April is national Stress Awareness month (appropriately enough), and I dare say we are all feeling a bit more stressed at the present time than we normally would. Being in the midst of a pandemic, where we are socially isolating ourselves and where most of the country is currently under a “Stay at Home” order for the next 30 days, our feelings of stress and uneasiness can certainly soar to new levels.
We all experience levels of stress from time to time; some stress (acute) can actually be positive or a motivator. However, too much stress (chronic stress) can become an issue, both mentally and physically. Our bodies are not designed for long periods of stress, so it’s extremely important to find ways to eliminate it or at the very least, reduce it. Stress is often linked to feelings of helplessness and lack of control, and fears of the unknown. While there is uncertainty and many unknowns surrounding our current situation, we do have some control and the ability to help ourselves and others.
Things you can do to take charge and help keep your stress level in check during this time include:
- Stay informed but don’t overdo on TV news and internet news feeds, it’s equally important to “unplug” and give yourself a break
- Keep a daily schedule and get adequate amounts of sleep (7-9 hours per night)
- Engage in a healthy eating plan which primarily focuses on eating real whole foods
- Move your body and workout daily. Choose activities that increase blood flow, heart rate, and core temperature.
The last point listed above, moving your body, is key. Simply walking is one of the easiest things you can do. It’s low-impact and something you already know how to do. It can be done anywhere and doesn’t require any equipment. Just the other day, a friend of mine texted me saying she had clocked almost 6 miles walking in her house and doing her stairs! While you might have to get creative, it’s not impossible.
If you are able to get outside, walking can be a great way to not only get exercise which reduces stress, but it will allow you to get some fresh air and some vitamin D. Vitamin D has many functions and is a key player in keeping you healthy. There are about 30,000 genes in the body and vitamin D affects nearly 3,000 of them, so it’s pretty important. It aids in maintaining bone strength, keeping your body functioning efficiently, and helps prevent many cancers. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to decreased immunity, heart disease and high blood pressure, depression, and many cancers such as prostate, breast, and colon, lung, ovarian, pancreatic and even skin cancer. Most people are at a deficiency when it comes to vitamin D levels, and while certain foods such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, beef liver, egg yolks, and other fortified foods, all contain some vitamin D, we don’t consume enough of these to get the amount needed. Because vitamin D is manufactured on your skin when exposed to sunlight, getting outside and safely enjoying some sunshine is one of the best ways to quickly increase your levels. Many studies show that the best time to get out and enjoy some rays is in the middle of the day (between 10am – 3pm). If you are fair-skinned, it’s recommended only a few minutes without sunscreen 2-3 days/week is needed to raise your levels, while individuals of darker origins will need anywhere from 15-20 minutes or even more. If you are unable to get outside when it’s rainy or too cold (or during a pandemic), supplementation might be your best bet. While ranges can vary per individual, the RDA for young adults is 600 IU/day and 800 IU/day for individuals over 70 years old. Because there can be vast differences in how you respond to a particular dose, it’s important to routinely get your levels checked and adjust your supplementation accordingly. Be sure to contact your doctor for what is best for your health. Optimizing your vitamin D level is one of the easiest and least expensive ways you can take charge of your health and increase your immunity.
Use these tips to keep up your overall health and lower your stress during this pandemic. What’s your secret to stressing less?
A native of North Carolina, Gina currently lives in Charlotte, and has been in the fitness industry since 1990. During that time, her roles have included strength coach, personal trainer, college instructor, and competitive athlete (both bodybuilding and Olympic-style weightlifting). Upon completion of her bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State University she relocated to CO where she interned at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Her primary role there was to instruct resident athletes on the Olympic lifts. She relocated to Charlotte in 1996 where she worked for the YMCA and then later began her career in 1998 as a fitness equipment consultant. She holds a master’s degree in Exercise Science and Sports Nutrition and holds multiple certifications through NASM, NSCA, and ISSN. She enjoys camping, mountain biking, working out and hiking, all of which she does with her dog Pia.