The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the mental health of people of all ages, from children whose routines and methods of learning have drastically changed, through seniors experiencing isolation from family and friends.
The ongoing, elevated level of stress and anxiety that many of us have felt over the last year, also known as chronic stress, does not just affect us mentally—it has an impact on our bodies as well.
The secretion of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol in the body are normal and healthy responses to short-term stress. When these are continuously secreted during prolonged periods of stress, it may result in excessive inflammation in the body, impaired digestion, weakened immune system, and elevated risk for heart disease.
Along with all of the mental and emotional difficulties chronic stress can produce, it can also cause a variety of physical symptoms. These may include hair loss, muscle tension, headache, back pain, jaw pain from clenching, dental problems from grinding teeth, and fatigue from insomnia and interrupted sleep patterns.
The good news: many of these physical symptoms can be reversed with healthy behaviors and self-care.
A Holistic Approach to Wellness
As a holistic therapy practitioner trained in acupuncture and manual therapy, Chinese medicine, meditation, and restorative movement (like yoga, qi gong and tai chi), an important part of my work with patients is addressing the major pillars of health and wellness that influence pain and tension in the body.
The main pillars include physical activities such as sleep, play, diet/chewing, breathing practices, exercise and ergonomics (supportive positioning while working, sitting and more). They also include mindful habits such as meditation, healthy social interactions and connecting to a purpose.
If your body is carrying the effects of chronic stress and anxiety, here are four holistic therapies you can try to help cultivate ease and encourage healing.
This ancient form of Chinese medicine uses very thin, single-use, sterile needles to stimulate specific points on the body to balance energy flow, reduce pain and improve health. While some people experience mild discomfort during needle insertion, the treatment is normally well tolerated and relaxing. Electroacupuncture, a modality used when appropriate, sends a minor charge of energy through the needles to help activate the tissue.
Ranging from light touch to deep tissue manipulation, massage therapy can ease pain or muscle tension, relax the body and mind, and improve circulation. Massage can also address specific medical issues
Yoga is a practice that stretches and strengthens the body and relaxes the mind. There are many types of yoga, from gentle movements to more advanced poses. Guided breathing is often a central part of the practice.
Mindfulness is a way of being present that keeps your thoughts in the moment, rather than dwelling on the past, the future, or things you cannot control. There are many tools for mindfulness, including Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, focused breathing, mindful movement, grounding through the senses, and relaxation body scan.
Always check with your physician when you are experiencing pain or abnormal symptoms lasting more than a few days, and call 911 in the event of an emergency.