Coronavirus anxiety: Here's a roadmap on how to stay calm and protect yourself
Resilience to stress is different for everyone. My husband sails through the most challenging times, while high stress can set me back for a few days, and requires some sustained effort on my part to get past it.
Last week a friend was in a state of panic over a potential COVID-19 attack. She asked me why I did not appear to be stressed when there was so much going on everywhere. I explained that I was doing everything I could to keep my immune system strong and I knew that stress is harmful and therefore, I was consciously keeping it away.
Here’s a thought or a mental reframe for you. Rather than panicking, reframe your mindset to one of understanding and empowerment!
What is stress?
Stress is an imbalance of homeostasis in your body, that puts extra demand on major systems of your body, especially the HPA axis to the Hypothalamus Pituitary Adrenal axis and your nervous system.
Your body is programmed in a way that you physiologically respond to a stressful situation but then it is meant to also shut off. When it does not shut off the process, you stay in high stress, impacting multiple systems in your body and making it more challenging for you to cope with further stress.
In any stress, some physiological changes occur in your body. Your pupils dilate, your heart rate and blood pressure increase, blood vessels of non-essential organs and systems reduce and these include your digestive system, immune system and reproductive system. More blood flow goes to organs involved in exercise, which are your liver and your cardiac muscles. Blood sugar rises.
Typically, once the stressor has passed, all of this should reverse, but as your body is faced with more stress, and stressors are frequent, these changes remain permanent.
What does stress do to your body?
Think of what happens in a situation of stress and what could happen if you remain in stress. This will also tell you why stress is not a minor issue, and why you have to make sustained efforts to reduce it. The only time you should typically react is something akin to running from a tiger in the forest.
That was what we felt when COVID-19 first appeared. Since then, we’ve done amazingly well. Now the time has come to take charge even more. If you still stay in the state of running from the tiger, then your body will react in specific ways.
Stress can cause immense problems in the body
Here are some of the manifestations of stress...
- You can cause yourself to develop palpitations, high blood pressure and fragile nerves.
- You could end with blood sugar imbalance which can then be the reason why you also develop hormone or thyroid challenges. It could also cause weight gain, insulin resistance and early diabetes.
- Since there is reduced blood flow to your digestive system, you could struggle with digestive challenges ranging from bloating, hyperacidity, indigestion to gut inflammation.
- Your body thinks that you do not need an active immune system in high stress, you end up being susceptible to infections and viruses.
During stressful times, your body also does not require an active reproductive system, so it can cause challenges with fertility. In women, since cortisol and progesterone are manufactured from the same cholesterol, in stress, the body prioritises cortisol over progesterone, so that might cause a lack of ovulation and insufficient progesterone, which then causes anxiety.
Food and stress
Foods can be remarkable to improve stress resilience and the solution is not fancy fad diets, but simple steps which you can add every single day. You do not require promises of a magical diet at all.
Food can improve stress resilience
Check out the diets that can combat stress...
- Start by ensuring every meal has components for blood sugar balance, and these include healthy fats, clean proteins, ample fibre and potent phytonutrients. Load up on orange coloured fruits and vegetables that are rich in beta carotene for immune support.
- When it comes to fats, since they are brilliant for blood sugar balance and nervous system health, remove all trans fats and hydrogenated fats from processed foods and vegetable oils which could cause oxidative stress and deep cellular destruction. They put remarkable strain on your internal systems.
Avoid diets that are either too high or too low in protein and devoid of everything else. High protein diets which are especially high in animal protein can cause an overactive adrenal system, while a diet that is too low in protein can cause an underactive adrenal system. While restoring balance, you need balance in your food. Even if you typically want to do that, keep that away for now. Now is the time to protect.
- Avoid diets which avoid a major food group, like a ketogenic diet, unless it is balanced with plant foods as well. Tipping to a diet which avoids any major food group can be stressful, unless you are able to digest the food and handle it.
Avoid skipping meals. If you have adapted to intermittent fasting and do not easily fluctuate with stressors, then that probably works for you. If you do find that stress makes you lose control easily, it is better that you have regular meals without skipping meals or having a long gap. Women especially struggle with Intermittent Fasting.
- Increase electrolytes in your diet. The adrenal glands also regulate sodium and potassium levels, so making sure that you have balanced electrolytes can be a way that you improve your response to stress. Include Himalayan pink salt, coconut water, celery juice, tomato juice and Jaljeera. Eating potassium foods like fish, bananas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peaches and avocado are wonderful as well.
- Ashwagandha is a great adaptogen, making your body cope much better with stress. You can just add half a teaspoon of ashwagandha powder in a smoothie or juice, but just make sure that you do not have a sensitivity to nightshades. And, with everything, try them and see if it works for you personally, as each person is unique. There is no one size fits all. Listen to your own body.
My Stress Management Plate:
Here’s my personal stress management plate, which I eat at times of very high stress, and which helps me to deal with stress much better.
1. Fats - Half an avocado with ample olive oil, salt and pepper.
2. Protein - Two free range eggs in ghee or a bowl of hummus.
3. Vegetables - Beetroot, leafy greens and carrot shredded into a salad with roast cashew nuts.
4. Drink - Almond milk with a tinge of vanilla
Taking fifteen minutes in your day to put this together is not challenging at all, and beats eating or ordering from anywhere. Isn’t taking that little bit of time in your day worth all the positive change this can do for you? Let me know!