I’ve had many people express to me how stressed they have become because of the COVID-19 situation. At first they couldn’t believe the virus could affect them because they didn’t travel or get in contact with anyone that’s been to Asia or Wuhan, China. Recently, I’ve had someone ask “Dr. Mark, I’m worried about babysitting my grandchildren and getting the virus.” People are uneased with the uncertainty of the ongoing daily risks of getting the virus, wondering if they get the virus will they be among the 10% -20% with complications, and how much longer do they have to be sheltered at home.
While you might not actually be experiencing a death, there is anticipatory grief when we see our future is uncertain. David Kessler in an interview with Harvard Business Review discusses how anticipatory grief is that feeling you get when you hear of a bad diagnosis or the thought you will lose your parent one day. During my 25 plus years in medicine I’ve seen people go through the stages of grief, for example, when I tell them I found colon cancer on a colonoscopy. With this virus people feel threatened, they hear the news reports, and they see conflicting information. They don’t feel safe, they see we’re running out of medical resources, and don’t see the authorities in control of the situation.
One of the first steps towards getting some sense of peace or the ability to cope is to have an understanding how the stages of the grieving process. One thing to note, is that these stages are not linear and people often go back and forth as you struggle to grasp what’s happening. At first, there is denial. Whether its to challenge me if I really made the right diagnosis of colon cancer or telling oneself I’m not at risk for the virus. Then once we realize it’s a possibility we get angry. No one wants surgery or to be made to stay at home and not be able to go to work or socialize. When we finally are willing to conditionally consider the best treatment plan or course of action then we want to bargain; rationalizing that maybe limited laparoscopic surgery would be okay and then we’ll see about the chemo or I’ll just do the social distancing for two weeks and then things will probably be better and then life resumes. All the bargaining eventually leads to sadness having the realization one has to deal with the situation. We wonder what will happen and don’t know when the end will be in sight. Finally, there is acceptance. I have the diagnosis or that threat of the virus is definitely real and now I have to deal with it. Once you accept the situation, you acquire the power to have some control by using your imagination and resources. You can take the treatment. You can wash your hands, keep your distance, and try to work virtually.
So, I spoke at length with the grandmother I mentioned at the beginning of our discussion. She expressed her frustration about the virus with the loss of her social network, and then further revealed how she was stressed about needing to help her daughter with her children risking viral exposure. She, like the rest of us, had to work through the steps of her anticipatory grieving.
Many of us picture the worse case scenarios in our minds. These thoughts put us in a fight or flight, high cortisol, and elevated sympathetic state. Our heart rate goes up, we breathe faster, our palms get sweaty, we have butterflies in our stomach, and we can’t think straight. While we don’t want to ignore the reality of the situation we can use our imagination and think of the best-case scenarios; the cup is half full not just half empty. Whether you use guided imagery, meditation or prayer, you can put your body in a relaxed parasympathetic state and generate theta waves from your brain. In this state not only will you have relaxation and repair but you can unlock your imagination and see solutions to problems you may not have seen before.
Other things you can try include physical activities such as aerobic exercise to burn off the accumulated epinephrine from the stressful thoughts. Of tapping certain areas of the body to tell the muscles to relax, send more blood flow, and increase energy.
Nutrients such as magnesium theonate may help as it enters the Brain. Magnesium glycinate may help relax the muscles. These are but 2 of the 9 forms of bioavailable magnesium. Adaptogenic herbs can help modulate cortisol such as Ashwagandha. Other herbs like Rholora can help with bothersome recurrent thoughts that can keep you up at night.
It’s very important to get good quality sleep. I’ve given some suggestions on how to get better sleep in my previous talk.
Lastly, I think the focus on any situation before us is to have the right mindset. Everything that happens to us is a learning experience. We may not understand why things are happening to us at the moment but often over time we see the meaning and the opportunities presented to us. The pictographs of many ancient cultures depict the pictograph of crisis as made of 2 separate pictographs: one representing danger and then other representing opportunities. So this crisis is a danger and the feelings of uncertainty and grief should not be suppressed. You should take some time, but maybe not more than 5 minutes in taking in the feelings. However, you shouldn’t stay with those feelings for long because there’s also the opportunity to grow and learn. You have more time now with your significant other and children. You can learn new things online and retool your education. You can take time to take care of yourself and finally get the rest that you have not been able to have for years.
I hope this helps and if you have any questions, including those on the supplements, please email [email protected]. Stay healthy and take care.