Featured in Jacksonville Magazine May 7, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on our mental health. Regular routines in daily life have been shattered. Events, activities and plans have been put on hold. For many, the bills keep coming even though the paychecks have stopped. With so much anxiety, stress and grief, how do you stay mentally well?
Jacksonville psychotherapist Melissa Fenton, founder of Mind, Body and Beyond Center, says the psychological effects of the coronavirus have dominated her therapy sessions. “In these uncertain and unprecedented times, most of us are in a state of anxiety, fear or stress,” says Fenton. “We know that stress and ongoing anxiety are risk factors for PTSD and depression.” Here, she offers her tips for reducing anxiety and coping during intense times of stress.
CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN
The only thing we have complete control over, says Fenton, is ourselves—our thoughts, our health and our choices. She advises using the extra time at home to eat healthy, get an adequate amount of sleep (seven to nine hours per night), and exercise regularly. “Regular moderate exercise increases our ‘feel good’ hormones and reduces our stress response.”
KEEP A REGULAR ROUTINE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
Maintaining a routine is difficult, particularly if you’re now working remotely or if you lost your job or saw your hours upended by the pandemic. “A job loss—and losing the routine of working—can deplete your sense of self-esteem and well-being,” she says.
LIMIT NEWS AND SOCIAL MEDIA EXPOSURE
It’s important to educate yourself, in order to stay up-to-date on current events, but too much can be harmful. Find ways to keep informed and stay connected, but limit exposure to once or twice daily.
SPEND TIME IN NATURE
Being surrounded by trees and water is good for the immune system and for overall health.
PRACTICE MEDITATION & MINDFULNESS
Relaxing the body, mind and spirit is the best way to manage stress in uncertain times. Meditation is an exercise of focus and control, and o ers therapeutic bene ts for stress reduction, PTSD, trauma and more.
“YOUR BODY FEELS EVERYTHING YOUR MIND ENCOUNTERS. THE BEST WAY TO ALLEVIATE STRESS IN THE BODY AND MIND IS THROUGH RELAXING OUR BODIES.” -FENTON
FENTON’S GO-TO TECHNIQUES TO REDUCE STRESS
Simple relaxation techniques can quickly calm the sympathetic nervous system, reducing the stress response mode. As the practice continues, it leads to a calmer parasympathetic nervous system, says Fenton.
“Releasing stress and tension in the body is the fastest way to calm the mind,” she notes. “It enhances your mental and physical performance, boosts your immune system and increases your ability to experience a sense of peace and compassion. It’s your best defense in times like these.”
WET NOODLE TECHNIQUE:
Take five seconds to relax the body like a wet noodle. Imagine collapsing all muscles, simultaneously. Repeat as often as you notice tension returning.
MUSCLE RELAXATION FROM HEAD TO TOE:
Starting at the top of your head, begin relaxing each area that feels tense. “Release through thought,” says Fenton. “Just let go. Visualize the muscles melting into a calm state.”
PERIPHERAL VISION TECHNIQUE:
Focus on a spot directly in front of you (“keeping focus activates the sympathetic nervous system,” says Fenton). Widen your field of view and notice what you see in your peripheral vision. Place fingers on each side of the face, at about a 70-degree angle from the face. Practice with a soft gaze noticing the side fingers, keeping the focus there. Notice the change in sensations as the parasympathetic nervous system is activated.
DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING TECHNIQUE:
Sit in a comfortable position or lie flat on the floor. Relax your shoulders. Place a hand on your chest and a hand on your stomach. Breathe in through the nose for about five seconds. “You should experience the air moving through your nostrils into your abdomen, making the stomach expand,” says Fenton. “During this type of breathing, make sure your stomach is moving outward while your chest remains relatively still. Purse your lips (as if you’re about to drink through a straw), press gently on your stomach, and exhale slowly for about five seconds.” Repeat at least five times for optimal results. ◊