By Luann Fortune, PhD & Shannon McLain Sims, PhD
Self-care is vital for wellness and quality of life in normal times and has special meaning in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. While science races to find a cure, a vaccine, and better testing, self-care has never been so important. First and foremost, we all need to take care and precautions to minimize infection. The Center for Disease Control provides regularly updated guidelines on reducing risk. In addition, self-care routines can help manage the increased burden of emotional trauma and avoid burnout, especially for front line workers. In addition to adequate sleep, a balanced diet, and various supplements and vitamins, mind-body practices to mitigate stress can be beneficial (Alschuler et al., 2020).
What about the role of the mind in protecting the body? Healthcare workers and the many who provide us essential services in these challenging times suffer the added burden of perpetual fight-or-flight response. Those on the front lines need to adopt vigilance, but also stay calm. The ever-present threat of infection results in increased anxiety. Stress and anxiety not only affect the quality of daily life, but can impact immune response and result in weariness, and eventually, burnout. Burnout, emotional exhaustion, and empathy depletion are all related.
Previous research indicates that integrative practices can support prevention and healing. Early research specific to COVID-19 found that mind-body practices that promote stronger immunity can reduce infection risk and promote recovery in those who become infected (Liu et al., 2020). Many mind-body practices that have already been demonstrated to support wellness can be used to manage stress and calm body-mind-spirit.
With many being forced to self-isolate, either away from family or within their own homes, options are appearing to help support a calm and relaxed state through online offerings. Mind-body techniques and practices offer a rich tool box of in-the-moment remedies for emergency relief. Many online resources are available to help mitigate the strain of isolation. Even a few minutes a day spent to reverse hyper-stress can have long term effects. Some of these are also offered live, providing the added benefit of connection and community to help deal with the disruption in social support.
One such example is a daily program provided by Saybrook University as a free public service. The faculty of the Department of Mind-Body Medicine offer live mindfulness meditation sessions each weekday at 12:15pm ET/9:15am PT. The audio podcasts are also available at https://saybrookinsights.buzzsprout.com/ The 15 minute guided interludes are open to anyone globally and can be joined live at http://ow.ly/zfcg50yVuAt.
Hopefully, the COVID-19 pandemic crisis will soon be a chapter in our personal and collective histories. Refining our self-care practices and strategies will remain important to our continued health and well-being. Building a bigger ensemble of mind-body practices can become one reward we carry forward.
Alschuler, L., Weil, A., Horwitz, R., Stamets, P., Chiasson, A. M., Crocker, R., & Maizes, V. (2020). Integrative considerations during the COVID-19 pandemic. EXPLORE, 26. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2020.03.007
Liu, K., Chen, Y., Wu, D., Lin, R., Wang, Z., & Pan, L. (2020). Effects of progressive muscle relaxation on anxiety and sleep quality in patients with COVID-19. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 39, 101132. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2020.101132
Luann Fortune, PhD, LMT is on faculty at Saybrook University in the Department of Mind-Body Medicine, where she also coordinates the specialization in Mindful Leadership in Healthcare. Her research focuses on integrative health and wellness.
Shannon McLain Sims, PhD holds degrees Mind-Body Medicine from Saybrook University’s College of Integrative Medicine and Health Sciences where she currently serves as a post-doctoral fellow.