Stress kills — Non medicinal stress management during and after the COVID-19 crisis
Avi Peled M.D. and Oren Fuerst, Ph.D.
Whether we feel overwhelmed at work, encounter difficult living conditions in our relationships, or experience financial difficulties that cause us to “sweat,” stress can negatively impact daily life and, moreover, the chance of getting chronic and serious illness. And if you already have a chronic illness, stress can make matters worse.
The problem with stressful life events is that they are often out of our control. An example of this is the closure period and exit from the Corona epidemic, where the number of people suffering from anxiety and depression in the US has doubled, and more than 70% of those surveyed in a number of employee surveys have indicated that the stress levels they face are the worst they have ever known and are also indicative of significant impact on their functioning and quality of life.
Some people describe a sharp increase in heart rate, others may experience abnormal sweat in the palms or difficulty breathing. Stress manifests itself. by a number of symptoms caused by the “fight or flight” response of the autonomous nervous system. These symptoms not only disturb and interfere with daily functioning, but can be life-threatening such as an anxiety attack while driving.
The more substantial damage is a chronic condition of stress. Such a condition can cause physical illness such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, insomnia, anxiety and depression. In fact, one of the more serious symptoms of the corona crisis and prolonged closure is a significant deterioration in the condition of the chronically ill.
The key to coping with stress symptoms is focusing on the person’s subjective reactions to situations that are perceived as objective stressors. In this brief article, we have put together a number of relatively simple and applicable tools (all backed by scientific evidence) to reduce stress symptoms. Try to apply them in your daily routine and of course when the tension rises. It is important to note that none of the exercises undermine the importance of follow-up and persistence in medical treatments provided for the various chronic diseases.
- Controlled Breathing
One of the most proven ways to relieve stress is to perform several deep and controlled breathing exercises. Deep diaphragmatic breathing puts more oxygen into the body and releases more carbon dioxide. This allows for a more substantial amount of air to be exchanged with each breath, providing greater ventilation in the lungs. All of these help slow the heartbeat and normalize blood pressure, heart rate variability and the breathing rate. An even more important effect of diaphragmatic breathing is the activation of the body’s “Rest & Digest” response. This promotes the release of anti-stress enzymes and hormones, such as acetylcholine, prolactin, and vasopressin And oxytocin, which neutralize the stress hormone cortisol effect.
Simple exercises like breathing 4: 7: 8 (inhaling for 4 seconds, holding for 7 seconds and exhaling for 8 seconds) are known to be effective But relatively difficult to practice. A simpler and more common exercise is a boxed breathing exercise (4: 4: 4) whose results are similar. In both exercises it is important to inhale and exhale diaphragmatic and deep breaths.
Although the exercises have been shown to be most effective in clinical trials, they have been conducted in controlled environments with detailed guidelines for subjects. Also, in these experiments, only some of the subjects responded. In fact, the findings have shown that people need slightly different breathing exercises to achieve similar results. This is one of the reasons why customizing the exercises is so important, and various technological tools can help. For example, an app called “Serenita” allows the user to obtain a personalized breathing exercise, by checking in real time the user’s Biological parameters (including the breathing patterns and his stress level)- that enables a much higher success rate and higher impact on the stress level.
Exercise plays an important and significant role in raising the mood and lowering stress levels. As we engage in physical activity, various neurotransmitters, especially endorphins, are released, whose positive effects on mood enhancement are known and proven. In addition, rigorous exercise requires full focus and allows you to take time out from stressful thoughts and reflections. Regular exercise can also help fight insomnia — one of the most troublesome side effects of chronic stress.
Recently, various meditation techniques have become very popular. Some of the meditations are known as ancient practices and. have advantages that are usually documented in the literature. Meditation is a form of mental training that allows one to feel in control of one’s thoughts as well as their reactions to events stressful life. There are various meditative methods. Some are more well-known: mantra meditation (focusing on repeating a keyword over a few minutes), meditations on focusing on breathing and body sensations, which are known as variants Mindfulness and Vipassana.
The increased popularity of meditation in the Western mainstream has occurred in recent decades, after various researchers examined advanced meditation practitioners in brain scanners and identified a number of significant differences in their brains, compared to the brains of non-practitioners. For example, in the brains of experienced meditator, there were more areas of the brain associated with happiness and peace, they react with less stimuli to stressful and ha. much higher abilities to concentrate. While meditation techniques are usually easy to learn, many have difficulty practicing over time and the effect is usually felt only after a while and only in some practitioners. There are thousands of apps for studying meditation as well as recorded guided meditations and each user can examine what types of meditations are effective for him.
4. Hugging and holding hands:
One of the immediate tools to relieve anxiety and improve mood is a long hug of at least 20 seconds. Various studies have documented the simple acts of holding hands or hugging was effective in significantly reducing stress. The physiological explanation is that pressurizing the skin stimulates the nerve endings and sends a message to the brain — slowing the release of the stress hormone cortisol. In addition, the main relaxation hormone — oxytocin, is released in a hug. It is important to note the duration of the hug, since the average hug time between people is 3 seconds, below the threshold that exerts the physiological effect. Besides the stress-reducing effects of the hug, it may lead to beneficial physiological responses such as helping to fight fatigue, relieving depression, and increasing the effectiveness of the physical immune system.
Need an excuse for kissing? Like a hug, the kiss sends a message to the brain similar to a hug: slow down cortisol release in addition to oxytocin release and help In reducing stress.
6. Early Waking at a Fixed time
Early awakening has one big practical advantage- most people tend to be more efficient in the morning. In addition, research shows that most people are more optimistic and emotionally stable in the morning. Of course, one has to take into account the different in-person clock cycles (Circadian Rhythms). In general, it can be said that waking up at a fixed hour (regardless of bedtime) allows the body to better cope with stress.
One of the causes of insomnia is stress and emotional overload. A light nap during the day may be just what the “ doctor prescribed.” Not only do research prove that an afternoon nap can compensate for some of the negative effects of chronic nighttime sleepiness, it has also been found that such drowsiness has a positive effect on reducing stress levels and is a positive boost for the immune system.
8. Stay away from the smartphone:
Our smartphone has countless benefits, including in dealing with stress (through the use of breathing exercises, meditations, or listening to relaxing music). However, it has been repeatedly found that people who use a smartphone in bed or at bedtime may have more trouble fling asleep.
9. Listening to classical music:
Various studies indicate that after listening to classical music, blood pressure is significantly lower. While there is evidence of their specific types of music having different effects on different listeners, it has been found that the “magic” works steadily with classical music, especially with Mozart and Beethoven’s works.
Here, too, personal taste is of fundamental importance. Pretty much every Spotify and YouTube users can report his favorite relaxation pieces, and these significantly vary across users.
Therapeutic massage has many physical effects in stress states. In various studies, lower levels of anxiety were reported after massage and lower levels of cortisol were measured.
11. Get a pet or at least pet one:
Another tip in case all the last ten are not enough: Adopt a dog or cat. The connection between humans and their pets is strong. For example, even a brief interaction with a therapeutic dog improves mood and elevates stress. Also, the purr of a cat following petting is found to be soothing to the caress …
Dr. Avi Peled M.D. is an expert psychiatrist, department manager and lecturer at the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) . Dr. Oren Fuerst is an entrepreneur and researcher in the fields of digital medicine and brain health, and is one of the inventors of “Serenita” by Eco Fusion, (www.eco-fusion.com ) which he also founded.