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April is Stress Awareness Month

Stress and COVID: The Double Whammy

Stress occurs when your mind and body react to changes, and it often results in emotional and physical responses that can have lasting effects. Stress has multiple causes – including changes in your work and home environments – exactly the kind of scenario that COVID-19 has brought about for most people.

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Not all aspects of stress are negative: it is a built-in survival response designed to keep you alert and able to avoid danger. But unless you have a lot of grizzlies wandering about in your neighborhood, stress is generally not a good thing. Moreover, if you don’t take steps to manage stress, over time it can accumulate and push your mind and body over the breaking point. Physical manifestations of untreated stress include:

  • Chest pain and a racing heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • TMJ
  • Weakened immune system
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Aches and pains, including headaches

Long-Term Mental Health Issues

Stress has emotional and mental effects as well, including anxiety and depression, and behavioral issues including addictive behavior such as drug and alcohol abuse, gambling, overeating, and smoking.

Being cooped up in quarantine exacerbates these issues for many people, and it’s not just good old fashioned “cabin fever.” When stressors are in your environment for the long term, your body doesn’t turn off the switches that mitigate it as readily, which can lead to anxiety disorders such as OCD, PTSD, GAD, panic attacks, and SAD.

Coping With Stress

Every time you turn on the news, there’s more stories about businesses closing and people losing jobs – it’s the economic aspect of the pandemic, and it’s almost as dangerous as the virus itself. Here is a simple exercise you can do to relieve stress right anywhere you are:

  • Sit up straight with your feet on the floor
  • Close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths – in for two seconds through your nose, out for four seconds through your mouth as if you’re blowing out a candle

Manage Stress Before It Manages You

When you feel your stress meter going into the red, use these techniques to keep it from boiling over:

  • Get some fresh air and exercise – especially if your job entails sitting in front of a computer. Just a short walk to the bathroom and back or around the block can work wonders – not to mention stretching your leg and back muscles.
  • Eat and sleep right – get your sacktime and don’t forget your fruits and veggies.
  • Structure your relaxation – yoga, tai chi, and even deep breathing can calm you down and help you focus energy in a positive direction.
  • Practice gratitude – or as Grandma would say, count your blessings – you’ll be surprised how much you have to be thankful for.
  • Phone a friend – or Skype, it that’s your thing – because we’re all in this together and the person on the other end just might need to see a smiling face too.

“MHI” Spells Relief

In recognition of the compounded stress issues that accompany COVID-19, Intermountain Healthcare has implemented a new Mental Health Integration (MHI) program which we are now expanding to all of our clinics. This self-referral program is designed for patients with a Medicare Advantage plan and a behavioral health need, including psychotherapy or medication management. Team members – including the patient’s PCP and mental health professionals – communicate and work together to chart and implement a treatment plan.

*This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis from a physician or qualified healthcare professional.

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