Social anxiety is one of the most common psychological disorders that is affecting more people than we may realize. It is important to be aware of you or people around you who may be showing variations of these symptoms. Extreme shyness is one way to think of social anxiety. Social anxiety exists along a continuum, ranging from normal shyness to high degrees of social anxiety. Social anxiety can be characterized by an intense fear of specific or all social settings. This usually also involves a heightened self-focus, and avoidance or escaping social situations. Sound familiar? This could be finding excuses not to attend a certain party or to socialize with certain people that make you feel uncomfortable. And if you do go to an uncomfortable event or surround yourself with people who make you feel this way, you may often leave early.
What wild times we are in right now! There is a lot of uncertainty, fear, stress and heightened emotions. It’s on everyone’s mind and many of you have questions – What’s next? What do I do? What’s going to happen?
Perhaps you are currently unemployed and financially concerned about the future. Perhaps you work in the health care industry and are having to respond on the frontline of this crisis. Perhaps you’re a mom at home with kids, trying desperately to keep them occupied but also trying to keep them safe and healthy.
Like you, I have been struggling to adapt to these extenuating circumstances. What made it easier for me was figuring out how I could take control of my situation and shift my focus away from panic to something more constructive. I’ve put together a list of 5 ways you can do the same.
1. Rethink your exercise routine
With social distancing in effect, many of us are having to rethink our exercise routines. Many studios and gyms have closed or restricted access. The beauty of technology is that these same businesses are adapting quickly and bringing the fitness to us! Businesses like Barre3 has a full library of online barre classes that you can do right from your living room with minimal equipment needed. Bliss Yoga in Etobicoke is offering virtual meditations everyday at noon and will have virtual yoga classes available next week. There are also a multitude of youtube channels offering workout videos like 5 Parks Yoga or apps like Nike Training Club for guided HIIT workouts with varying levels of equipment.
Having to avoid public spaces also presents another great opportunity; GET OUTSIDE! Toronto has a multitude of great parks (High Park, Cedarvale, Brickworks, the beach) where you can maintain your distance from others, get some exercise and it’s all completely free. There has been numerous studies to support that being in nature reduces cortisol levels (our stress hormone) as well as anxiety and depression. A 2015 study compared 90 minutes of walking in a natural setting vs. an urban setting and found that those in the natural setting had reduced rumination on negative thoughts. If you are ruminating over COVID-19, lace up your sneakers and head to your nearest hiking trail!
2. Stay connected
I’ve read some people calling for Social Distancing to be reframed as Social Solidarity. We are not isolating ourselves from each other out of desire to remove ourselves from our community; we are isolating ourselves to protect our community. We all have a moral obligation and responsibility to do our part to prevent the spread of this viral illness. But just because we can’t physically be with each other, doesn’t mean you can’t find other ways to stay connected to the ones you love. There may be many negative things about technology but one thing that it does well is allowing us to stay connected. I’ve been having group FaceTime chats with my friends and family and sending messages to check in on others.
It is crucial that we remember to connect with those that are the most vulnerable right now. The elderly and those with mobility issues are some of the more obvious answers here but also the new moms who may already feel isolated or those suffering from mental illness. Reach out. Offer to help. It is good for the soul.
3. Keep yourself occupied
Many people are finding themselves with some extra time to spare these days. There are two options for how some may be responding to this abundance of time: more time to panic scroll through news releases and social media OR an opportunity to constructively keep yourself busy.
• Pick up a creative project that you have put on hold
• Re-examine your 2020 goals and how you could use this time to get closer to meeting them
• Write letters to your family and friends
• Organize your closets
• Take this time to rest, relax and practice some self care!
Give yourself a time limit each day to read the news (credible sources only!) and after that, engage in activities that fill you up and nourish your soul.
4. Boost your immune system
Due to the novel nature of this viral pandemic, we are still uncertain on prevention and treatment options. That being said, we know that those most at risk for contracting coronavirus are those that are immunocompromised. Many of you may be feeling a lack of control with respect to protecting yourself against coronavirus. So why don’t we focus on what we can control?
Boosting your immune system is something we can all do to optimize our chances of staying healthy (in addition to social distancing and hand washing of course). Here are 5 things you can do today to boost your immune system:
- Get 8 hours of sleep per night – with restricted sleep, there is a 70% drop in an immune cell called Natural Killer cells. With restricted sleep, genes that control our immune system are turned off and genes that promote tumors, stress and chronic inflammation are turned on. Dr. Matthew Walker’s TED talk Sleep Is Your Superpower is a great resource on the importance of sleep.
- Eat a well-balanced diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, lean protein (fish, poultry, legumes), whole grains and healthy fats (extra virgin oil and nuts/seeds). Avoid or reduce processed foods, fried foods and refined sugar as these contribute to systemic inflammation in the body which impacts our immune function. Go Mediterranean! The Mediterranean diet has great evidence to reduce cardiovascular disease, metabolic disease, obesity and systemic inflammation.
- Reduce stress! Stress raises our cortisol levels which suppress our immune system. Meditate, go for walks in nature and read a book.
- Aim to get 150 minutes per week of vigorous exercise which are the current guidelines based on scientific evidence supporting the association of physical activity with health and well being, disease prevention and overall quality of life.
- Consult your Naturopathic Doctor about supplementing with zinc, selenium, n-acetyl cysteine, spirulina and elderberry which have some evidence to support their use to boost the immune response to RNA viruses like influenza and coronavirus.
5. Reach out for help
During these challenging times, it is normal to experience heightened anxiety, worry and depression. Don’t go it alone. Reach out to your psychotherapists or social workers for help with coping strategies and processing these heavy emotions. Reach out to your Naturopathic Doctor for help with calming your nervous system, boosting your immune system and ensuring you stay on track with your health goals. At Balanced Mind and Wellness, we have adapted our practice to be entirely virtual so that we can continue to serve our community during these difficult times. You can book your appointment today here.
Virtual care is convenient, secure and our safest option for delivery of care at times of social distancing. You can stay in your PJ’s, get cozy on your couch and get the care you need right from the comfort of your home.
If you would like more information on COVID 19 and the most up to date recommendations, visit the Public Health Agency of Canada website here.
Written by Dr. Laura MacLeod, Naturopathic Doctor at Balanced Mind and Wellness Inc.
To learn more about how we can support you during this challenging time, please contact us at 647-961-9669 or firstname.lastname@example.org.