Stress management is a crucial component of our health and wellbeing. We need to be able to manage our stress effectively in order to feel better, get through our day, and stay healthy.
Stress management is also one of the most common components of COVID prevention. The more we know about how to manage stress, the better prepared we will be for a case of COVID or other health issues that come with it.
In this podcast, I will discuss the many ways that we can manage stress. There are many different techniques, and it's important for you to find what works best for you!
You can listen to the audio below or see the transcribed text for more details.
Hi, it’s Dr Derkson again, and I am here with the next video in the series of COVID-19 and our health.
Do keep in mind that the following talk is my own personal opinion and does not constitute medical advice. Please make sure to follow up with your own healthcare practitioner before making any major changes to your diet or lifestyle to ensure that these changes are right for you.
Now don’t forget the purpose of this podcast – to focus on the parts of our lifestyle that are within our control, the ones that most strongly impact our own health, and the health and wellbeing of our children. And as I mentioned before – these are the parts of our life that will likely help us reduce our chances of a more severe case of COVID, and ultimately improve our own health span along with our lifespan.
Today, I will be discussing the third major block in building a solid foundation to our health and well-being. I am referring to our ability to manage stress, which has many common names and themes, and involves many techniques:
Stress Management can include →
Other examples of stress management →
The list goes on and on - but you get the point --- There are many ways in which we can manage our stress.
Ok now why should you prioritize stress management? How is it going to help you – as a parent or as a child? Or anyone else for that matter?
Well, there are numerous studies and research devoted to stress and it’s impact on our physiology. We have all heard of the built-in “fight-or flight” system in our bodies, that basically leads to changes in our bodies function when exposed to external stressors. These changes are meant to help us survive that stressor, which is a good thing when a car is about to hit us and we are quick enough to react and jump out of the way. However, these changes can also lead to a negative impact on our bodies as well, when the stressor is sustained, such as the current COVID pandemic and the general attitude towards it.
So what are these changes I am referring to? Well they can range from changes to our hormone levels (i.e. cortisol increases), to changes in our metabolism (worsened sugar control), to changes in our gut flora, to changes in our immune system functioning, to changes in our inflammatory pathways, to changes in our mental health and cognitive function AND to ultimately negative changes in our health span and lifespan when the stressor is sustained.
I think that is enough deleterious evidence to support prioritizing stress management in our daily lives. But if you are still on the fence, well there is more evidence for stress management as it applies to the philosophical aspects of our human mind – it can get very complicated and esoteric … that the analysis actually takes us away from our purpose – and I do want to stay on point – which is working on and practicing how to manage our stress, until ultimately it is a part of our daily life.
Remember, I am promoting healthy habits and without a doubt – managing stress is one of those important aspects of our lives that needs to be addressed, and managed, and maintained, and regularly checked in on, and sometimes even updated and improved.
So what is stress? And how do we manage it?
I am defining stress as anything that causes an emotional or physical response in our bodies. Typically an external stressor is not a good thing – however there are instances it can be a positive stressor (also known as eustress) – which in one form is exercise… there is that exercise thing again. But also consider that too much of a good thing can also have it’s negative impact – and over-exercising can be a negative stressor (i.e distress)and it can negatively affect our health. (fortunately this doesn’t happen often).
Now how do you manage stress? I ask my patients this very question… and the common responses I hear include - Exercise, television or other screen, eating … and then throw in some reading or other hobbies, listening to music and then some breathing exercises or meditation sessions. Now in theory all of these are good ways to reduce our stress.
But keep in mind that we should try and incorporate multiple positive habits together – so stress and eating or stress and television are not good combinations for the long run. Try combining exercise and screen time or walks and music to make some activities more fun, and in the end more motivating.
The ability to manage and cope in response to the numerous external stressors that are coming up on us, on a daily basis, is important. I cannot emphasize that point enough. Some stressors are worse than others, but at the end of the day, parents have to deal with some negative stressors, and our children have to deal with some negative stressors…some of these stressors are made even worse by the COVID pandemic mantra of fear and isolation. So we need to be diligent in our management of these stressors because over time and with accumulation of stressors – they can have a significant impact on our health and well-being.
Let us discuss some common, everyday scenarios that we run into as parents – some potentially stress inducing moments …
Try and close your eyes and picture these situations, which will help you to feel what is possibly your basic/instinctual emotion in that situation.
Ok close your eyes….
You are driving home, on your usual route and then suddenly without warning, you get cut off by another car. There is no car damage, and no one is physically hurt
For the kids listening, close your eyes and imagine these situations..
I am sure some of these situations led to some feelings of fear and anxiety. Or maybe it was a feeling of anger and frustration. That is ok. But imagine those feelings being felt continuously. External stressors can often bombard us and we can feel overwhelmed with different emotions – this type of environment has definitely been exaggerated in our current COVID world.
Now clearly, I do not have a magic wand to ward off or get rid of these external stressors, such as COVID – in fact, it is likely here to stay. And stress is not something parents or kids can avoid. We are going to be exposed to external stressors, some good and some bad. They will be continuously changing, and new ones will be coming up in the future. Many of them will be out of our control.
That is and always will be a part of life. Once again, we need to learn how to manage them – which by that I mean understand which ones require more attention and which ones require more urgency - but also and more importantly we need to prepare ourselves – body and mind – to handle the stressors life throws at us.
This is learning how to be resilient, and teaching our children resiliency, for today’s world and for tomorrow’s world.
Fortunately, many of the recommendations and ways to incorporate stress management can be easily added to our busy schedules … as long as we make the time AND prioritize them.
Wow… all of that sounds heavy and difficult to accomplish. Fortunately, I am here to provide some easy ways to reduce our stress as parents and as children. As I mentioned in the beginning of this series, I am promoting things that are within our control . All you need to do is give yourself the time to do it in the day, and hopefully everyday. Keep it consistent!
There are numerous activities that we can do to help lower our internal stress. But for right now, I would like to provide you with one that is tangible and simple to do. It is basically a breathing exercise, which involves the concepts of meditation and provides it’s benefits as well.
It is simple and quick. It can be done everywhere and at anytime (aside from during our precious sleep). I would recommend doing this breathing activity numerous times throughout the day – either when a negative stress is building up, a strong negative emotion is rising, you have worked for over an hour without a break OR maybe you are having a craving for something.
You can do it for 1 minute, 2 minutes… 5 minutes or 10. Any amount of time is beneficial. Results will vary based on length and individual differences.
Put your timer on for 1 minute and let’s go ….
Ok, close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
You can count the seconds in your head during the inhalation, then pause and then count the seconds in your head during the exhalation OR you can say IN when you breathe in and OUT when you breathe out.
Breathe in and breathe out.
Focus on your breathing.
You can try to focus on where you feel the breath the most – either your nose, or your chest or your belly.
And repeat x 2
While you do this breathing, there will likely be thoughts coming into your head. Try not to let these thoughts distract you. Of course thoughts will appear – but the purpose in this moment is your breathing and the reduction of your current negative emotion or feeling. So let that thought go, as easily as it came.
Whatever it is… can wait.
Breathe in and breathe out.
Focus on your breathing.
Repeat the process.
Ok that is it - I hope this breathing exercise and practice helps. It is a great tool to use when feeling overwhelmed, but also when trying to prevent the stress from accumulating and exploding.
Let me add one thing … recent research has found potential benefits of nasal breathing on lung function and immune function. It is a match made in heaven with regards to the current COVID world.
Now if you or your children are having difficulty with handling stress or feeling like your mental health is worsening, than please consult your doctor to further address the issue.
That is it for this talk. And don’t forget ... It will not be easy, and it will not be perfect, but it needs to be emphasized and encouraged … Make stress management a priority!
Stay strong, healthy and positive.
Keep on breathing … and see you next time for the final pillar in health and wellbeing.