Photo courtesy of Needpix
Photo courtesy of Needpix

Health Corner: Maintaining Sanity in the Midst of Chaos

November 5, 2020

2020 can be simply summed up as a whirlwind of chaos and confusion. One minute there is a pandemic-sparked toilet paper shortage, the next minute protests for social justice surpass the pandemic, and now grandparents are dusting off the abacus to teach arithmetic to their grandchildren via Skype. With the immense number of changes we have gone through as a nation, it may be a good idea to take a timeout for some serious self-care so you can be ready for whatever the rest of 2020 has to bring us. 

School in itself is a stressful experience. Students have a wide range of responsibilities on and off campus. Some students are balancing family, work, and school while others may just be balancing rigorous academic course loads. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that rates of depression, anxiety, and elevated stress levels soared during the pandemic and continue to do so. Demand for telemedicine apps related to therapy increased drastically since getting in to see a provider was even more challenging than usual. 

Some interesting, little-known facts about stress are the ways in which it can manifest itself. According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can have physical, social and psychological effects on our daily lifestyles. Physical effects can include headaches, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and frequent illness. Social effects of stress typically manifest in your relationships with others. You may be more reclusive, argumentative, or just find it difficult to interact with others. Lastly, the psychological effects are what we are most familiar with, and they are anxiety, depression, irritability, and loss of focus. 

With all this in mind, our usual way of managing stress may be altered given the pandemic. For example, some people like to go to physical fitness classes at their local gym, but gyms were shut down for a long time. Parks remained open throughout the shutdown but may have been crowded depending on which time works best for your schedule. 

So, what are other ways to manage stress? We first turn to the internet for inspiration. A quick search for stress management on Google revealed a copious amount of information from creating a schedule to vitamin and herbal supplements. 

One of the newest relaxation trends is mindfulness meditation. According to L.G. Hilton and their team of researchers, mindfulness focuses on accepting the present around you with an open mind, curiosity and acceptance of the situation. This form of meditation is based on Eastern meditation practices and has been used in conjunction with medical therapy to manage anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. It has been so effective that many employers are incorporating it into their wellness programs to promote a healthy work environment. 

Mindful.org lists the seven steps to a successful mindfulness experience. To get started, find a nice comfortable area with little distraction – perhaps a seat between an aisle of books in the library or in your car (preferably when it is NOT in operation) if you are away from home. When you find a comfy spot, set a time limit. 5 minutes works well for beginners. 

Next, notice your body position and then focus on your breathing as you inhale and exhale. At this point, your mind may wander, and that’s okay. This is where you begin to accept the thoughts and ideas that come to mind for what they are. No one is judging you; this is your space! Try to bring back the focus on your breathing – inhaling and exhaling. 

Finally, when your timer goes off or you are ready to finish, just sit in your position for a few more seconds and notice how you feel afterward. 

That’s it! You have just completed your first mindfulness session.  

The best thing about mindfulness is that no additional equipment is necessary, and it can be done anywhere and anytime. The creators at Mindful.org do note that it may take a few practice sessions to become fully comfortable practicing mindfulness. But from personal experience, it is well worth it! 

There are a number of apps and websites that offer free mindfulness tutorials. Some of the most recommended free apps are: Calm, Aura, Insight Timer, and Stop, Breathe and Think. Check out YouTube, Mindful.org and your app store to get started on your mindfulness journey. 

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