For most of us, we’re going through one of the biggest times of crisis in our lives. People are dealing with a health crisis, economic crisis, relationship crisis, child-care crisis, and more. And the rampant stress is hijacking our brains. So how do you gain control when you lose a job, a loved one dies, or when illness hits? I wanted to know what we can do to soothe that stress and calm the brain in spite of all the craziness that’s happening in the world right now, so I turned to Dr. Jennifer Love, one of the board-certified psychiatrists at Amen Clinics who is also the author of When Crisis Strikes: 5 Steps to Heal Your Brain, Body, and Life from Chronic Stress, which comes out December 29, 2020.
I interviewed Dr. Love on a Facebook live recently and it was so popular that I wanted to share some of the highlights with you here. Here are 5 of the biggest takeaways from our conversation that you can use today to start feeling calmer and less stressed.
1. Stop the doom scrolling.
So many people are looping endlessly through social media feeds, which are flooded with negativity. Dr. Love calls this “doom scrolling,” and that is such a perfect term for it. Yes, our brains are wired to seek information because we’re wired for safety. It’s one thing to be informed, but you can hit a point of no return. “Every day I have conversations with patients, and they tell me about watching the news and how stressful it is,” says Dr. Love. She advises her patients to limit exposure to the news and social media.
2. Create a positive escape.
To counteract all the doom and gloom, create a space on social media that is a source of positivity. Dr. Love says she created a secret Instagram account where it’s all beautiful images from artists and designers—her personal passions. “It’s all eye candy, nothing stressful, and it makes me feel good,” she says. Create your own doom-free space with things that lift you up (like my Facebook, Instagram (@tanaamen), and YouTube pages, the Brain Warrior’s Way podcast, and more).
3. Think like a scientist.
These days, everything has been politicized and there’s so much blaming and shaming that keeps people locked into their beliefs. It makes people less willing to listen to others or have an intelligent discussion about issues. It’s as if you’re starting with a belief and simply looking for evidence to support that belief. “When you think this way, you’re unable to take in scientific facts or information,” says Dr. Love. And ultimately, coming across anything that doesn’t feed your beliefs makes you anxious, angry, and irritable. Dr. Love, who is a former chemist, encourages thinking like a scientist instead. In science, you come up with a hypothesis then test it and the results either prove or disprove the hypothesis. “Try not to be attached to the outcome,” she says. Like a scientist, let the results inform you.
4. Be aware this may be the new normal.
When the pandemic started, we all assumed it would be a short interruption then our lives would go back to normal. Wrong! Some of the not-so-healthy habits you picked up when the pandemic started may be adding to your stress. A recent study showed that 1 in 3 Americans admitted to drinking while working from home during the pandemic. In her own patients, Dr. Love is seeing people who increased their alcohol intake and are now experiencing a drinking problem. “We’re already 5 months into this pandemic, so we really need to take stock of the coping strategies we’re using,” she says. Whether you’re having too many Quarantinis or eating ice cream and doughnuts “because it’s a pandemic,” you need to stop thinking of this as a temporary green light to take a break from your healthy lifestyle.
5. Adopt tiny habits that help.
Little changes can make a big difference in how you feel. If you want to reduce stress and anxiety, introduce helpful tiny habits into your daily life. Try supplements, such as saffron, which has strong evidence showing it promotes positive moods and helps you cope with anxious feelings. And consider supplements that boost the immune system. Dr. Love says that when you’re under a lot of stress—and who isn’t in this time of COVID-19?—it can dampen the immune system. “It can lead to thyroid issues, and people can develop new allergies to foods, in addition to being more vulnerable to illness,” she says. That all adds up to even more stress. To shore up her own immune system, she’s taking vitamin D, curcumins, and zinc.