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October 28, 2020
 

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Weekend doctor: COVID-19, mental health and physical well-being

By Brook Crawford, APRN-CNP
Family Medicine Certified Nurse Practitioner
Blanchard Valley Hospital

Let’s face it, COVID-19 has not been easy on anyone.

Since March 2020, we have experienced restrictions, stay-at-home orders, mandates and a plethora of other new “experiences” that most of us have never had in our lifetimes.

With these “experiences” come different emotions, thoughts and problems including, but not limited to, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia and increased stress.

Studies completed in January and February 2020 in China found that anxiety developed in the general population at a rate of approximately 29%. A study in March 2020 of United States residents determined that at least 36% of Americans felt that COVID-19 was having a serious impact on their mental health.

Exercise is a commonly suggested, yet underutilized tool for health improvement and maintenance. Practitioners across all specialties will almost always suggest physical activity for the treatment of varying health conditions, physical and psychological in nature.

Activities such as Yoga and Tai Chi are mindful, meditation-based exercises that involve focusing on the task at hand and take you away from those thoughts that may be causing stress and anxiety in your life. These are specialty activities which many people are unsure how to perform.

A simpler activity that most people are capable of completing and has been shown to be equally effective is brisk walking. The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines suggest 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each week.

Walking at a pace that is difficult, but still possible, to maintain conversation is a great way to gauge exercise intensity. These minutes can be accrued consecutively or in “chunks” throughout the day.

Physical activity and exercise cause a release of hormones, including dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, which affects the brain to increase mood and positive emotions.

Simply taking a 10-15 minute walk when you are feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed can be great to help clear your head and give your body the hormones it needs to be able to handle the stress and anxiety you may be experiencing.

You should always check with your primary care provider before starting any exercise program to ensure your safety and discuss any concerns that you may have regarding activity.

Taking this step, though, is the first of many towards a healthier lifestyle, improved emotions and coping with the stress and anxiety of this current situation we are living in.

We may not know how long this will last, the unpredictable problems ahead or what life may be like once we are able to move forward. However, we can take control of our physical and mental health one day at a time and put ourselves in the best position to be successful regardless of what may be going on in the world around us.

Reach out to your healthcare provider, ask for help, encourage others and go take a walk. Your brain will thank you.