“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength. ” – Charles Spurgeon
April 8, 2020
At the first of every month, I sit with my monthly dry erase marker and plan out my family’s month. In the calendar I include birthdays, special events, work schedules, sports games, doctors appointments, meetings, and special dates. Everyone in the house can see it. We frequently check it to make sure there are no conflicts before we make plans. It is always filled with all of the things important enough to make it to the calendar. This month when I sat down to make the calendar, the only thing I wrote were birthdays and anniversaries. With a future so uncertain, there was not much else to write and the blank calendar was serving as a reminder. The truth is it’s hard to live day to day without thinking about tomorrow. It’s weird. We all feel it. Listening to the news and scrolling through social media doesn’t help – in fact it makes it worse!
I wanted to share with you some proven ways that we can manage the days ahead.
In 2016, Neuroscientists from the University of Pittsburgh found pathways that connected the cerebral cortex (where all of our thoughts are) with the adrenal medulla (which is what dictates how our bodies respond to perceived stress). Their studies proved that there is indeed a mind-body connection. Not only that, but they also realized the reason that meditation and certain exercises like yoga and pilates can alter the way our bodies respond to stress. They also found that many areas of the cerebral cortex controlled the adrenal medulla, but the most important ones were the ones that came from the motor areas of the cortex and the ones that were involved in awareness and affect. Another interesting finding was that when people were asked to re-imagine or think about a stressful event, the messages sent to the adrenal medulla were just as powerful as the actual events.
So, why am I telling you all of this? Well, I am worried. This is the first time in history that we are living through such a tragic event with 24/7 news coming at us in all directions. If what these scientists found in their studies is true, every time we read, listen to or experience the stress of the current situation, our bodies are sent into a state of fight or flight mode and this in turn affects not only how we feel but our physical state as well.
The great news is that because we know all of this, we actually have real ways that we can deal with stress, not only today but always.
- We need to manage how much time we allow our thoughts to be focused on a stressful situation. Worrying about every news story or every facebook post is not changing the future or helping anyone. In fact as the scientists in the study showed, each time you think about it, you are hurting yourself with the same intensity as the first time. So while you want to stay informed, limiting the amount to time worrying is most important.
- If you change your thoughts about the situation, you will change your body’s response. Start your day with gratitude. I know it sounds corny, but when you stop to be thankful for the things you do have, you remind your mind and your body that not everything around you is negative or scary. Take the time to write down 3 things you are grateful for and be as specific as possible.
- Meditate for at least 10 minutes a day everyday. If you have never meditated or think it sounds crazy, I challenge you to try it for 7 days, every day and see how you feel. My favorite apps are Headspace and Calm.
- Move! Movements like Yoga and Pilates, or anything that relaxes you can send positive messages to your body too! So make a commitment to yourself to move everyday. Do not be rigid with your schedule, just do something that makes you feel good that day. Just do it, even when you don’t want to. Get your kids to join too!
- Write down 3 things every night that you want to accomplish tomorrow. When you wake up in the morning, take a look at your list and just get those things done. Simple things are important.
The little things you do every day will help to keep you healthy. You are in control of what you chose to think about or not think about. Pretending to be happy is not the answer. Shifting your thinking to other things, is. Moving your body in a relaxing way will not only help your body but it will also help your mind.
So there you have it, real scientific proof that we can control more than we think. Please take care of yourselves, remember that you matter, what you do everyday matters not only to you but to your kids too.
Share with a friend – We are stronger together!
A day at a time!
-Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.
*Richard P. Dum, David J. Levinthal, Peter L. Strick. Motor, cognitive, and affective areas of the cerebral cortex influence the adrenal medulla. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016.