There’s a quote that says, “Don’t stress over anything you can’t change.” Good advice, especially when dealing with only one or two changes at a time. In the last 6 weeks of living with COVID-19, we’ve faced multiple major changes happening all at once. Lockdowns, crash of the economy, homeschooling kids, fears of the virus, disruptions to our normal routines, and the sadness of cancelled events. And the list could go on.

When bad stress overtakes good stress

Each of us has had stressful days in our past but nothing quite like this. We know stress happens. But stress of this magnitude due to a worldwide pandemic, especially stress due to loss of control, can eventually wear us out.

There is always going to be a certain degree of daily stress no matter what.  Some stress is “good” motivating us to propel forward at achieving goals resulting in happiness, health, and fulfillment. “Bad” stress such as dealing with financial instability or poor health, affects us both emotionally and physically. Lately, many of us are experiencing more “bad” than “good” stress. If stressful situations hang around too long, both our body and mind can be affected leading to issues such as depression, anxiety, hypertension, or even eruptions of rashes or hives.

Turning stress into serenity

In the midst of so many stressful changes all because of a virus, it’s time to find that oasis of calm and serenity. Remember those feelings of peace and tranquility? They’re still there, waiting for you to rediscover them. You just have to use the right calming tools to unleash serenity while you shackle stress. You can do this and here’s how:

  • Deep breathing

Let’s start by taking a deep breath. That’s because stress overload can cause us to take shallow, rapid breaths to the point of hyperventilating or causing a panic attack. Shallow, rapid breathing disrupts the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide only prolonging feelings of anxiety.

Fortunately, we all have the ability to take control and deliberately change our breathing pattern.  Several studies have shown that when practicing controlled breathing, it helps manage stress and stress-related conditions.  One study even showed controlled breathing can improve anxiety and depression in patients hospitalized with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

 Practicing controlled breathing is an ideal way to reduce and relieve stress easily done anywhere, anytime and with quick results.  The goal is to gain control of stress by using abdominal breathing to relax and to gain command of the nervous system.

Learning controlled breathing is not hard to accomplish but practice is key.  Practice makes perfect when training your body to use controlled breathing.  Then, the next time stress hits, this type of breathing automatically kicks getting you through stressful situations.  Here’s how to do it:

  1. Sit upright in a comfortable position
  2. Focus on your present state becoming more mindful. Block out intrusive thoughts. Close your eyes if you wish.
  3. Pay attention to your breathing. Inhale slowly through the nose, taking several seconds.
  4. Exhale through the mouth, trying to make the exhalation phase last twice as long as the inhalation
  5. Continue this mindful breathing technique for three to five minutes or you can eventually increase the practice to 15-20 minutes each day.

With regular practice, you can train your body to relax in stressful situations. Good posture and staying focused are important keys to making it work and seeing the biggest benefits.

  • Yoga

This ancient form of movement is one of the best tools for fast stress relief. Yoga trains both your body and mind to cope with stress while improving overall health and wellness.

One of the fundamental principles of yoga is that your body and mind are one and connected. If your body is under stress, so is your mind and vice versa. This situation creates an imbalance in these two parts.  For instance, if you’re a hard-working entrepreneur, you likely spend a lot of time thinking and are totally unaware of the tension stored in your body. Athletes, who are more focused on their body, might find it beneficial to also be more aware of their mental state.

That’s why yoga is perfect for helping you bridge that connection between your body and mind. It does so by bringing together physical and mental disciplines helping you achieve peacefulness of body and mind. With regular yoga practice, this leads to relaxation and better management of stress and anxiety.

The core components of yoga include poses primarily designed to increase strength and flexibility stretching your bodily physical limits; breathing teaching controlling your breath to help control your body and quiet your mind; meditation to achieve mindfulness and awareness of the present moment.

  • Meditation

Meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation, makes sense for treating stress and anxiety. Similar to the concept of and using deep breathing, mindfulness meditation focuses on your breathing while bringing your mind back to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future.

Right now, many of us are worried, about the future of our lives, our country, and our world. These worries can take over filling your mind with bad thoughts making stress even worse. By learning instead to dwell in the present moment through meditation, you can reduce increases in blood pressure, pulse rate, and rapid breathing. By teaching your body and mind to reach a state of relaxation, your mood is enhanced, your blood pressure lowers, and your digestion improves, all while reducing stress.

To practice meditation, you can sit or lie down, whichever is more comfortable for you. Relax your muscles starting with your feet and progress up to your face. Breathe through your nose in a natural way. If a worry or thought enters your mind, focus on a sound, word, or phrase, pushing the thought out of mind. You can practice once or twice a day for as long as you like with your eyes closed or open.

  • Herbal teas

Teas have been known for centuries to soothe and support your overall sense of well-being. Some even may help take the edge off stress and anxiety.  If you find yourself flooded with stress and worry, consider a calming cup of herbal tea.  Here are several to consider:

Peppermint Tea – Just the aroma alone of this classic tea may reduce feelings of frustration, anxiety and fatigue as research suggests.

Chamomile Tea – One of the most well-known stress-soothing teas, a 2016 study found this powerhouse tea to significantly reduce moderate-to-severe generalized anxiety disorder symptoms. Naturally low in caffeine, chamomile tea helps you relax helping you fall asleep.

Lavender Tea – Incredibly soothing, lavender tea has been found to alleviate headaches linked to anxiety while also possibly reducing depression.

Green Tea – High in the l-theanine, an amino acid possibly reducing anxiety, was found to help reduce stress levels among students in a 2017 study.

Passionflower Tea – If you want to wake up refreshed, consider a cup of passionflower tea. Chronic stress and insomnia often go hand in hand. Research has shown its biggest effect is on sleep, necessary for the body restoring itself – especially during times of stress.

When stress becomes overwhelming

While these stress-busting tools can be beneficial for a temporary stress reduction, if you’re experiencing chronic stress leading to signs of depression – hopelessness, sadness, loss of energy, irritability, loss of interest in daily activities, reckless behavior or changes in appetite, weight, or sleep – open up to close friends or family whom you trust and feel comfortable talking to about your feelings. In addition, reach out to your doctor for a referral to a therapist trained in treating depression.

All of us will get through this pandemic, stronger than ever and you will too.

 Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He is a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City. He is regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., trained in oncology, open, laparoscopic, and robotic surgery. He has a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy.  Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.