Stress & anxiety in times of COVID-19
It comes as no surprise that I am currently seeing a surge in people presenting with acute symptoms of stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety formulas are one of the most common requested prescription. Isolation, working from home, employment uncertainty and home schooling are no doubt taking their toll on our mental health. This cannot be ignored and all supportive treatments need to be offered including nutritional and naturopathic.
SYMPTOMS OF STRESS AND ANXIETY
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterised by persistent and uncontrollable excessive life worries (e.g. about family, health, finances, and the future) and other nonspecific physiological symptoms such as fatigue, poor concentration, restlessness, muscle tension, sleep disturbances and digestive disturbances.
Stress is a normal state of “arousal” it can be positive in the sense of enjoyment and triumph. Or it can be negative when it leads to distress. Or when the balance is lost and causes deterioration of our mental and physical state.
Stress is often associated with high cortisol levels. Cortisol is often referred to be a negative physical state. However, it does have its survival purpose. Low cortisol levels are often associated with chronic fatigue, mood disorders and ADHD.
Chronic stress can lead to a host of symptoms including: hypertension, elevated blood glucose levels, IBS, weight gain, urinary tract infections, reduced immunity and adrenal fatigue/burnout.
The following recommendations may be used in conjunction with other medical interventions:
NUTRITIONAL SUPPORT FOR STRESS AND ANXIETY
Glycemic Control: fluctuating blood sugar levels only aggravate symptoms of stress and anxiety. Consider reducing your sugar and refined carbohydrates. This doesn’t mean that you need to go paleo or keto. Just cut back on the extra toast, crackers, sugary treats and instant noodles. Blood glucose levels that are stable support the nervous system phenomenally. Consider that you are not always trying to pick yourself up, your food intake should give you sustenance for your physical and mental output.
Alcohol intake: this issue is a difficult one for many. The isolating nature of COVID-19 has one constant companion, the bottle. I strongly urge and support my clients to aim for alcohol free days and on the drinking, days keep to a 2-drink limit. Alcohol depletes our nutrients required for a healthy nervous system. Nutrients including B group vitamins, magnesium and zinc are depleted by alcohol. All of which are in greater demand in times of stress and anxiety.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s): foods such as oily fish, egg yolk, olive oil, hemp, chia, nuts and seeds are rich in EFA’s. They are often referred to as food for the brain. They are also good to reduce your sugar cravings and support the nervous system.
Easy to digest foods: one benefit of been at home is that food can be stewing away as you work. Slow cooked foods are warm, comforting and easy to digest. A slow cooked beef burgundy is much easier on an anxious gut than takeaway. Make sure foods are free from aggravating ingredients such as flavour enhancers and trans- fats.
Schedule meals: a common complaint about working from home is that the day just doesn’t end. Breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner is in front of the computer.
Schedule meals and take time to eat them, join the family and enjoy eating together. This keeps everyone including kids in good eating habits. Having meal routine supports stress and anxiety as the body has time to rest and digest. It doesn’t have to be hours, even 30 minutes is better than nothing.
SUPPLEMENTATION TO SUPPORT STRESS AND ANXIETY
Recently I have had several clients seek supplementation who previously would never feel the need or not believe in their efficacy. This is a sign of acute stress and anxiety. When someone previously has not experienced symptoms but can identify that not sleeping and feeling angry as not their usual state of being.
Supplementation can support acute and chronic mood disorders. For individuals who are prescribed psychiatric medication such as SSRI’s, SNRI’s, tetracycline antidepressants or other medications it can really improve their quality of life outcomes by reduce side effects commonly experienced.
The following supplements are recommended to support stress and anxiety:
B-Vitamins: in time of stress our demand for B vitamins increase in particular B5 (pantothenic acid). B vitamins support our energy synthesis and our adrenal function. B vitamins support healthy functioning nervous system. Taking a B complex is recommended as they do work synergistically.
Vitamin C: is crucial in times of stress, the body does not make its own vitamin C and it oxidizes quickly. Vitamin C lowers cortisol levels and increases our white blood cells. This is why people often get sick while they are stressed.
Vitamin D: I am really concerned that due to the isolating nature of COVID-19 many people are becoming housebound. Additional vitamin D is recommended, especially if there has been a history of low levels.
Magnesium: is a vital co-factor in our energy production, nervous system function and glucose regulation. If you are chomping through the pantry in isolation it might be time to up your magnesium. Taken in a complex with chromium is recommended for those who are experiencing glycemic imbalances.
Zinc: serum deficiencies of common in people who suffer with mood related disorders. Studies have shown that zinc supplementation in conjunction with SSRI’s improved treatment outcomes. Zinc is also beneficial in boosting the immune system.
EPA/DHA: omega fatty acids are beneficial for cognitive function, nervous system and immune function. Studies show supplementation of EPA/DHA reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. The standard Australian diet is deficient in omega fatty acids, therefore supplementation is often required.
Tip: if you suffer mouth ulcers in times of stress; supplement with a B complex, vitamin C and Zinc. Mouth ulcers should reduce in severity and frequency.
Some simple suggestions to reduce stress and improve wellbeing during this challenging time include:
Go outside: we are not in complete lockdown here in Australia. I strongly recommend taking your laptop outside and getting some vitamin D while you work.
Exercise: gyms are closed but walking, running cycling, yoga and any other social distancing activity is still recommended.
Screen time: we tell our children about it now we need to do the same. Set parameters around no devices. During meals, not before such time in the morning and not after a certain time at night.
Check in: we are all becoming a bit zoomed out. Sometimes a simple message or a phone call can make more of a difference. As we reach out we are not isolating.
If you or anyone you know needs help:
Lifeline on 13 11 14
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636
Headspace on 1800 650 890