By Dr. Jeffrey Gladden
Over the past several months, life as we’ve long known it has transformed dramatically, causing unprecedented uncertainty and, as a result, massive stress and anxiety for millions. But though our “new normal” has shifted, living in a nearly constant overwhelming state of mind only serves to make things worse.
Mountains of evidence strongly link prolonged stress and declining physical and mental health, but here’s the good news: You get to control how you respond to the situation. In the midst of stressful times, there are several aspects of your life you can manage to help you both feel and perform your best while working through tough situations.
Read on to learn helpful tips for maintaining mind and body health during stressful times.
Getting regular physical activity is just as important for your mind as it is for your body. Evidence clearly demonstrates that regular exercise not only elicits positive physiological effects but that it can also provide considerable stress relief and anxiety reduction. When you incorporate at least a few days of exercise into your week, just a few of the benefits you’ll enjoy include:
- Better brain function. Chronically elevated cortisol negatively impacts memory retention, memory formation, and decision-making. Since exercise naturally reduces the body’s stress hormones, it can help improve overall brain function.
- Better immune function. Elevated cortisol levels downregulate immune function. Routine exercise lowers cortisol, so it also improves overall immunity.
- Better mood. Exercise triggers the release of feel-good brain chemicals, naturally elevating your mood.
When you’re fully mindful of what’s happening in the present moment, it’s virtually impossible to feel stress and anxiety. So wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, take the time to practice presence by tuning in to what’s going on around you right now. This is a fantastic exercise for calming both the mind and body and reducing overwhelming feelings.
Adopting a regular meditation practice can also dramatically reduce feelings of stress and even improve immune response. If you’re new to meditation, try to incorporate at least one session per day. If you already meditate daily, I suggest increasing your frequency to two to three sessions per day.
Step Back and See the Bigger Picture
Humans are hardwired to feel fear and anxiety in response to stressful situations. This is what we call a fight-or-flight response. From an evolutionary perspective, these feelings kept us safe by prompting us to take immediate actions that would ensure our survival. But these hardwired responses were never intended to be prolonged.
Today, however, we watch the news, perceive a threat, and that threat triggers feelings of stress and anxiety. And because the news is ever-present, we continue experiencing those feelings even though we’re not facing immediate and present danger. Here’s the problem: The human brain cannot differentiate between a real and present danger and a threat that exists on television.
To help manage our brains’ stress responses to the types of threats we’re currently facing, we must zoom out and look at the bigger picture. Though it might seem as though the world is crashing down around us, the reality is: This situation, like all situations before it, will pass. Life will recover.
Adopt a Growth Mindset
Every obstacle presents an opportunity — but only if you perceive those obstacles through the lens of a growth mindset. So take some time to look for opportunities in the midst of your struggle.
Try transporting yourself 25 years in the future. Think about how the current challenge you face made you stronger. How does your future grow from the current situation? What good things were born out of the struggle? What did you learn? How did this obstacle move you closer to where you were ultimately supposed to be?
When you adopt a growth mindset, rather than seeing obstacles as insurmountable challenges, you see them as learning opportunities. And chances are, your future self will look back on your current challenge and realize it was never quite as bad as your mind made it out to be.
Nourish Your Body
Eating a healthy diet that provides plenty of antioxidants supports optimal immune function, physical performance, and overall recovery — but that’s not all. What you consume on a daily basis can actually help you manage your stress levels too. To help calm the brain and reduce stress, consider incorporating the following supplements:
- Ashwagandha and Rhodiola. Combined, these adaptogens help balance cortisol levels.
- Theanine and Relora. This amino acid and extract of magnolia help calm the mind while promoting stress relief, relaxation, and improved cognitive function.
- Alpha stim. This isn’t a supplement; it’s a microcurrent device that puts the brain in an alpha state. When the brain produces alpha waves, it’s in a calm, reflective, meditative state.
No matter how stressful the current situation might seem, we will get through this and come out the other side stronger. What have you been doing to maintain your mind and body health during these stressful times?