COVID Reentry

By Body, Mind, Spirit

COVID Reentry

It has been a very long and arduous journey that we have all been on for the past year and a half. We have suffered isolation, lost loved ones, jobs and income, dealt with food scarcity and missed precious moments with our loved ones and so much more. Now that things are opening back up many are extremely happy and have slipped back into their previous life with little to no resistance. For many others, including children it has brought with it a new level of anxiety. Just as we all had different pandemic experiences there will be diversity in our re-entry experiences.

According to the American Psychological Association Americans are experiencing the highest levels of stress since April 2020 and half of surveyed adults are uneasy about returning to in person interactions. We have become habituated to this way of life over the past year and a half and now we must readjust again to something that is familiar yet still foreign. This is further mitigated by the fact that the new Delta variant has been gaining traction daily. This has been termed “re-entry anxiety” and it presents as an uneasiness about returning to the old ways in which we interacted at school and our offices, gave hugs and handshakes and attend things like sporting events or larger social gatherings. I

The “re-entering” is difficult in that it creates a new stress that we aren’t used to. For quite some time we haven’t dealt with traffic, parking or managing schedules especially if you have children and back to interacting with people all day long. It has left many people exhausted and anxious and uncertain about how to handle individual choices as they return to this new life.

Mental health experts offer some of the following solutions or aids to help the transition go smoother. Above all though the most important thing is to take things at your own pace and make no apologies for it. Everyone has a unique perspective on re-entry and each must be honored. Just because your friend or family member is having an easy time doesn’t mean you should.

  1. Start Small– If you haven’t been getting out much throughout this time consider taking small steps. If you haven’t been to a restaurant and are nervous about being inside start with a friend who is vaccinated and try to sit outside. If you are getting together with friends for the first time, consider a smaller group with people you know well and who are vaccinated.
  2. Talk to your employer– If you have been at home through covid and you work in a setting with people who may or may not be vaccinated talk to your employer to see what kind of accommodations can be made for you, so you feel safer. This will ease your anxiety and give you more of a sense of control over your world.
  3. Practice being in the present moment– When we are in the future, we have anxiety about what will come. When we are living in the past, we have regrets and remorse about what we missed or lost. Being in the present helps to empower us to deal with the reality in front of us. Mindfulness creates positive brain changes in that it lowers our blood pressure and heart rate as well as decreasing stress hormones being released.
  4. Recognize what you can control– The number one thing that most people experienced during this time is the loss of control over their lives. We couldn’t engage in our normal activities, go out to eat, visit our loved ones, travel safely or even feel comfortable about a hug. Consider journaling as a way to get in touch with how you are feeling about what you can and cannot control. If it is out of your control let it go as the energy spent on it is an unproductive waste of time and only makes you feel worse.
  5. Avoid or minimize alcohol– During the pandemic the one thing that people consistently talked to me about was their increased alcohol use. They used the alcohol as a way to calm their anxiety and some drank out of shear boredom. While the alcohol might have temporarily made you feel better excessive use has been shown to lead to anxiety.
  6. Practice gratitude– There is no better way to shift the negative energy you may be feeling than to shift your focus to what is good in your life. You might start simply and be grateful for things such as having a roof you’re your head, enough food to eat, people who love you and being able to escape the virus and even if you were unfortunate to get sick have gratitude for not dying from it. When you awake tell yourself three or more things that you are grateful for before you get up. It is a great way to start the day and sets the tone for how the day will go.
  7. Get Help– If you find the re-entry is difficult and you aren’t able to manage it alone get some professional help and don’t feel bad or less than for needing it. We all have our individual process regarding this and no one way is better than the other.

It’s also important to recognize that COVID hasn’t been all bad. We were forced to slow down and in doing so many of us had the time to look at was working and what wasn’t working in our lives and made some significantly good changes. We had an opportunity to appreciate the things in our lives in a whole new perspective. Businesses recognized that the fear they had about people working from home and having a limited productive cycle were unfounded and a new level of flexibility evolved in the workplace allowing people the freedom to work from anywhere. We also recognized that although we didn’t necessarily like it, we know we are capable of adapting and changing in ways we never dreamed of.

I hope this finds you all well and it is great to be back communicating with you again.

Wishing you a healthy and stress-free re-entry, Dr. Pat

With Gratitude,
Pat

Adjusting For Success

By Body, Mind

Adjusting For Success

It’s getting close to that time of year again when all the new years intentions we developed are at the greatest risk of failing. According to the U.S. News and World report the failure rate for news years resolutions is said to be about 80% with most losing their resolve about mid February. It’s just about then that we get tired of eating salad, getting up early to go to the gym, put off meditating until later, going to bed early starts to get later and later as well as any of the other dozens of commitments that start to get harder to do.

We all start out with good intentions and truly believe this is the year we will do what it takes to achieve our desired goals. So as we get closer to critical mass I want to offer some suggestions to hopefully avoid the pit falls and keep you on track to achieve your goals.

Now that you have been at it a few weeks evaluate whether your goal was realistically achievable. If not readjust to a more achievable goal and then build on that. For example if you promised yourself that you would work out five days a week and you find you are actually getting there two to three times a week reset you expectations and try for three times a week with possibly adding stretching and yoga at home on the off days. This will keep you in the game and is actually more realistic for your life. Even if it is two to three days a week it is more than you were doing before and in time it will likely be more of a habit that you can build on.

Secondly consider taking smaller steps. For example it’s unlikely that you can go from 2500 calories a day to a 1000 and expect to sustain it for long. Start by cutting out deserts, or sugar or carbohydrates and adding more fruits and vegetables. Another option is to consider adding intermittent fasting to your regime if you don’t have blood sugar issues.

Being prepared for the changes you are making is another important factor in your success. This includes things such as getting to the store and having good food choices on hand that you actually enjoy eating. When we are hungry and we want to grab something quick or we come home tired and there isn’t anything appealing the likelihood we will make poor choices is greatly increased. Additionally if you have committed to working out make sure you pack your bag the night before and are ready to go. Gathering your things at the last minute before you walk out the door when you are already feeling rushed works against yourself.

Getting support from your friends or family also helps to enhance your success rate. If you are not the shopper in your household ask that whoever does this to be mindful of your needs getting delicious fruits, veggies and health snacks and avoid bringing sugary snacks or chips into the house. These are tough temptations when we are hungry and don’t want to take the time to prepare something.

Most importantly acknowledge the successes you have had. What you have done took thought, courage and energy. Make the choice each day to rededicate your self to what you are trying to achieve. If you fail that day don’t beat yourself up. Pick you again and start a new. It is important to remember that change is a process. We start out with an idea of what things should look like but it is much more fluid than absolute. Don’t hesitate to modify as things progress. Modifying is not failure. In fact it is much more likely to lead to your success.

With Gratitude,
Pat

Exercises, Aging and Your Brain

By Body, Spirit

Exercises, Aging and Your Brain

It was long believed that the brain you got was the one that you had to live with. Once you reached adulthood and full brain development had occurred it was assumed there would be no further neuron development. If you unfortunately lost some aspect of your brain due to aging, stroke, disease etc. it was believed you were left with a limited capacity that at best would hopefully lead to no further deterioration. What we now know is the brain is capable of having neuroplasticity, meaning that it is has the ability to generate new neurons. Gratefully it turns out aerobic exercise is one way this can be achieved! This occurs because aerobic exercise increases the production of a protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which increases the size and connectivity in the hippocampus. This occurs when stem cells, which are essentially a blank slate, are developed in to new nascent neurons, which in turn create new brain cells.

There are many ways to increase neuroplasticity but one thing we now know is that exercise has a significant impact on the development of new neurons particularly in the part of the brain called the hippocampus and the neo-cortex. This is important because these are the regions of the brain that degenerate as aging occurs. Further research has revealed that the most effective way to achieve this is to add some form of cognitive challenge during exercising. This includes things such as having to process spatial awareness, making choices and processing stimulus input while exercising. Adding this cognitive component has the greatest impact on neuron development. So what this means in real time is that getting on the bike at the gym and turning on the TV where your only cognitive input is staring idly at the TV is not nearly as beneficial as riding a bike outside, dealing with spatial awareness, traffic, pedestrians and while still needing to be cognizant of the direction you are travelling. The increase utilization of cognitive function while doing any aerobic exercise is the most efficient and effective way to increase BDNF.

While exercise has many effects on all parts of our body if you are approaching middle age you may want to seriously consider the way that you exercise to help prevent atrophy of the hippocampus and the neo-cortex. By simply adding a cognitive component to any aerobic exercise you are already doing you will increase the development of new neural cells. Any advantage that we can utilize to increase brain cell development will help diminish the effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

There have been many studies done to assess how much exercise is necessary to receive the neurogenic benefits and cellular development. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that you should engage in aerobic exercise of moderate intensity for at least 150 minutes per week or 75 minutes a week for intense exercise or an equivalent combination of the two. More clinical trials are still being done to find the best way to target, physiological pathways to link the brain and the body to exploit our brain’s ability of exercised induces plasticity as we age but for now simply adding a cognitive component to your exercises will help tremendously.

A new year is upon us and is the case for many an opportunity to create new habits to increase our health and the joy we create in out life. As we begin this New Year consider not only exercising but also exercising in a way that helps protect the aging brain. I wish you and your family excellent health and many blessings as we begin this new decade.

With Gratitude,
Pat