Why This Pandemic Is Making Us Tired & What We Can Do About It
You're about to read a really great blog about stress. Before doing so, here's blurb about a Health Talk that we can bring to your employees:
Take Care of Ourselves While Navigating Life
Are you overwhelmed by 2020 life? Do you find yourself reacting, internalizing, lashing out, or avoiding when it comes to the difficult (and important) conversations in life? This workshop is designed to help you better understand yourself and your own needs so you can speak more effectively with others. We’ll talk about automatic thoughts, negative patterns, and how to use mindfulness as a way to choose our response to each moment.
By Lindsay Mitchell
After years of working with people who all have chronic stress, it’s easy to identify the clear-cut signs. Fists clenched into tight little balls, jaw tightening, extreme fatigue- all of these are signs that we are currently living in a state of chronic stress. The reason for it isn’t because most of us are positive for COVID-19. Instead, most of us are emotionally and psychologically overloaded with stress from this globally traumatic experience.
The body memorizes traumatic experiences. Living during quarantine, the shelter-in-place, and stay-at-home orders is a form of trauma, and the body does not take trauma lightly. First comes the fight/flight/freeze response, which kicks in the adrenaline and causes us to rush to the grocery store and protect our families. Then, comes the trauma that ensues from the state of the global climate. What we’re now experiencing are symptoms of post-traumatic stress or what experts are calling a “culturally psychologically traumatizing situation.” https://www.med.upenn.edu/ctsa/JeremyTylerPsyD.html
Do you feel it? If you do, I get it. I’m right there with you.
The body responds to new situations with skillsets that were created through past life-threatening experiences. This is your body’s way of protecting you. In “The Body Keeps the Score” by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk https://www.besselvanderkolk.com/, a trauma expert, writes, “Ideally our stress hormone system should provide a lightning-fast response to a threat, but then quickly return us to equilibrium. In PTSD patients, however, the stress hormone system fails at this balancing act. Fight/flight/freeze signals continue after the danger is over… the continued secretion of stress hormones is expressed as agitation and panic and, in the long term, wreaks havoc with their health.”
The brain is essentially thinking, “COVID- 19= big bad scary threat.”
It’s estimated that the brain can produce 50% more stress than the physical body can handle: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3341916/, and when this happens, the body lets you know through a series of symptoms, one of which is exhaustion. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is produced when our brains perceive a threat. When this threat is present, cortisol helps desensitize us, so we feel less pain and can get out of a dangerous situation. But when exposed to the threat for a long period of time, excessive cortisol production can be responsible for memory loss, increased fatigue, and reduced serotonin, a “feel-good” neurochemical. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037
Our brains are constantly aware that a threat is present, and resources like alarming news stories, fearful phone calls from friends, and horror stories from neighbors feed our fight/flight/freeze response. This can lead to waking up repeatedly throughout the night and a broken sleep pattern that leads to fatigue throughout the day.
Most people will feel a decrease in fatigue and other symptoms related to this current threat as they allow the passage of time. However, it is proven that chronic stress does lead to an opportunistic environment for pathogens to thrive and the immune system to malfunction: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4465119/. Those who lack coping skills or continue to have symptoms will need resources to overcome the trauma that has ensued in order to regain resilience.
The good thing? Humans are adaptable, malleable, and ever-changing.
Together, we can be proactive about our health and learn how to counteract acute stress and trauma with useful tools.
Vent for 1 minute then move on. Although venting can initially feel like an emotional reprieve, more than one minute of it can lead to rumination and dwelling on the traumatic subject. Vent about the pandemic… then move on and talk about future travel plans and memories that bring you joy.
Stay updated on news without overdoing it. Now that you know that news can continue to feed your perception of the threat, it’s important to receive information from unbiased news stations in small doses. After 10 minutes of getting updated information, it may be time to turn off the TV rather than continuing to feed the fight/flight/freeze response.
Allow yourself time to rest. Now that you know experiencing exhaustion after trauma is common, remind yourself that you can use this valuable time to take care of yourself. Scheduling 20 minutes of downtime during the day can be beneficial to boost your health.
We can take our health into our own hands. You may have been feeling like there are so many things out of your control, and even if that’s true on a global scale, you can control your internal environment. Of course, it’s important to maintain healthy routines, daily nourishment, and activities that are fun, but it’s equally important to pay attention to what your mind is ingesting. So, let’s make positive changes to our health even during times of uncertainty. And that change starts with you.
Lindsay Mitchell is the CEO and founder of Vital-Side, a program designed to reset the brain’s growth-and-repair response. She helps those with chronic stress and chronic illness go from a state of fight/flight/freeze to a place of freedom and security in their bodies. Five years ago, she started working in medicine as an internal medicine PA-C, and after recovering from chronic Lyme disease, she makes it her mission to help others with chronic pain, fatigue, and brain fog to find relief from their persistent symptoms using their most valuable resource- the brain. Lindsay offers a virtual brain retraining course to help people jumpstart their parasympathetic reset. She works as a neuroplasticity coach and holds weekly community calls for clients in the Vital-Side Program. Lindsay utilizes tools like positive visualization, laughter, and state-changing exercises to empower those with chronic illness to boost their immune system and regain their health.
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