Wellness and COVID-19: Physical and Mental Health

Wellness and COVID-19From my last blog entry, Wellness During a Public Health Crisis, wellness can be defined as a healthful condition through proper diet, exercise and preventative medicine. 

Another definition (mine), learned and earned through years of research, is “A state of overall being where an organism has achieved, for that organism’s particular body, mind, spirit and the environment where it lives, an optimal balance in and of its physical (musculature, blood, bones and all organ function), emotional, mental, spiritual and environmental systems.”

I use “organism” because it’s easier to calculate one’s optimal, for instance, physical health by removing language and story about oneself. When I dropped the “me” and “my” from my research into my optimal health, I observed myself as an organism and was able to identify how the body, mind and spirit function at their basic levels and how they interact to create an optimal balance.

Wellness: mental and physical health

This morning, I saw my neighbor, who is the personification of both mental and physical health. She walks four times a day with their two dogs and hikes daily with the younger dog. The older dog sleeps peacefully while they’re gone.

She is committed to her wellness. She’s educated herself and knows her challenges. She works with her doc to make changes and focuses on her wellness. When her body is healthier, so is her mind.

If you ask ten people how they define “physical and mental health,” you’ll probably get ten different answers. Definitions change as we go through life and face challenges. We start where we are and slowly makes changes that move us toward optimal health. This public health crisis has challenged our assumptions about and definitions of physical and mental health.

Honing my definition (in paragraph two) created my current state of optimal physical and mental health. I started researching food as medicine when I was a body builder (in my late teens). The first diagnosis and proclamation of my impending death transformed weight lifting into the early stages of my current wellness practice.

I believe that we can be healthy regardless of limitations and conditions that create chronic health conditions that we can adapt to and build strength and wellness according to our own rules.

 We build our “rules" according many factors: our DNA, the culture we grew up in, ethnicity, conditions at home when we were children, where we lived, what we ate, the quality of the water and experiences we had after leaving home.

Health is a state of existence where we see food as medicine and eat foods that our bodies appreciate (easy absorption of nutrients and processing). We feel strong. We have low or negligible level of pain. Our skin glows because we are hydrated with water, as opposed to sugary drinks. A yearly blood panel reveals that all test results came back in normal ranges.  

We handle life’s challenges when they come. Our lives have meaning beyond ourselves. We have people in our lives with whom we have healthy bonds. We wake up each morning, ready to have a full day of work, play, movement (exercise), time with loved ones and a little (or a lot) of Nothing Time -  no tech or planned activity - recuperation, regeneration, silence and creativity. It’s often spent in Nature.

Managing Stress

During times of crisis, we hear about physical health whenever we turn on the news, radio and go online. Our mental health can fluctuate, sometimes wildly, depending on what we’ve heard.

From recent coverage of COVID-19, we’ve heard that we can be healthier if we:

  • wash our hands often,
  • don’t touch our faces,
  • socialize using social distancing rules,
  • drink lots of water,
  • eat healthy meals,
  • go outside,
  • get daily exercise,
  • stay home if we’re sick,
  • get adequate sleep,
  • rest in bed if we can’t sleep,
  • clean our homes,
  • lines our garbage cans with liners,
  • create positive shared experiences with family,
  • manage our frustrations and anxiety with empowering tools,
  • if we know people who are ill, we need to respect grief.

And the list goes on.

But we need to slow down and give ourselves room to breathe.

Sometimes when we take a breath, we realize we’re grieving.

Grief is a part of wellness. We can be well despite difficult times.

The five stages of grief are:

  • denial,
  • depression,
  • anger,
  • sadness,
  • acceptance.

The stages can exist simultaneously. They appear in any order. They last as long as they need to. They repeat themselves. They break like waves, without warning. When they hit, we can take time out to observe them and let them wash through us.

In My Stroke of Insight, Jill Bolte Taylor Ph.D. explained the fact that the time required for the brain to process the effects of an event from trigger to processing completion is ninety seconds.

Our brains are one of our best wellness tools.

Compassion for ourselves gives us room to feel our feelings and allow them to wash over us. We glean wisdom from them and love and respect ourselves exactly where we are. We build strength and resilience and start to drop our limiting language about ourselves. Self-esteem, self-worth and self-respect shift. Without warning, something we formerly tolerated is “suddenly” unacceptable.

Life Hacks

Square Breathingis a breathing pattern people use to slow their heart rates and reduce anxiety in times of stress. In a recent episode of Station 19, one of the firefighters taught it to an injured person to help the person talk about pain levels.

Google “square breathing” and see if it makes sense for you or your family.

Drinking more waterdelivers health benefits to your entire body. Make water fun with a celebration every time you finish eight ounces - a happy dance, throw the ball for your happy dog, brush your purring cat or listen to music.

Do something daily that’snot you, in terms of how you typically describe yourself. Paint your spouse’s toenails, sing show tunes, tell yourself stupid jokes or anything to shake yourself up a little.

We get stuck in unhelpful behavior and patterns when we do the same thing over and over – even though we know we want to change – because we tell ourselves we’re not a motivated person, we’re incapable of change, we’re timid and use limiting language.

A way to start breaking out is to do activities that we think are silly.

The last hack is to make exercise easy and simple. Getting ready and then driving to a gym takes time. It may not be a good idea for some people to go to a gym right now.

Putting on walking shoes and walking is as easy as opening your front door. I’ve been walking daily for decades. I created an easy wellness tool twenty years ago when I was highly stressed due to a variety of health and family issues. Desperate to feel better, I tried to walk to blow off steam.

Ha ha. No way.

So I started counting my steps. I’d get to ten and start over again.

Too complicated.

After trial and error, I settled on starting with my right foot and counting “One. Two. One. Two. One. Two. Three. Four.” Repeat.

Right foot, left foot.

It worked! My brain stopped buzzing, my shoulders dropped from my ears and I could sleep.

However, in times of extreme stress, it didn’t work.

I simplified and counted “One. Two. One. Two.” Over and over and over and over.

The repetition and cross-crawl movement of walking while swinging my arms calmed me down every time. The trick was to not carry anything in my arms or hands.

I learned that in times of high stress, setting and meeting small goals builds strength, endurance and resilience. Over time, those small goals got too easy! 

Your Turn

Do you want to be healthier?

What’s the first thing you want to do in order to better manage the effects that this public health crisis has on you and your family?

When you consistently set small goals and meet them, set harder ones! You can also set small goals as a family or group of friends. When a group meets goals together, that shared experience is a resilience super-builder.

We absolutely can build strength and wellness as individuals, families, residents of our local communities, the states we call home, this country and this planet.

We will do it together.   

The suggestions I’ve made may not be appropriate for you. If you want to make changes, make the ones that build wellness for your particular circumstances.