Resilience to Stress in Stressful Times

Contributor: Dr. Kristen Race, Ph.D.

Last Monday I flipped from full denial about the threat of a pandemic to a full on panic attack. Since then I’ve toggled between convincing myself that the shortness of breath I experience while going up the stairs must mean I have the virus, to compulsively hitting the refresh button on a live map of the current outbreaks, to subtly edging away from anyone who clears their throat, to making sure I buy yet another package of toilet paper (or bottle of Chardonnay) every time the shelf is not empty.

While I haven’t started dread-shopping for astronaut food just yet, my omnipresent germophobia has escalated to formidable levels. Every touchable object I see seems as if it is teeming with infectious organisms as I douse my entire family in Purell and arm them with Clorox wipes as they walk out the door. Just this morning I found myself counting how long the faucet was running in the bathroom to see if my husband was washing his hands for the full 20 seconds! Am I alone? I don’t think so…

Stress Thrives on Uncertainty

As the Coronavirus spreads, our unanswered list of questions grows. "Will I get it? What should I be doing to protect my family? What does this mean for my business? My parents? My retirement fund? Will we be ok?” All of this uncertainty feeds our stress and adds to feelings of fear and vulnerability.

To make matters worse, as our stress levels rise, so does our likelihood of getting sick. Studies have found that the more you worry, the more vulnerable your body is to viruses.

Focus on What You Can Control

We can’t stop the stress, but we do have some control over the impact it has on us. Our brains have a negative bias, which was designed as a survival mechanism, so we tend to focus on the worse case scenario and underestimate how resilient we truly are. There are many simple mindfulness practices that can reduces stress and anxiety, boost our immune response, and help us build resilience to all that is coming at us right now.

7 Immune-Boosting Self Care Practices

As social distancing takes hold, most of us are finding ourselves at home. Here are 7 immune boosting self-care practices you can do from home:⁠

❶ Exercise outside. Spring is upon us! Throw on your walking or running shoes, pump up everyone’s tires and hop on those bikes. Make time each day to get outside and boost your immune system and serotonin with a workout alone OR as a family. ⁠

❷Reboot or start a meditation practice. Meditation is my #1 go-to for easing anxiety, building resilience, and boosting immunity. It is life changing! ⁠

❸ Take a long hot bath. Bust out the essential oils, Epsom salts, and bath bombs and create your own spa experience. Offer to draw a “spa bath” for your kids as well. ⁠

❹ Read. You keep saying you just don’t have time – perhaps now you have some extra time? ⁠

❺ Have a dance party. Turn up the tunes and bust a move. Dancing also boosts feel good chemical neurotransmitters which lighten your mood and reduce anxiety.⁠

❻ Enjoy family dinners. Studies show that the more often families eat together, the less likely kids are to smoke, drink, do drugs, get depressed, develop eating disorders and consider suicide, and the more likely they are to do well in school, delay having sex, eat their vegetables, learn big words and know which fork to use. Take advantage of the break from kids’ organized activities and eat as a family. ⁠

❼ Get adequate sleep. Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines, a protein that targets inflammation, creating an immune response. To keep your immune system in tip top shape get the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. ⁠

And remember, we are in this together.  The more we support each other and stay connected, the more we can help each other thrive and survive during these unprecedented times. 

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