By Dr. Stephen Sinatra
If the pandemic has made you stressed, you’re not alone, and we are not out of the woods yet. With the holidays soon approaching, there’s no shortage of things to worry about—from the fear of catching the virus to activities and milestones missed.
But beneath these obvious pressures is a silent stressor, brought on by social distancing, that concerns me greatly as both a cardiologist and trained psychotherapist. Both quarantining and social distancing have an impact on our emotional and physical health. In many ways, social distancing is the “silent pandemic” that can lead to heartbreak, which is a real problem if left unchecked.
There’s No Cure-All Pill
While there’s no magic pill that can remove all of the stress and heartache we’re experiencing during this pandemic, there are many things you can do to manage stress while safely regaining some of the human interactions we’re all craving.
1Release your tears.
Emotions like anger and sadness are the Achilles’ heel of the cardiovascular system. Holding in your emotions can affect you physically, leading to everything from headaches to high blood pressure. The solution is to allow yourself to release that stress and anger by crying. It’s important to realize that crying is not a sign of weakness, but rather the opportunity to release all of that negative energy, stress and tension you’ve been holding in.
2Take a breath.
Did you know that breathing is related to laughing and laughing is related to crying? All three help to free up an overcharged sympathetic nervous system and support heart rate variability, which has a calming effect on your mood. One of my favorite techniques is alternate nostril breathing. Begin by taking a deep breath in and out through your nose. Next, use your right thumb to close your right nostril and inhale slowly through your left nostril. Then, close both nostrils and hold your breath for a moment. Now, open your right nostril and breathe out slowly. Repeat the same exercise with your left nostril. Then, alternate back and forth between nostrils to destress.
Although we may not be able to connect with others in-person, we can connect with them virtually. I refer to it as connecting at the “heart level.” Zoom, Skype, Facetime, WhatsApp and other similar applications have made it easy to both hear and see friends and family. One of the positive reframes we can take from the coronavirus is that, in many ways, technology has brought us closer together. Many people are having virtual book club meetings, playing games with others online and having socially distanced dinners with friends. I know a family that has replaced in-person family dinners by sending out a recipe in advance so everyone can purchase the ingredients and prepare the meal together online.
4Move your body.
Exercise is one of our body’s most powerful mood boosters. When you exercise, it releases stress from your muscles, reduces your levels of cortisol (a.k.a. the “stress hormone”) and boosts your levels of feel-good endorphins. Some studies have shown that aerobic exercise is a quicker mood elevator than an antidepressant.
5Give grounding a try.
The Earth’s surface contains free electrons that are continually replenished through solar radiation and lightning strikes. Your body naturally absorbs those particles when you make physical contact with the ground, helping to keep your body’s innate electrical circuitry properly balanced. This helps to lower stress and increase calmness in the body by moderating heart rate variability, nervous system activity and stress hormone secretion. Plus, grounding helps to promote normal blood pressure. So, if conditions allow, just stand our walk barefoot outside. If you can’t get outside, you can also “get back to nature” within yourself through deep breathing, meditation, yoga, Qigong or Tai Chi. These practices not only release stress but allow you to cope more easily with the stressors you encounter throughout the day.
6Incorporate ashwagandha into your health routine.
Part of a group of herbs called adaptogens that help your body adapt to stress, ashwagandha works by stabilizing your body’s stress feedback loop so it releases less cortisol. I’ve been taking it myself for more than 20 years, and it has made an enormous difference. Participants in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study saw a reduction in serum cortisol levels, anxiousness, fatigue and irritability brought on by stress within two months of using Sensoril Ashwagandha. Additionally, participants experienced an improvement in sleep quality, physical mobility, mood and concentration, all of which can positively impact emotional well-being and heart health. It’s so impressive that I added it to my Omega Q Plus ULTRA supplement formula, in addition to other top-recommended nutrients to support your heart and overall health.
7Avoid sugary foods.
Instead of stress eating sugary treats this holiday, consume foods with DHA omega-3 fatty acids, which are a powerful mood-booster that build receptors for the “feel-good hormone” serotonin. These can be found in foods like wild-caught salmon, flaxseeds, nuts and DHA-fortified eggs. Dark chocolate also contains a mood-boosting biochemical called phenylethylamine, which is the same chemical that causes the euphoric feeling we equate with love.
Finally, remember there will come a time when things adapt and get better. We’ll reconnect with our loved ones, get back to the activities we enjoy and have more freedom to plan for the future. On top of that, if we can take this time to practice some extra self-care habits, we’ll come out the other side even better off than before.
Bio: Dr. Stephen Sinatra is one of the most highly respected and sought-after cardiologists whose integrative approach to treating cardiovascular disease has revitalized patients with even the most advanced forms of illness. He has more than 40 years of clinical practice, research and study, starting his career as an attending physician at Manchester Memorial Hospital in Connecticut. He is known as one of America’s top integrative cardiologists, combining conventional medical treatments for heart disease with complementary nutritional, anti-aging and psychological therapies. He is an author, speaker and adviser for the research and development of nutritional supplements with Healthy Directions. Sinatra is a best-selling author of more than a dozen books, including, “Heartbreak and Heart Disease,” “The Great Cholesterol Myth,” “Reversing Heart Disease Now “Heart Sense for Women,” “The Sinatra Solution” and “Metabolic Cardiology.”