through a pandemic can be considered a collective trauma, said Garfin, who studies collective traumas such as hurricanes, terrorist attacks and earthquakes.

Collective traumas start at some point of impact and then ripple out to loved ones of the afflicted, witnesses to the devastation and people whose lives are disrupted.

In this case, many Americans fall into one or more of those categories. People in quarantine show signs of confusion, depression and anger, Garfin said.

“We necessarily run much of our lives by habit,” said Fischhoff. “We know what we have for breakfast, we know how to prepare the kids for school, and that enables us to get through the day reasonably well.”

But now that many North Americans aren’t waking up and going to school and work, it can be difficult to know how to restructure even the most rote daily habits that won’t be coming back for weeks yet.

What life might look like on the other side of coronavirus

How long the pandemic and the isolation continue will dictate how severe the effects are on people’s mental health, Garfin said.

Prolonged exposure to the traumas of coronavirus can activate the fight or flight response, which over time can cause cardiovascular problems, anxiety, depression and PTSD, Garfin said. And the extended isolation can contribute to fear, anxiety, headaches, muscle tension and difficulty concentrating, said Wright.

For some groups, like health care workers, those in the media and people in newly deemed “essential jobs,” the end result may be guilt, grief and PTSD, said Wright.

But, Wright and Garfin agreed, humans are resilient.

Some may forget everything they just went through and go back to their daily lives when it is all over, Wright said, but many can come out of this with stronger relationships and a better perspective on what is important.

How to get through it

The future is uncertain, but life will be different for at least the next month and that knowledge can be the first step to making this new, temporary reality as good as it can be.

Now that it is clear the change is for more than a couple of weeks, it is important to create a new routine – one that includes showering, getting dressed and maintaining family meals — not treating the time as an extended snow day or spring vacation, Wright said.

There is an opportunity for people to develop new habits around the disruption, which can relieve the stress of feeling like starting from scratch every day, Fischhoff said.

And all three say it is important to use social media to be social, not to feed the anxiety that conflicting coronavirus information on the platform stokes.

They also agree that this experience is difficult, and it is important to acknowledge that and not be too critical of what one could have done before or could be doing now.

“I think that we need to recognize that this is totally unprecedented, and we really are just doing the best we can – and that’s OK,” Wright said. And for people doing the best they can but struggling to work, study or care for their families, virtual mental health resources may be a crucial next step.

And for those who are lonely and isolated, Garfin suggests reframing for a feeling of community within that experience.

“We aren’t in our houses alone, we are doing something for each other for our community,” Garfin said. “It’s a shared effort, something that we are all a part of and something we are all contributing to.”
“It’s going to be difficult, but it’s not permanent.”

 

By Madeline Holcombe, CNN       Thu April 9, 2020
source: www.cnn.com
plan

Take A Breath:
How The Simple Act Of Meditative Breathing
Helps Us Cope

A global pandemic causes so much worry, concern and fear. There’s the pressure of suddenly being a homeschooling parent and trying to create structure around newfound chaos in your home.

A lot of us are adjusting to working from home, all while tending to worries about the state of the world. Maybe you fret over the health of aging parents or feel anxious over the ever-changing news cycle.

Psychological stress can damper your overall health, affecting your ability to remain resilient in the face of challenges. It can also thwart a strong immune system, which is needed to keep from getting sick.

“Living through a pandemic can be scary,” said CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta in the March 18 episode of CNN’s “Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction” podcast.

The good news: Meditation is one tool that can help our immune systems functioning optimally, according to a recent study.

One of the easiest ways to reduce stress is by simply focusing your attention on your breath, according to Harvard Medical School, since it’s a form of beginner level meditation that anyone can do.

Alternative medicine advocate Dr. Deepak Chopra, in Dr. Gupta’s podcast episode titled “Pandemic Panic,” walks us through how to do a breathing meditation to ease our stress, thus calming our minds.

Breathing through the stress of a pandemic

According to Harvard Medical School, breathing meditation requires either sitting comfortably, standing or walking in a setting with minimal distractions. Many people prefer to sit.

If you’re sitting, focus first on your posture: You should sit with your spine erect.

As you become aware of the space you’re in and sit comfortably, observe your breath without manipulating it for a few seconds, Chopra suggests.

Then, slow your breath down by inhaling deeply to the count of six.

Pause for two seconds.

Exhale to the count of four. Then repeat this six-two-four breathing method for two minutes.

“Then, when you’re done with that, bring your awareness into your body and wherever there seems to be any discomfort, just bring the awareness there without manipulating it,” Chopra said. “Awareness by itself heals. Awareness without conceptual intervention restores self-regulation.”

“The goal is really to breathe from your diaphragm,” as opposed to shallow breaths from your chest, said Vaile Wright, a psychologist and director of clinical research and quality at the American Psychological Association.

“And the way to know whether you’re doing that or not, or a trick at least, is to place your hand just below your ribs on your stomach.” When you inhale you should feel your body expanding, then contracting when you inhale.

If the initial peace is interrupted by your thoughts, the meditation isn’t a failure. Though breathing meditations are simple to begin with, they can take practice before you’re able to maintain focus for an extended period of time, Wright said. Just acknowledge the thought and try to let it go.

You don’t have to concentrate on any format, but some people find that adding some sort of mantra or visualization to it helps, Wright said.

“For example, when you’re breathing in, telling yourself [in your head that] you’re breathing in love. When you’re exhaling, telling yourself you’re exhaling anxiety. Or, breathing in positive energy, exhaling negative energy or visualizing negative energy coming out of your mouth and out of your body.”

Chopra starts his day with three or four intentions: “I’m going to maintain a joyful, energetic body today; a loving and compassionate heart today; a reflective and quiet and creative and centered mind today; and lightness of being and laughter today, whatever it takes.”

By doing these intentions, you can start to feel better, he said.

Modern technology offers up apps and smart watches that can help guide you through a meditation if you have trouble staying focused.

“Slow your breath, your thoughts will slow down as well,” Chopra said.

breathe
try this for 2 – 5 minutes

Benefits for your overall health

Breathing meditations can contribute to a state of mindfulness by bringing your focus to one thing and only thing only – your breath, Wright said.

“The goal of that is to draw your attention away from maybe worry thoughts you’re having or sort of the catastrophic thoughts or maybe depressing thoughts about feeling alone,” she added. When you’re focusing, those thoughts can be pushed aside, helping you to control your emotions.

Mindfulness has been found to influence two stress pathways in the brain, altering brain structure and activity in regions that regulate attention and emotion, according to the American Psychological Association.

In a 2015 review of studies on the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), researchers found that people who received this therapy were less likely to respond to stressful situations with negative thoughts or unhelpful emotional reactions.

Those participants were also more likely to focus on the present moment and less likely to experience ruminating thoughts.

Breathing meditations can also reduce muscle tension and your heart rate, which are signs of stress, Wright said.

Carrying yourself through a hard time

Breathing meditations are another tool you can add to your coping toolkit, which may also include journaling, baking or virtually connecting with others.

“What’s great about breathing is you can do it anywhere,” Wright said. “If music is your way of relaxing, what happens when you don’t have access to it? You always have access to your breathing, so in that sense [breathing meditations] are really portable and very accessible. We really need a variety of different coping skills in order to get through particularly unprecedented situations like this one.”

Mindfulness may not make everything go away, Wright said, but it can bring you to a “calmer state so that you’re better able to deal with all the stress that’s going on.”

By Kristen Rogers, CNN      Fri March 27, 2020
source: www.cnn.com


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20 Small But Substantial Ways You Can Use Pandemic Isolation to Emotionally Grow

Has anyone else been thinking lately about the endless ways that life can challenge us? Because I sure have. Whatever negative events you may have imagined happening in your future, the coronavirus pandemic was probably not one of them.

It seems that the current state of our world, replete as it is with quarantines, stay-at-home orders, closed businesses, lost projects, and social distancing leaves probably about 90% or more people feeling alone, uncertain and lost.

As a psychologist who specializes in the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN on adults, I can tell you that scores of people have brought a big dose of those 3 feelings forward from their childhoods and have been coping with them for years. And now, in this current situation, we are now handed an extra dose of them plus a whole lot more.

Whether you grew up in a family that ignored the emotions of its members (CEN) or not: If you are stuck at home, feeling stressed, lost, confused, terrified, alone, helpless or hopeless, sad, worried, or angry, I want you to know that there is a way to turn this around for yourself.

The Importance of Control in an Uncontrollable Time

Much of this situation is truly out of your control, but not all of it. It is possible to reframe your current situation into an opportunity. An opportunity to do things you were never able to do because of time, stress, and all the life demands that you’ve always been juggling.

I believe you can survive the challenges of this pandemic. But I want you to do better than survive. I want you to keep on growing in surprising ways. I want you to thrive.

Not all of the ideas I’m going to offer below seem psychological, but believe me, they are. Each has the potential to greatly impact your emotional health now, and also continue once this pandemic eases up. They will all return you to your regular life as an improved version of your current self.

20 Ideas to Help You Survive & Thrive Through the Epidemic

  1. Declutter your house. Is your clutter getting out of control because of your busy life? Use this time to get organized. Go through the papers and unnecessary objects in your house and sort it and get rid of some detritus. It will feel so good. It’s you taking control in an uncontrollable situation.
  2. Learn a new language. It has so many benefits. It not only improves your brain, but it also connects you to a different culture and that is a good thing in today’s world.
  3. Write. Writing, no matter what kind you do taps into an expressive, thoughtful part of your inner self. Have you had an idea for a novel or a memoir? Is there a part of your life that you would like to remember? Some unprocessed painful memory? Write about it.
  4. Clean the small spaces in your home. You know those little corners behind furniture, under furniture, window sills or the tops of windows and doors? Now is a great chance to attack those. You’ll feel so good about it.
  5. Improve your cooking. Cooking is a form of creativity and it’s also a way to practice self-care.
  6. Explore new music. It’s easy to fall into a rut of listening to the same artists or styles over and over. Get yourself out of it and try something new.
  7. Sharpen a music interest or talent. Always wanted to learn the guitar or how to sing in tune? Now’s your time.
  8. Improve your relationship with an important person. This might be anyone who you’ve always wanted to have a better relationship with. Amazing progress can be made when you have the time and energy to focus on it.
  9. Become more familiar with your emotions. This would benefit almost every human alive today. Why? Because your feelings are amazing tools that you could be harnessing better than you probably are to assist you in self-knowledge, self-expression, and decision-making. This is also one of the steps of healing Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.
  10. Practice and learn meditation and mindfulness. This will help you find your center better and control your own brain, both of which are helpful when dealing with stressful situations.
  11. Make a list of the strengths that got you through previous life setbacks. I know you have some. Being aware of them allows you to consciously call upon them when you need them.
  12. Be grateful every morning when you wake up healthy and alive. Be grateful for the lives and health of your loved ones. Gratitude has been found to be a major contributor to life happiness. No matter what is going on around you, there are, without a doubt, some genuine things you should still be thankful for.
  13. Think of a goal that’s achievable now that could not have occurred to you in the pre-Covid world. This might be anything positive and healthy.
  14. Reach out to someone you cared about before but lost track of due to hectic life. An old childhood friend, a cousin, aunt or uncle, or a college buddy. Reconnection is enriching and enlivening.
  15. Practice or learn a new skill that applies to your career. Take an online course or read a book. Or simply practice what you already know to get better at it.
  16. Choose an intimidating exercise you can do at home and do it every day. For example, 10 push-ups or pull-ups/day. Tailor it to your own body and abilities.
  17. Give. Find a way to help in person or online and offer to help them. Like gratitude, research shows that helping others makes a person happier.
  18. Let your mind wander. There is a great shortage of this simple pleasure in today’s world. Just sit. Ponder. Let your mind go. It’s good for you, I promise.
  19. Read a challenging book. This could be any book you’ve wanted to read but haven’t had the time or energy for.
  20. Reach out to someone you wronged in the past and apologize. Virtually everyone has a nagging sense of guilt about having behaved in some negative or harmful way in the past, even if unintentional. This is your opportunity to wipe your guilt away by offering an explanation or apology. Or, if you cannot reach out to the person, think it through, learn a lesson from it, and put it behind you.

The way you are feeling now as an adult mimics, in many ways, the feelings of an emotionally neglected child. Lost, alone and uncertain, you wonder what comes next.

But now you know that the answer to that is in large part up to you. You can use this painful time to improve yourself and become stronger for whatever your future holds.

What feeds your self-respect, self-like and self-love more than watching yourself take the lemons the world is handing you and turn them into lemonade?

There is no stronger sign of emotional health than resilience. And growing yourself in any one of these impactful ways during a global crisis rife with setbacks is definitely a sign of just that.

Stay healthy and safe.

By Jonice Webb PhD         29 Mar 2020
Better-Mental-Health

For Mental Well-Being, Live in Moment But Plan For Future

People who manage to balance living in the moment with planning for the future are best able to weather daily stress without succumbing to negative moods, according to a new study by researchers from North Carolina (NC) State University.

“It’s well established that daily stressors can make us more likely to have negative affect, or bad moods,” said Dr. Shevaun Neupert, a professor of psychology at NC State and corresponding author of a paper on the recent work. “Our work here sheds additional light on which variables influence how we respond to daily stress.”

In particular, the research team looked at two factors that are believed to influence how we handle stress: mindfulness and proactive coping.

Mindfulness is defined as a mental state in which a person is centered and living in the moment, rather than dwelling in the past or stressing about the future. Proactive coping is when people engage in planning ahead to lower the risk of future stress.

To better understand how these factors influence responses to stress, the research team looked at data from 223 study participants. The study included 116 individuals between the ages of 60 and 90, and 107 people between the ages of 18 and 36. All of the study participants were in the United States.

All of the study participants were asked to complete an initial survey in order to determine their tendency to engage in proactive coping. They were then asked to fill out questionnaires for eight consecutive days that assessed fluctuations in mindfulness. On those eight days, participants were also asked to report daily stressors and the extent to which they had experienced negative moods.

The research team found that engaging in proactive coping was beneficial at limiting the effect of daily stressors, but that this advantage essentially disappeared on days when a participant reported low mindfulness.

“Our results show that a combination of proactive coping and high mindfulness result in study participants of all ages being more resilient against daily stressors,” Neupert said. “Basically, we found that proactive planning and mindfulness account for about a quarter of the variance in how stressors influenced negative affect.

“Interventions targeting daily fluctuations in mindfulness may be especially helpful for those who are high in proactive coping and may be more inclined to think ahead to the future at the expense of remaining in the present.”

Several studies have shown the benefits of mindfulness in daily stress reduction, as well as in reducing cognitive impairment in older adults, helping people in high-risk jobs and those struggling with drug addiction.

The new findings underscore the importance of daily mindfulness coupled with adequately planning ahead for the future, as these may help a person stay in a positive mindset and not succumb to high stress levels or negative moods.

The new paper is published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. First author of the paper is Melody Polk, an undergraduate at NC State. The paper was co-authored by Emily Smith and Ling-Rui Zhang, graduate students at NC State. The work was done with support from North Carolina State’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

By Traci Pedersen
Associate News Editor     29 Mar 2020
Source: North Carolina State University