Health

Maintaining Your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Crisis

As you navigate this alien world of surgical masks in the grocery stores, the shortage of everyday household supplies, the overcrowding in our healthcare facilities and the bombardment of news that our world has become a dangerous place to live, you may be beginning to feel overwhelmed and anxious. The novel coronavirus outbreak has created unprecedented levels of anxiety for most of us – for some who are actually battling the virus, but for the vast majority who are facing the unknown, the disruption of their everyday routine, loss of employment and serious financial concerns.

This is unchartered territory for most of us, and it is frightening! For many people, the fear of the unknown and the incessant doom and gloom headlines make it all too easy to spiral into overwhelming dread and panic. But, there are many things you can do to self-care – manage your anxiety and fears – during this unique crisis.

Take Care of Yourself First – Like the announcement we hear each time we get on an airplane, “In case of a cabin pressure emergency, put your own mask on first before assisting others.” This is a metaphor for life. You can’t help others for very long if you don’t take care of yourself first.

Keep a Routine – Even if you’re stuck at home, try to maintain your normal routine by sticking to your regular sleep, meal, and school or work schedule.

Eat Well – Proper eating is one defense against most diseases. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Avoid eating out of boredom or anxiety, eliminate or reduce alcohol consumption and other intoxicants and stay well hydrated.

Exercise – Although we can’t hit the gyms like we used to, there are many safe alternatives you can do in the comfort and safety of your home. If you don’t have any exercise videos, use YouTube and Instagram to help you find ways to stay fit or just take long walks.

Limit News Intake – Limit your media consumption to only the information you need to know to stay safe…then turn it off! This advice goes for financial information as well. Watching the stock market go up and down (mostly down) all day can have a negative impact on your mental wellbeing.

Have Fun – Enjoy the extra time you have with your family by talking…and laughing, playing board games, cards, putting together puzzles and cooking.

Connect – Take this downtime to reach out to those you care about, making sure they are staying safe and letting them know how important they are to you. Take advantage of the many technical (FaceTime) and social media resources to stay connected during this time of social isolation.

Engage in Positive Activities – Read a good book, listen to uplifting music, watch the sunrise or sunset, get out in nature, practice yoga or meditate. Limit your interactions with negative people. Remember emotions are contagious and right now fear is rampant.

You can also counteract distress over the loss of control by straightening up what you can. This is a great time to clean and organize your home or to attack a home improvement project you’ve been meaning to get to.

Reflect – The sudden halt in our daily lives, caused by this unprecedented crisis, has forced us to sit still. We can spend this time by being overwhelmed with negative thoughts and a sense of despair or we can use these quiet moments to reflect on the positive changes we want to make in our lives when this pause button is removed. Try to think about the activities in your life you’ve come to realize are important and you want to resume, start making a mental list of the ones you don’t, and above all, focus on the many blessings you have.

The national Disaster Distress Helpline is available to anyone experiencing emotional distress related to COVID-19. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to speak to a counselor.

February: American Heart Health Month

With Valentine’s Day less than two weeks away, many of us view February as the month of love. However, February is also designated as American Heart Health Month. In addition, on the first Friday of every February (this year is February 7th), the nation comes together, donning the color red from coast to coast, for National Wear Red Day, celebrating one common goal: the eradication of heart disease and stroke.

American Heart Health Month is a federally designated event that was proclaimed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on December 30, 1963 to encourage Americans to join the battle against heart disease. This annual, month-long celebration helps remind Americans to focus on their heart and encourages their involvement with family and friends, and within their communities.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death of Americans. According to the American Heart Association, approximately 2,200 people die each day from heart disease. In addition, about 1.3 million adults have high blood pressure and 6.5 million are living with heart failure.

Heart disease is being diagnosed in younger adults more and more often. High rates of obesity and high blood pressure among young people are putting them at risk of heart-related diseases at an earlier age. Although genetic factors play a role in heart-related conditions, nearly 80 percent of cardiovascular diseases may be preventable with education and lifestyle changes.

How to Take Control of Your Heart Health

Don’t Smoke – Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death in the United States. Smokers have a higher risk of developing many chronic disorders including atherosclerosis and a buildup of fatty substances in the arteries. So, if you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, learn how to quit – there are numerous helpful resources out there.

Managing Your Health – Work with your health professionals to manage your weight, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. All of these factors play a significant role in maintaining a healthy heart.

Stay Physically Active – Heart pumping physical activity helps prevent cardiovascular disease as well as improves your overall mental and physical health.

The American Heart Association recommends five 30-minute exercise sessions each week. If this seems a little daunting, break these sessions up into two or three 10-15 minute segments throughout the day. Walking, jogging, biking and swimming are great forms of cardiovascular exercise. The American Heart Association also recommends adding moderate to high-intensity strength training into your sessions to improve daily functional movements and decrease the chance of injury.

Make Heart-Healthy Eating Choices – A diet low in trans-fat, saturated fat, added sugar and sodium is essential to a healthy heart and lifestyle. Aim to fill at least half of your plate with vegetables and fruit. Salmon, nuts, berries and oats are just a few of the heart “superfoods,” that may help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. As a special treat, add dark chocolate, in moderation, to the list – it’s good for the heart and satisfies the sweet tooth.

Reduce Stress – Stress increases cortisol, a steroid hormone, which can lead to weight gain, a key risk factor in heart disease. Stress can also lead to other unhealthy habits including overeating and excessive alcohol consumption. Stress can also increase the risk of anxiety and depression.

Get Plenty of Rest – Many Americans today are sleep deprived. Sleep restores the body, helps decrease stress and anxiety and increases overall happiness.

With all this said, “get your red on” and make this February the beginning of healthy habits and lifestyle changes. Your heart will thank you!

Stress in America

For the first time in a 10-year history of surveys of stress in America, the American Psychological Association survey, conducted in January 2017, found a statistically significant increase in stress levels in the U.S. compared to the previous year.

It appears that Americans are more stressed today than ever.

Whether we’re stressing over financial woes, work, a romantic relationship on the rocks or possibly the latest, breaking, political news story, the anxiety can wreak havoc on our bodies if we can’t get it under control.

We experience stress when we perceive the demands placed on us exceed our ability to cope. Stress can be beneficial at times, motivating us to work hard and get ahead or by providing a necessary boost of drive and energy to help us through certain situations like exams or work deadlines. However, an extreme amount of stress, especially worry over the long haul, can have health consequences, affecting our immune, cardiovascular and neuroendocrine and central nervous system, and cause a severe emotional toll.

The human body’s stress response was made for short-term acute stress such as fleeing immanent danger, like running away from a bear. But, stressors today have become much more chronic and our bodies aren’t equipped to deal with this.

Research shows that each age group…stage of life…has its own common stressors. Findings indicate that people in their 20s are the most stressed out generation of our time.  They’re graduating from college, worrying about college debts, looking for jobs, dating and dealing with constant social media comparisons. 30-somethings are managing a lot of extra responsibilities, both at work, as they climb the career ladder, and at home, as they become parents and homeowners. 40-somethings, also referred to as the “sandwich generation,” are worrying about their growing kids as well as their aging parents. In addition, this group begins contemplating their own immortality. For 50-somethings, planning for retirement as well as an empty nest can be quite jolting.

Coping with Stress:

Understand how we stress. Each of us experiences and manages stress differently. Some things that may be stressful for one person may serve as a trigger for others to become more productive. It’s important for each of us to know what types of situations make us feel different than we do most of the time.

Find healthy ways to manage our stress. This will be unique to each of our personalities. We need to find a healthy, stress-reducing activity that works best for us. It may be exercising, talking things out with a friend or family member, listening to music, writing, or spending downtime with someone special.

Take care of ourselves. At times, we take on more than we can manage. But, no matter how hectic life gets, we must take time for ourselves – even if it’s something simple like curling up on the couch and reading a good book or listening to our favorite music. We must also make sure that we eat right, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, engage in routine physical activity and take regular vacations or other breaks from work.

Limit time watching or listening to the news. It’s great to be informed, but there’s a difference between getting needed information and becoming obsessed with what’s going on in the world. The news is presented…spun in a dramatic way, which often creates anxiety.

Focus on the aspects of our lives in which we have control. We can’t control a lot of what happens across the country or the world. So, it’s important to work on the aspects of our lives we do have some control over such as how much effort we put into our work, our relationships, our health and even our community.

Reach out for support and take action if needed. It’s not always easy to open up to others about our lives and problems. However, talking to and accepting help from a trusted and supportive family member, friend or even a professional can improve our ability to manage stress as well as change unhealthy behaviors.

American Heart Health Month

With February designated as American Hearth Health Month, it seems fitting to help bring attention and awareness to the seriousness of heart disease in the United States.

According to the American Health Association, nearly a quarter of the deaths in the U.S. are caused by heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in this country, causing 1 in 4 deaths. Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, remains the leading global cause of death with more than 17.9 million deaths each year. This staggering number is expected to rise to more than 23.6 million by 2030.

High blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking are the leading risk factors for heart disease. Shockingly (or maybe not), about 47% of Americans today have at least one of these risk factors.

In the U.S., 1 in 4 women dies from heart disease. The most common causes of heart disease in both men and women is narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. This happens very slowly over time and it’s the major reason people have heart attacks.

In addition to the leading risk factors mentioned above, several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices also put people at a higher risk of heart disease, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Poor Diet
  • Sedentary lifestyle – Physical inactivity
  • Excessive alcohol use

Heart Attack Symptoms – Men vs. Women

Women have a higher risk of dying from a heart attack than men. One of the reasons is because women don’t know they are having a heart attack and, consequently, don’t seek medical help until it’s too late.

Years of clinical research indicate that the symptoms of a heart attack can be different in men and women. Recent findings indicate that women are less likely to experience chest pain, or at least to the degree of pain, than men. Nearly half of the women in a recent study experienced no chest pain at all during their heart attack. Shortness of breath and fatigue were cited as their most common symptoms.

Although women can certainly experience chest pain, they must also be aware of less obvious symptoms like nausea, indigestion, palpitations, as well as shortness of breath and back pain.

Sometimes heart attack symptoms are inaccurately attributed to other health issues such as indigestion. This is why it’s so important to have your doctor administer an EKG test or an enzyme blood test.

With this said, the most common heart attack symptoms for men and women include:

  • Discomfort, tightness, uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes…or comes and goes.
  • Crushing chest pain
  • Pressure or pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, upper back, jaw, or arms
  • Dizziness or nausea
  • Clammy sweats, heart flutters or paleness
  • Unexplained feelings of anxiety, fatigue or weakness, especially with exertion
  • Stomach or abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing

More common symptoms in women:

  • Pain in the arm, especially the left arm, back, neck, abdomen or shoulder blades
  • Jaw pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Overwhelming and unusual fatigue, sometimes with shortness of breath
  • Light headedness or sweating.

The good news is you’re never too young or too old to take care of your heart. While you can’t change certain factors, like age and family history, you can lower your risk of heart disease, and ultimately a heart attack, by making healthy life choices and managing health conditions.

What You Can Do to Prevent Heart Disease 

  • Establish a healthy eating plan. Choose foods low in saturated fats, trans fat and sodium. A healthy diet should include plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich grains, fish, nuts, legumes and seeds. Limit your intake of red meat and sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Don’t smoke or use tobacco. When it comes to preventing heart disease, no amount of smoking, including smokeless tobacco, is safe.
  • Regular, daily exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease…and combining this with a healthy eating plan makes the payoff even greater. Activities such as gardening, housekeeping, taking the stairs instead of the elevator/escalator and walking the dog all count. However, you will see bigger benefits by increasing the intensity, duration and frequency of your activity.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight, especially if you carry this extra baggage around your middle, increases your risk of heart disease. Even a small weight loss can be beneficial to your heart health. Reducing your weight by 3 to 5 percent can help decrease your triglycerides and blood sugar, and reduce your risk of diabetes.
  • Get enough quality sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to more than yawning throughout the day. People who don’t get enough sleep have a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and depression.

Adults typically require seven to nine hours of sleep each night.  If you wake up without your alarm clock, feeling refreshed, you’re getting enough sleep. Sleep should be a priority in your life.

  • Manage stress. Overeating, drinking or smoking are ways some people cope with stress. Find healthier alternatives such as physical activity, relaxation exercises or meditation.
  • Get regular health screenings. Schedule a yearly top-to-bottom physical so you know your numbers – blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.

As we move through February, let’s use this month, American Heart Health Month, to raise awareness of heart disease and how we can all do our part to prevent it…at home and in our community.

 

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