The coronavirus pandemic — with its self-isolation, social distancing and upheaval of cherished routines — has left many feeling sad, anxious, trapped and overwhelmed — in a word, stressed.
Underlying those feelings is a profound sense of uncertainty in the face of so much unknown, as COVID-19 drags on. “That reaction is perfectly understandable,” says Eisenhower Board Certified Family Medicine Physician Mark Minot, MD, PhD. “It’s what you do next that counts.”
In a world where virtual conferences have quickly replaced in-person gatherings, seniors who don’t enjoy social media or are tech-adverse are at high risk for feeling the impact of isolation. Also at risk are people with chronic illnesses.
“Many people come to the desert for an active retirement,” notes Dr. Minot. “They miss being able to take part in their favorite activities in the same way.” That may include golf, tennis or pickle ball, working out at the gym and eating out. For some, the coronavirus has shut down their chance to contribute as a volunteer for a non-profit, or hold a part-time job or committee assignment at their country club.
Worried you might be over-stressed? Here are some signs:
• Being short-tempered or irritable with people close to you
• Feeling depressed or sad (“like you’re walking under a rain cloud,” says Dr. Minot)
• Getting anxious or keyed up, as if something bad is going to happen at any moment
• Not sleeping well, either too little or too much or awakening unrefreshed
• Drinking or eating excessively
Dr. Minot cautions against relying on “pandemic drinking” to relieve anxiety, along with turning to other chemical crutches like recreational or prescription drugs. They may seem like viable, temporary solutions, but they aren’t worth the risks they create.
He offers three main prescriptions to tackle the core issues.
Prescription #1: Get moving
Exercise gets the number one spot in Dr. Minot’s stress-busting advice. “As humans, we weren’t designed to be completely isolated,” he says. “And we weren’t designed to be sedentary either.”
The role of exercise, a true health-builder, is even more critical now. “The easiest way to start or continue daily exercise,” says Dr. Minot, “is to get out and walk.” Exercise comes with beneficial endorphins — chemicals the body produces to knock out stress and pain — that can quell anxiety and make you feel good. Being outside also means breathing fresh air and a potential chance to meet up with other humans (from a safe distance).
Other fresh-air exercise options include swimming and bicycling. Those who love indoor workouts may not see gyms fully open until mid-year or later. In the meantime, online fitness classes and apps offer a wide range of live and recorded classes, from Pilates and yoga to aerobics, Zumba®, light weights and more.
Prescription #2: Media diet
Second on Dr. Minot’s list of ways to zap stress is to put yourself on a “media diet,” including the internet, social media and the 24-hour news cycle.
An obsession with the bad news of the day has coined a term — “doomscrolling,” defined as spending inordinate amounts of time pouring over one grim headline after another. Heavy news exposure has been shown to increase stress, fear and worry, impact concentration, and disturb sleep. “A break in doomscrolling really lifts your mood and brings you back to a sense that life goes on, for the most part, as it always has,” says Dr. Minot.
He commonly writes prescriptions for his patients to take two weeks off from the daily news. Another approach is to limit yourself to only so many days a week of news watching or one news program or internet news search a day.
Prescription #3: Practice gratitude
The internet offers a variety of mindfulness apps that teach meditation, positivity mantras, Tai Chi and other calming techniques. “There’s a simple, low-tech solution right at hand,” says Dr. Minot. “Practicing gratitude.”
Studies have shown that people who routinely express gratitude for the positive things in life are more relaxed and happier overall, which translates to less stress and depression. “Giving thanks also helps create perspective and resilience,” he says. Keep in mind, everyone in your family or circle of friends is undergoing some stress, so reach out to others.
Dr. Minot also advises devising new routines when old ones have been disrupted, whether they relate to work, meals or downtime. Search out unfamiliar activities. Take an online class, learn a new-to-you language, cook a new recipe or solve puzzles.
“Having purpose in one’s life, especially for those of who retired from demanding careers or other pursuits remains important, especially in retirement” says Dr. Minot, “even if that purpose today is simply to make it through the next few months in good physical shape so you’re healthy when the world opens up again”
To make an appointment with an Eisenhower Primary Care Physician, call 760.773.1460, or visit EisenhowerHealth.org/physician.