With the widespread coverage of coronavirus, copious articles, press conferences, and social media posts, including footage of panicked people acting frantically, even unkindly, it’s easy to become swept away in the rising tide of fretfulness.
But there’s a catch we need to talk about. As a 2017 article published in Computers in Human Behavior noted:
“Exposure to chronic stress can suppress immune function and increase susceptibility to infection.”
During this pandemic it is important we remain well informed and take appropriate considered steps. It is also essential we protect our mental wellbeing. PCOS and covid 19 both can bring ongoing psychological stress, including constant exposure to negative messaging, and can directly impact our mental state.
Read our article, The PCOS Stress Link: PCOS Causes Stress, Stress Causes PCOS Symptoms.
I have noticed a personal collision: when my immersion in current news soars, the ease at which I feel overwhelmed does, too. I am a sensitive soul, highly attuned to the worries of the world. I can’t not take it in… Unless I appreciate this aspect of my personality and calm my inner storm by culling my outer exposure.
Regardless of your level of sensitivity, it’s important to stem the flow of unhelpful, harmful and unnecessary information…
As my Mum says, “Worry about your circle of influence, not your circle of concern.”
With a veritable avalanche of advice leaping off print and digital pages, potentially triggering rises in adrenaline and cortisol, let’s look at some evidence-based ways to lower the load of distress and improve your immune function. The positive impacts will aid both PCOS and covid 19…
As the coronavirus locks down different locations, differently, the ability to get out and about may vary. Our ability to exercise, though, does not. Unless we are infected that is.
Being physically active leads to prompt relaxation…
A study published in Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport found those who practiced hatha yoga felt less angry, anxious, confused, depressed, and tense immediately following a session. Yoga can be done at home, and this wonderful practice can be altered to suit if chronic pain or other challenges limit exercise options. For a complimentary yoga class, visit YouTube.
Adequate physical activity plays a key role in healthy immune function. For example, researchers have noted that those who engage in “moderate exercise programs experience reduced URTI [upper respiratory tract infection] incidence and duration.”
How much exercise should you do?
According to the review article The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defence system, which the above quote is taken from, walking 45 minutes per day, five days per week is sufficient. You can expect a reduction of incidence, lower severity, and shortened longevity of illness. Stretching programs of a similar length also gifted protective results.
The proviso… Going to extremes can harm the immune system.
If you are able and allowed, walk along the beach, through the park, down locals streets. It will be easy for most people to avoid close contact and maintain sensible social distancing.
If you are housebound, workout to exercise DVDs, streaming classes, or say hello to that long-disused home gym. Dance, clean, engage in wall pushups and floor crunches. Imagination is a wonderful resource, it may be time to get creative!
Sensible engagement in social media
Social media can be a wonderful tool in a world where social distancing is fast becoming the norm. Being able to digitally connect, to share, to chat is crucial. But scrolling through posts that propel deep concern will undermine these benefits.
Returning to the article mentioned above, the authors investigated whether Facebook access was limited to anxiety and upper respiratory tract infections. The authors concluded that:
Subjects who reported that Facebook provoked anxiety/stress demonstrated a significantly higher number of [URTI] than those not reporting Facebook-induced anxiety/stress and having more Facebook friends was associated with increased anxiety/stress and the number of [URTI].
Those with anxiety related to their Facebook use showed increased rates of Facebook logins, and that these behaviour patterns were linked to poorer health.
I’d encourage you to connect with your loved ones via PM and calls but don’t scroll. Avoid the misinformed assaults and easily spread panic. Gain needed information from reputable sources only. If you simply must scroll, choose to do so in a group like The Kindness Pandemic. It is heartwarming.
Sufficient sound sleep is crucial for the healthy function of our immune system. As the authors of an article published in the journal, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, said:
Prolonged and severe sleep deprivation is associated with alterations of natural and cellular immune function.
They found that a single night of poor slumber resulted in a reduction of natural immune responses, including the activity of natural killer cells. The wonderful finding? That following one night of recovery sleep, levels return to normal.
Yet women with PCOS are more at risk of sleep disorders. We talk about this in our article, PCOS And Sleep Disorders: Natural Remedies to get a Good Night’s Sleep.
Adequate sleep also protects us from the stressors and strains of life’s normal — and unusual — challenges. Now is certainly a time of great psychological stress for many. The American Psychological Association (APA) noted that when we don’t get enough shut-eye, we’re more likely to experience anger, irritability, and overwhelm. Then there is the associated fatigue and lack of motivation, including to exercise. As we’ve seen above, being physically active is important.
How can you improve your sleep?
As hard as it may feel, and as many challenges as the current covid 19 pandemic throw at us, we must use healthy strategies to sleep well and reduce our stress. These can be free and may help:
1) Meditate during the day and before sleep
2) Ensure your bedroom is dark, quiet and cool
3) Get out into the sunlight in the morning
4) Practice deep breathing techniques
5) Give The Military Method a try
6) Keep a diary by your bed so if you wake in the night, worried, you can jot them down and let them go, safe in the knowledge they’ll be there in the morning
7) Ensure your bedding is comfortable and supportive
8) Have a warm shower or bath before bedtime
9) Eliminate blue light for at least 90 minutes before retiring. That means setting down your screens or, at least, using a blue light filter
11) Drink tea and carry on as the English say. This is one of my go-to’s. I find it brings me into mindfulness, provides some much-needed space and simply works well.
If you have any tips for what helps you to sleep well, share them in the comments. We’d love to hear!
I love, love meditation! This simple practice has been profoundly beneficial in my life in a multitude of ways. I believe it is one of the best strategies to calm stress and improve the quality of our lives, relationships and health. Meditation has also been shown to boost our immune system.
The study Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation showed that “Mindfulness meditation produces demonstrable effects on brain and immune function.” The intervention involved an 8-week training program and resulted in significant increases in antibody titres. That’s good news given our current world challenges.
The funny thing is that many people misunderstand meditation. They worry that they can’t empty their minds. That’s they’ve tried it before and somehow failed. But that’s not what meditation is about. Stopping the monkey chatter is nigh on impossible, so let go of that aim.
I’m currently reading A Monk’s Guide To Happiness and in it author Gelong Thubten explains that there are three parts in meditation: being present, losing awareness, then coming back to presence. He believes the losing awareness, the part we think, run off with our thoughts, and then consider that we have failed, is in fact a crucial part of success. It allows us to notice and then decide to bring ourselves back to presence.
In a way it’s like running. Every step we take places propels us forward into a fall and it’s only by being aware of the change that we can catch ourselves with the other leg.
If you are new to meditation, try a verbal guided form. This guidance will remind you to come back to the now, to let your monkey mind relax, to calm the inner storm. There are many available online for free. You might also like to use a tool. For example, focusing on the breath or a candle can lead to greater states of mediation and ease.
I often use my phone, earplugs and a meditation app. I have chronic pain so I lay on my lovely bed, sometimes with a hot water bottle (or two if I’m being honest). Some sessions, I think… A lot. Others I don’t. When I think, I am able to strength my coming back to presence muscles. Either way, even moments of calm bred relaxation and peace.
Please, let go of judgment. Like the weather, some days will be filled with clouds. Others, clear blue sky. Mother Earth hasn’t gotten it wrong because clouds cover the blue beyond them. Neither have you when you ponder during meditation.
As the quote I shared at the beginning of this article said, exposure to chronic stress can suppress immune function and increase susceptibility to infection. It is unhelpful, harmful, for PCOS and covid 19.
So I’d love this article to be a work in progress, to evolve and expand. Let me know what you feel should be added, or any questions you have. I will then dive into the research and write more. I hope this will provide you with evidence-based strategies to support yourself and your loved ones through the covid 19 epidemic. I also hope that this knowledge will, in and of itself, lower your stress.
Stay safe, stay well, stay sensible,
xx Dr. Rebecca
The PCOS Expert
Chiropractor & Bestselling author of Conquer Your PCOS Naturally
P.S. If you need a space safe during these challenging times, join us in our complimentary Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/conqueryourpcos/ Stress can worsen PCOS signs and symptoms, but more than this, we need to support each other in what are, for many, trying times.