It's August, but it might as well just be "Warmer than usual March". The coronavirus pandemic has been affecting us for six months. Six months of lockdowns and masks and social distancing and uncertainty and political upheaval and omg, not another conspiracy theory.
It takes its toll on both mind and body.
I miss my friends. I miss the coffee chop that makes the best cup of London Fog tea on the planet. I miss the public library, even the Book Nazi at the back desk that scowls at everyone for reasons still undetermined. I miss, in short, life as I was living it pre-COVID-19.
And I'm not alone. Studies published as recently as May are showing that nearly 1/3 of us identify as stressed more than usual. Another 30 percent of us say we're experiencing more anxiety than before.
Another 30 percent reported a level of depression since the COVID-19 state of emergency was declared in March.
I'm not going to use the phrase "in these uncertain times" because, quite frankly, it has become so overused in the last 6 short months that it alone can cause me stress, but we are all living with a great number of unknowns.
And they are having their effect on our mental, and therefore our physical, health.
Good Stress vs. Bad Stress
Stress is actually good for the body. In small doses. It's what helps you run away from the big mean dog that chases you down the street. It's what keeps you alert while driving in bad weather. It's what stops you from saying the wrong thing in the job interview or during that nasty fight with your boo.
In other words, short term stress, while upsetting, does have some positive aspects that can help you get through certain situations in life.
Once the situation is over, the stress is usually gone, too.
We were created to handle certain amounts of stress, like for dealing with that dog or that bad boo situation. What we were not created for was the constant hammering of our bodies and minds that the pandemic has produced.
What COVID-19 is causing is called chronic stress. We are stuck swimming in a sea of stress. We wake up stressed. We go to bed stressed.
We experience the same stressors day in and day out. Stressing about jobs and income.
About kids and schooling. About health and safety. About the disruptions to our daily routines. Our daily lives. And chronic stress can lead to some long-term, negative health issues.
Why Chronic Stress is So Bad for Your Body
Stress produces a corticosteroid hormonal response in your body. That's what helps you run faster from the dog. And in that situation, it gets pretty much all used up with the physical effort of you running away.
The issue with pandemic stress, chronic stress, however, is that there is no way to burn it all off.
There's no escape from your body's own natural response.
Too much corticosteroid hormones are not good for the body. They, and the stress that causes them, can manufacture physical health issues, such as:
*heart problems - high blood pressure, palpitations, racing heartbeat
*gut health - indigestion, gas, bloating, loss of appetite, overeating
*weight gain - not just from overeating
*lowered immune system (especially troubling in a pandemic with a highly infectious virus on the loose)
Chronic stress is even more dangerous for those with existing health issues. It can make it harder for diabetics to control their blood sugar. It can increase the risk of heart attacks.
Asthmatics may find themselves reaching for inhalers more frequently as their bodies react to the daily deluge of stress.
People with migraines may find they are having them more often, or for longer, than usual. In short, chronic stress can be a killer, figuratively, and literally.
Why Chronic Stress Is Bad For Your Mental Health
While chronic stress can really play havoc with your physical health, it can also be a nightmare for your mental health. All those stats I gave at the beginning? They aren't pretty, are they? Here's the kicker — they may be vastly under-reported.
We don't like to admit to ourselves that we aren't quite mentally up to a task or situation.
"Everything's fine," we say. The researchers who conducted many of the studies felt that many of the respondents, especially men and married women with children, did not answer as truthfully as they should have.
Men tend to want to be seen as strong and invincible, while married moms are so used to having to "do it all," they can't admit they aren't dealing with things as well as they could.
One big thing we aren't dealing with as well as we could is anxiety.
Chronic stress causes anxiety. Chronic stress is its own form of anxiety. We are anxious, worried, stressed, by situations out of our control. Unemployment, or perhaps worse, having to work from home. Taking care of the kids and the schooling at home, or do we send them back?
Juggling house, kids, and work all at the same time. And what about me, my spouse, my kids, my parents, grampa and gran - what if any one of us gets sick? What then? And then we start to wonder about what the effects of all this worrying is going to have on us.
Chronic stress can lead to issues with cognitive — thinking — functions. We may find it harder to make decisions. Learning new things may take two or even three times as long as before COVID 19 came along. Concentration and focus may become luxuries of the past.
Mindfulness falls by the wayside. And again, all of that can cause its own set of stressors.
Depression has a whole host of causes in this pandemic, and chronic stress is but one culprit. The hopelessness and helplessness we're experiencing, the "trapped" feelings, the "out of control" lifestyle many of us are being forced to accept, even the constant "bad" news on the tv and internet — all can lead to deepening depression.
Add in the social isolation of the pandemic and it's a wonder we're not all sobbing in our Sauvignon on a nightly basis.
What About Insight Timer? Why All This About Chronic Stress?
Chronic stress and COVID-19 go hand in hand. And while medical and political forces may dither and argue over the best treatment for the coronavirus, chronic stress is a bit easier to combat.
And that is where a little free app called Insight Timer comes onto the scene like a knight in shining armor, ready to save the day and slay the dragons of chronic stress.
Insight Timer is an app that provides you with meditation, mindfulness, relaxation, and even yoga materials.
Why would they be so important at a stressful time like this? Because they are the very prescription for fighting chronic stress.
All the experts agree that gentle exercise helps burn off all those extra corticosteroids. Yoga fits the bill perfectly. Or you can make one of Insight Timers walking meditations a part of your day.
And since they are right there, just waiting for you to pull one up on your phone, there's no excuse not to indulge your body in a bit of moving and motivating stress relief. Relaxing is such an important way to fight stress, too.
Insight Timer has music, yoga, and meditation designed to help you calm, slow down, relax, and even drift off to sleep.
A tension-releasing body scan, or an hour of nature sounds like gentle rain, or a sleep story — a bedtime story for stressed-out adults — can lead to a better, better capable you. Mediation and mindfulness help you gain control over those out of control thoughts racing through your brain.
You'll find your attention span getting back to normal.
You may find that you can think more clearly about some of the issues causing your stress and anxiety, like how to balance the kids and the housework, or figuring out the best "new" daily routine now that you are working or studying from home.
Plans may become easier to make and stick to. Some of your stress will hopefully fade away.
Meditation can also help you order that new daily routine. Start with a wake-up, good morning session. Take a break in the afternoon with an energizing, get you over the slump ten minutes. Sink into a relaxed state of mind at the end of the day with another few minutes.
Whether you prefer guided, timed, or meditation to music or nature, Insight Timer has something you're bound to enjoy.
Kiss Chronic Stress Goodbye
Insight Timer may not help you pay the rent, but it can help you deal with the stress coming up with the rent causes. And it's free, so there's no drain on your already stretched finances.
Chronic stress doesn't have to be your constant companion until the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Insight Timer can make your dark days of COVID-19 dreariness a bit brighter, as you lighten your stress load and your state of mind.
Kick chronic stress to the curb, at least for a few minutes a day.
Your brain and your body will thank you.