Keeping Our Mind Healthy in Response to COVID-19
Updated: Nov 7, 2021
As we sit glued to our news outlets for the latest on COVID-19, something else is happening. The attention being given to the body is evident; however, the long-term impact of this virus on the mind is being overlooked. This is understandable, given that our priority is not to get sick—or worse, die—from this virus.
The mind, however, is a vital aspect of health. Our brains control memory, perception, intelligence, language, and emotion—a conglomerate of thought and consciousness. When working properly, the mind and body operate in harmony and balance. If, however, the mind is imbalanced, then the body is as well. Living in this constant state of fear, stress, trauma, and panic surrounding COVID-19, we’re not only experiencing severe physical problems but mental exhaustion. Clearly, amid our focus on the body, we’ve underestimated the capabilities of the mind/brain in healing.One thing is for sure: If we continue to ignore mental health, a mental pandemic will ensue. Indeed, the mental illness casualties will dwarf the deaths associated with the coronavirus.
Right now, many of us are sitting in our homes under the shelter-in-place order, feeling afraid, unstable, scared, and, of course, stressed. We are anxious and worried. We ask, “Are we losing our minds?” Some of us have experienced every symptom of the coronavirus: warm, chest aches, coughing, and even shortness of breath. Should we go to the emergency room? Is it the coronavirus, or is it an illness anxiety disorder, or maybe hypochondriac symptoms? After a few hours, the symptoms subside despite our previous preoccupation with our impending death.
No sooner do we realize we’re not dying does the reality of unemployment, bankruptcy, eviction, and hunger overwhelm us. We talk not because we’re saying anything, but because we’re afraid. Within our shelter-in-place, fear turns into anger, then back to fear again. Our conversations become abrupt: “We need rent, mortgage, and the utility bills paid.” We’ve gone from experiencing illness anxiety to survival anxiety disorder. In our mentally imbalanced state, our blood pressure, cardiovascular system, respiratory and circulatory systems have been on high alert, compromising our immune system. Stress is not happening to a few people, but to thousands of us.
In returning to the workplace, everyone should have an opportunity to share their experiences, feelings, and concerns. Undoubtedly, people will be afraid. What dispels fear is facts, not fiction. Positive messaging should be the underlying theme of all communication. If possible, allocate for all-employee mental health breaks designed for deep breathing and relaxing. Finally, workplace mindfulness should include no-coronavirus-talk zones, so as not to re-traumatize or reinforce stress in the workplace.
1.Restorative Yoga practice
Much research exists confirming the efficacy of yoga in reducing distress. As Dr. McCall writes in Yoga as Medicine, The Yogic Prescription For Health and Healing,,“Yoga is a technology that teaches you how to stop your mind from working against you.” As a prevention or even an intervention, incorporating a daily mind-body restorative yoga practice into your routine will relax as well as heal you. Here are two of my favorites, as part of a relaxation regime.
-Child’s Pose. Balasana.
-Corpse Pose. Savasana is a pose of total relaxation.
Research has confirmed what yogis knew for centuries-the importance of breathing to our overall health. The body follows the mind, and the mind follows the breath.” Yogi Bhajan. When fear and stress occupy our mind, we feel anxious, which leads to shallow breathing, that activates our sympathetic nervous system. Shallow breathing leads to low blood oxygen levels and high blood carbon dioxide levels. Conversely, long, slow deep breaths activate our parasympathetic nervous system. With relaxed breathing, we balanced the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. Practice diaphragmatic breathing. Take 5-10 minutes daily to feel your belly expand as you inhale, and when you exhale, feel it contract.
Plenty of studies reveal the positive effects of meditation on the mind-body. Dr. Herbert Benson writes in the Relaxation Response, the positive physiological changes through meditation.Through meditation, not only do we relax the mind-body, but we also gain clarity and improve our overall health.. Meditation has been shown to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones. Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position, close your eyes, and find, feel, and focus on your breath. Focus on your breath for 5 to 10 minutes. Be patient.
Numerous studies have confirmed the alliance between the intestine and brain. Our gut bacteria affect our brain, and so what we eat and how much we eat affects our minds. Stress affects the balance of microbiome or bacteria inside the intestine, which influences our behavior, digestion immunity and contributes to chronic diseases. An estimated 90% of the body's serotonin (the happy hormone) is produced in the gut. Relax, keep your stomach happy, by letting go of distress, eating real food, and avoiding processed food.
In my opinion, prevention is the answer. Now is the time to integrate healthy, relaxing practices in our lives, at home and work. Everyone is not going to see a therapist, but everyone deserves total healthiness, mind-body-spirit. These evidence-bases practices work. Whether you feel fine or imbalanced, none of us can afford to adapt or succumb to constant levels of distress. Our human genome is calibrated for balance and harmony. Let’s recalibrate this COVID-19 experience to place as much energy on our mental health as our physical health because they work hand in hand.