How COVID Created a New Stress-Storm

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

November 22, 2021

A lot of people were stressed out before the pandemic. But since then, a lot more stressors have been imposed upon us. And I’m not just talking about the periods of lockdowns and quarantines.

Now it’s all of the day-to-day issues we have to deal with that we never would have imagined in a pre-pandemic world. Like taking the grandkids to Disney World, only to discover all the trams are shut down.

Since the parks reopened, you have to walk nearly a mile from the parking lots to the parks. And then back again after a full day on your feet visiting the Magic Kingdom or Epcot. That sounds more exhausting and frustrating than it does magical – especially when you’ve got the little ones with you.

Greg Rosalsky of NPR’s Planet Money is calling this “skimpflation.” In essence, we’re paying the same money – possibly even more – for the same services, but with lower levels of customer service.

I’ve experienced it myself. I had to call an airline about an upcoming flight. I was on hold for well over an hour. Thankfully, my flight wasn’t one of those hit by the massive waves of airline cancellations we’ve seen recently. Talk about adding stress to your life!

I’ve also stayed in a few hotels in the past several months. I’m usually exhausted by the time I check in, and it’s nice to have someone take care of the room for you. But now, if you stay for more than one night, they don’t make your bed, leave you clean towels or clean the room anymore.

And the places that used to include breakfast are no longer serving hot meals. You get a box of cereal, maybe a cup of yogurt and, if you’re lucky, an orange juice.

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So basically, customer service is gone. It might be about maximizing profit. It could be about having trouble getting staff. Or maybe they just can’t afford to add more staff right now. Who knows?

On top of that, we have all of the delays due to the supply chain and freight issues. Home improvement projects fall apart before they begin. You need a new roof, but shingles won’t be available for two or three months… then get delayed another two or three months.

A new appliance arrives in six months instead of two weeks. Even new furniture is hard to get on any sort of a schedule. It’s just one delay after another.

So we still have all of our old stressors, and now these get added on top of them. Plus we’re still recovering from the trauma of having our entire worlds turned upside down during the height of the pandemic.

How the heck do you deal with this kind of stress-storm?

Take Immediate Action!

Stress is cumulative. It builds up into a cascade. One single thing might not stress you out. A second thing might not either.

But as stressful events continue to occur, often one right after the other, you get more and more stressed out. When you hit overload, you might just “blow a gasket” over something as simple as a pizza delivered later than expected, cold and missing your favorite topping.

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So first things first.

Stop and breathe. A type of slow breathing, called mindful breathing, signals your nervous system to reduce cortisol and lower both your heart rate and blood pressure. Just inhale through your nose for a count of four and hold it to a count of seven. Then exhale through pursed lips for a count of eight.

Do this for about five minutes in the morning when your cortisol is high to get the day started off on the right foot. Then perform this breathing exercise whenever you’re feeling particularly stressed out. The best times to keep your stress cortisol levels in check and maintain lower stress reactions is when the diurnal surges take place…around 1 pm and 4 pm.

Get moving. Walk, ride your bike, swim or dance. Almost any type of physical activity can act as a stress reliever by boosting your levels of feel-good endorphins. You can even add some music to help distract from your worries.

Take a nature walk. If you live near a green area where there are a lot of trees and shrubs, take a nature walk for extra stress relief. Trees and plants emit natural essential oils known as phytoncides that decrease stress hormone levels. A walk in nature can reduce, and even “un-do,” the effects of recent stressful events.

Do something (anything!) else. When your worries get stuck inside of your head, putting your mind on another task can clear your thoughts and help lower stress levels. Read a book, wash the dishes, work in the garden or just listen to music. All of these activities can calm the mind and decrease stress.

Get intimate. Hug your partner. Hold hands. Exchange massages or make love. All of these forms of intimacy counteract the negative effects of stress by stimulating the release of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin, and reducing stress hormones.

Meditate, get a good night’s sleep and take some time for yourself. Massage therapy, a soak in the tub, acupressure and acupuncture are all great stress relievers. Many of my patients have achieved great success by taking up Yoga, Tai Chi or similar program to help maintain long-term stress relief.

I also recommend a few supplements.

Calm Your Nerves

When I’m stressed, I take rhodiola rosea for a few weeks. It’s an herb that helps your body naturally adapt to stress. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I recommend taking 100 to 300 mg of a standardized supplement one to three times per day.

Another favorite of mine is green tea. L-theanine, one of the key nutrients in tea, boosts levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA. GABA acts as a natural relaxant that works by muffling neuronal activity in the brain and soothing frazzled nerve cells.

It also has a profound effect on the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. These feel-good hormones produce a sense of well-being. And that can go a long way when it comes to getting through those stressful days.

Look for a green tea extract that’s standardized to contain a minimum of 40% catechins and 60% polyphenols.

It’s a new world out there, so just do everything you can to stay calm, cool and collected.

SOURCES:

Jerath R, Crawford MW, Barnes VA, Harden K. Self-regulation of breathing as a primary treatment for anxiety. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2015 Jun;40(2):107-15.

Ma X, Yue ZQ, Gong ZQ, et al. The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Front Psychol. 2017;8:874.

Marselle MR, Warber SL, Irvine KN. Growing Resilience through Interaction with Nature: Can Group Walks in Nature Buffer the Effects of Stressful Life Events on Mental Health?. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(6):986.

Park BJ, Tsunetsugu Y, Kasetani T, Kagawa T, Miyazaki Y. The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environ Health Prev Med. 2010 Jan;15(1):18-26.

Olsson EM, von Schéele B, Panossian AG. A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardised extract shr-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue. Planta Med. 2009 Feb;75(2):105-12.

Hidese S, Ogawa S, Ota M, et al. Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2362.

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