America has always faced stressful situations: The break from Britain in 1776. The Civil War. The assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. The Vietnam War.
In 2020, we had a polarized election, COVID-19, lockdowns, bankruptcies, school closings, job losses, along with months of protests and riots. Plus the murder hornets. The only thing missing is the arrival of an ET alien fleet.
The range of crises and uncertainties about when things will return to normal increase our natural stress reactions and leave us caught in a downward spiral of ever-increasing anxiety.
We can’t control the stock market and other outside factors, but with certain actions, we can control our reflexive emotional responses, interrupt reactions to outside stimulus and thereby retake control of our mental health, which can then support our emotional and physical wellbeing. Here are five strategies to strengthen and protect ourselves from fear and stress.
Connect with loved ones. Physical distancing doesn’t have to mean social distancing. Speaking to family, loved ones and good friends can be accomplished via technology.
The USCF Psychiatry Department suggests that “Taking time to share your feelings and to listen and support others will go a long way. Talking with others who have our best interests at heart makes us feel safe. Use phone, video, text, or email. Fortunately, these new highways of social contact are unlimited resources. More than just providing social support about the current crisis, it is a good idea to use these connections to talk about the things you normally would — host your book club online, for example — which can create feelings of connectedness. Host a dinner using FaceTime or Zoom so you can talk while you eat (and talk about some positive things, not just this crisis).”
Don’t limit your contact to those in your close social circle. A hand is made of four similar but distinct fingers, and an opposing thumb.
Limit media and social media. In the song, “I Spent the Day in Bed,” the singer Morrissey croons, “I recommend you stop watching the news. Because the news contrives to frighten you. To make you feel small and alone, to make you feel that your mind isn’t your own.”
The Mayo Clinic suggests citizens “consume reliable news sources that report facts, and avoid media that sensationalizes emotions. Limit your exposure or take a break from news and social media if you find that it makes you anxious.”
Finding sources you consider to be reliable may take some effort and some research but having done your own “homework,” you can at least trust your choices. If one breaches your trust, scratch that source and move on.
Meditation. As the Mayo Clinic reports, “Meditation is considered a type of mind-body complementary medicine. Meditation can produce a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind. During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress. This process may result in enhanced physical and emotional well-being.”
Research suggests meditation can help people manage symptoms for conditions including anxiety, depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep problems and tension headaches.
Twenty minutes is ideal, but even five minutes can make a difference. During the peak of quarantine earlier this year, there was a notable increase in downloads for guided meditation apps such as Calm, Headspace, Aura, Smiling Mind, 10% Happier and many others found on the Apple and Google stores. Some are free, others charge.
Eat well. This strategy seems obvious but the UCSF Psychiatry Department reports the benefits go beyond the physical. “Good nutrition helps our mood. Stress makes us seek comfort foods, and in turn high carbs and sugars impact our mood … Try to fill your home with fresh produce, frozen vegetables, and whole foods when possible.” Here’s a personal tip: buy more from the perimeter of the grocery store and less from the aisles within.
Harvard Medical Schools notes that we can “reduce anxiety and boost immunity by choosing:
• Citrus fruit and red bell peppers (both rich in vitamin C, which in some studies has been shown to support your immune system)
• Spices: ginger, garlic, turmeric, and capsaicin (from chili peppers) can be easily added to soups, stews, stir-frys, or salad dressings.
• Foods rich in zinc such as oysters, clams, mussels, cashews, liver, beef, and egg yolks. You may recognize zinc as an ingredient is the cold remedy Zicam, as zinc has some virus-fighting effects.”
Go outside. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and phosphate that promotes healthy teeth, bones and muscles. We get vitamin D from the sun, some foods, supplements, and UVB lamps. A paper published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) concluded that “We present preliminary evidence to suggest that vitamin D status plays an important role in acute stress and critical illness.”
Our bodies evolved to soak up UVB from the sun to store vitamin D throughout the summer months and then slowly release it during the winter.
During the winter with less sunlight, many health experts suggest vitamin D supplements as well as UVB light. In a separate paper, the NCBI noted that “A UV lamp that emits ultraviolet radiation similar to sunlight and thus produces vitamin D3 in the skin is an excellent alternative … especially during the winter months when natural sunlight is unable to produce vitamin D3 in the skin.”
After the election, the turbulent times may continue for a while with COVID-19 and the uncertain economy. Fortifying our mental health defenses will keep us emotionally and physically healthier and make us an asset to others who need support during these unusual times.
Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, email@example.com.
Mike Wright is the operations manager for Blu Room Enterprises LLC, which offers a patented technology that creates a consciousness-lifting environment with locations in Washington, Missouri, Virginia, Arizona and around the world. He is an Air Force veteran (USAF 1981-1991 F-16/A-10 pilot). He can be reached at www.bluroom.com