Updated: Nov 29, 2021
I don't know about you, but after the past few months of Covid-19 related drama so many people in my life are just flat out exhausted. And it's hardly any wonder.
Right now, even though many of us may appear to be navigating the emotional aspects of this pandemic reasonably well, without obvious signs of full-blown panic, our internal chemical response is likely not as calm.
Right now, our entire community, nay the world, is trapped in the midst of an ongoing trauma that has no clearly defined beginnings or ends.
This is causing many of us to walk through our lives in a nearly constant state of hyperarousal. As the name implies, hyperarousal is the abnormally heightened state of anxiety that occurs whenever we experience or think about a traumatic event, and even though the threat may not be imminent or personal, our bodies respond as if it were. So here we are, all walking around 24/7 with our nervous systems locked and loaded ready to fight or flee. Then take our fears or concerns about our personal well-being and immediate safety and add to that the constant stream of media coverage, the depressing fiscal outlooks, and the worries of our loved ones, friends and neighbors.... and boom! Exhaustion.
Epinephrine (adrenaline) is one of two stress hormones that play a role in the body's flight-or-fight response. Epinephrine is designed to work in short bursts and produces moderate to acute stress symptoms, including pupil dilation, increased blood pressure, and a rapid heart rate; it's what keeps us hypervigilant and readies us to bolt in the face of imminent danger. The other hormone, cortisol, works over the long term to regulate the body's response to stress. Epinephrine is the throttle, and cortisol is the brakes.... but in times like this current pandemic where there are no marked off-ramps where we know our road trip will end, our throttles get stuck in "pedal-to-the-metal" mode.
So how do we all deal with this flood of stress hormones? How do we get our bodies chemical stress-brakes to start flowing??
Improve your sleep hygiene. Create a healthy bedtime ritual that includes turning off devices at least 30-60 minutes before bed, creating a cool, dark and cozy space, and engaging in calming rituals or practices to down-shift your mind and set you up for a restful night of sleep.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol is depressant that can amplify feelings of depression and the effects of stress hormones. Caffeine is a stimulant that can increase feelings of edginess and anxiety.
Exercise regularly. Exercise stimulates the production of endorphins, the hormone of which can elevate moods and potentially temper the epinephrine response. Exercise also makes you feel stronger and more in control.
Get some Vitamin D. Research has shown that vitamin D might play an important role in regulating mood and warding off depression. Get some sun on your face every day (don't forget the SPF!) and consider supplementing (chat with your doctor).
Take time to relax. Set aside time for relaxing mind-body therapies, such as yoga, tai chi, or progressive muscle relaxation (PMR).
Improve your eating habits. Stress-related eating is a real thing. Set yourself up for success by stocking your fridge with nutrient-dense fruits, nuts, and vegetables and be sure you're eating at regular intervals. For many people, the process of cooking itself can be a tremendous stress-reliever (especially if someone else is in charge of the dishes!)
Build a support network. Don't suffer in silence. Find friends and family in whom you can confide, ideally people who don't panic or try to "make things right." Talking with a therapist is also a great strategy.