As COVID-19 continues to be active in our community and around the world, it is easy to get caught up in the stress and its negative impact on our health. Stress manifests not only through our thoughts and emotions but creates a cascade of effects on our physiology and physical body.
The chronic release of the stress hormone cortisol may suppress immune function, disrupt sleep and digestion, contribute to anxiety and depression, and increase the risk of heart disease and food sensitivities, as well as our perception of pain.
In times like these, it is of the utmost importance to maintain our own grounding and internal stability to help weather the storm successfully. A holistic approach incorporates mind, body, and spirit.
We cannot control the world around us, but we can control our mental response to it. We have the power of choice. In that space between our observation and our response, we can either choose to become irritated and upset or adapt to the situation with a positive outlook. Practices such as deep breathing, meditation, qi gong, tai chi, and yoga require us to be in the present moment, which provides access to this process. A daily practice becomes a way of life as it develops new neural pathways that improve cognitive performance and overall health. There are many online resources, videos, and apps that provide instruction. Meditation apps, for example, include Headspace, Calm, and Insight Timer.
The physical body is both an expression of our stress as well as a causative factor. An acute injury that occurred years ago may continue to suspend the anatomy in the pattern of trauma and produce pain or dysfunction at the site of injury or elsewhere in the body. This may physically compress, irritate, and overstimulate the nerves of the sympathetic nervous system extending from the spine, increasing the impact of stress throughout the body.
Old injuries may also derail the calming, healing, and anti-inflammatory function of the parasympathetic nervous system that is based in the cranium and sacrum. Chronic subtle deviations from normal may do the same until discovered and corrected. Osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) is an effective, hands-on approach to diagnose and treat these dysfunctions and assist in restoring normal physiology.
Our spiritual health is also of vital importance in times of stress. We are not alone; we are connected to something greater than ourselves. It is in this connection and relationship where we may find strength and faith.
Prayer and religious practices provide this, but do not resonate with everyone. Another way to access this is to spend time in the natural world. Be present with the love, beauty, and intelligence of nature. Sit in the grass and feel the sun. Enjoy the colors and fragrance of a flower. Fall in love with the mystery that creates and sustains life. This is a safe place where we can rest and heal.
Sometimes even our best efforts at managing stress fall short. There are many possible root causes of this, including but not limited to lyme disease and other tick-borne infections, mold and environmental toxins, electromagnetic hypersensitivity, diet, nutrient deficiencies and genetics. Partner with a physician who is trained in functional medicine to diagnose and treat these conditions.
With all of the challenges brought about by this pandemic, we have also been given a tremendous gift: a pause in our otherwise busy lives. Take advantage of this opportunity to evaluate what is most important to you, and shift as needed to stay aligned with your truth and inner calling.
We are not powerless; we are powerful. Find calm in the storm and rise above the tide.
Carmine Van Deven, D.O., is an osteopathic physician providing personalized care with osteopathic manipulative medicine and functional medicine in Wynnewood. He sees patients of all ages and treats a wide range of conditions. To learn more, go to www.drvandeven.com.