by Dr. Karen Parmar, ND (from Spring issue of LivePure Journal)
By now, COVID-19 has reached every corner of the Earth and will be remembered by all who are experiencing it. What it reminds us though, is that it's up to each of us to maintain our health, to stay level, and to remain calm.
Adopting routines and behaviors that decrease stress is an important strategy to maintain health over the coming weeks and months.
We know that psychological stress disrupts immune regulation and increases pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are are responsible for the inflammation that causes a host of symptoms in viral infections.
Here are 5 easy ways to lower stress levels
- Decrease your caffeine intake
Caffeine blocks the effects of adenosine, a brain chemical that makes you feel tired. At the same time, it triggers the release of adrenaline, the “fight-or-flight” hormone associated with increased energy. At higher doses, these effects may become more pronounced, leading to anxiety and nervousness.
- Increase your levels of GABA
Gamma Aminobutyric Acid is a naturally occurring amino acid that works as a neurotransmitter in your brain. Neurotransmitters function as chemical messengers.
GABA is considered an inhibitory neurotransmitter because it blocks, or inhibits, certain brain signals and decreases activity in the nervous system. When GABA attaches to a protein in your brain, known as the GABA receptor, it produces a calming effect. This can help reduce feelings of anxiety and stress.
The highest GABA-producing foods, according to an analysis published in Preventive Nutrition and Food Science, include brown rice germ, sprouted grains, and spinach.
Certain gut bacteria also produce GABA, so increase your intake of fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, and tempeh. Supplementation with GABA is also an option. I’d suggest you speak with your naturopathic physician or pharmacist before starting an oral supplementation program.
- Encourage optimal levels of melatonin
Melatonin is produced by your pineal gland. It is crucial to maintain your circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycles) because production is stimulated by the dark. This is why it’s important to sleep in a dark room, and to limit screen times a few hours before bed.
Melatonin has been demonstrated to bear a general immuno-supportive effect in many animal species as well as in humans. Melatonin also reduces oxidative stress during viral infections. Melatonin helps you sleep, and sleep helps maintain optimal immune health.
- Take a reading break
Reading reliable information is great, but I also recommend taking a break from all forms of media and settling into a good book. Perhaps it’s a new fiction book that has been recommended to you, or one that’s been sitting on your shelf. Either way, taking time ‘away’ from our pandemic reality can reduce stress.
Even if it’s just for five minutes a day. When researchers from Johns Hopkins University sifted through nearly 19,000 meditation studies, they found 47 trials that met their criteria for well-designed studies.
Their findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine (2014), suggest that mindful meditation can help ease psychological stress and symptoms like anxiety, depression, and pain.
I recommend the mindfulness mediation app called Ten Percent Happier at
tenpercent.com. Check out their Coronavirus Sanity Guide. The meditations, podcasts, blog posts, and talks are designed to “help you build resilience and find some calm amidst the chaos.”
I recommend this app to all newcomers to mindfulness as well as experienced meditators. There are several options out there, but this is the mindfulness meditation program that resonates most with me.
The majority of us spend time exercising and training our physical bodies. We should also dedicate a portion of that time to training our minds. Regain some control over the never-ending thinking, planning, rehearsing, worrying, and fretting. This would benefit all of us during this time of constant unknown, change, and fear.
A time for reflection
Anxiety and worry creep in when we re-live experiences from the past over and over in our heads, and when we worry about possibilities for the future. If we can stay in the present moment, in what is happening now, fear and worry subside. This is obviously easier said than done.
When I am feeling overwhelmed or anxious, I try to remember to ask myself: is there any immediate threat? Must I make any immediate decisions right now? Do I need to be anxious at this present time? Usually the answer is no, not at this second. This allows for a pause, a moment to relax and catch my breath, and to focus only on what is happening at that moment.
Our world community has suddenly been forced into reflection and stillness. This can become fuel for fear, or it can be used instead as fuel for introspection, a time to examine your life.
What is truly important to you in this lifetime? What activities and habits are worth keeping, and what are you ready to let go of? Is there something that you have always wanted to learn?
Maybe it’s how to knit, how to type, how to cook Italian food, how to play an instrument? Maybe there’s an online course that you have never had time to take. Maybe your guitar has been sitting in the closet gathering dust for years?
I urge each of you to use this time to grow in some way. To learn, explore, and make some subtle adjustments. Perhaps connecting with your family and those you love, and taking the time to rest.
Most of us run from one thing to another, with no time for pause or reflection. This time of isolation may be incredibly healing if seen, and taken, as the opportunity that it is.
I wish everyone a new heightened level of health—physically, mentally, and emotionally—as we are given the opportunity to turn inward. I hope we all emerge in a better place.
I hope we can all make this time count and do something positive with it. I wish everyone good health and inner peace.
Karen Parmar, ND has been a practicing naturopathic physician since 2000. She is a founding director, alongside her husband, Dr. Gurdev Parmar ND, of Integrated Health Clinic, Fort Langley, BC. Her practice is focused around Women’s Health.