Written by Dr. Olivia Rose, ND.
The past year has led to increased levels of stress and several negative impacts on mental wellbeing.1 With schools closed, families working from home together, economic hardship and anxiety around the health of yourself and your family, it is no wonder that people are struggling with their mental health. Additionally, public health directives which include restricting gatherings with friends and family as well as social distancing, can leave you feeling isolated and lonely, which may exacerbate mood disorders such as low mood and anxiousness.
The COVID-19 pandemic is beyond your control. Therefore, the one way to get through this time is to be flexible and kind to yourself while actively directing your focus to the caring and nurturing of your body and mind ( - and all of this may lead to more resilience.)
Resilience is the ability for bodies (physiological resilience) and minds (psychological resilience) to cope with trauma or crisis and then to return to pre-crisis status quickly.2 Resilience is not avoiding distress, but rather, adapting to stressful situations and ‘bouncing back’ after a stressful experience.2 We can build different types of resilience through different aspects of treatment.
Certain lifestyle changes may help you to create a more resilient body. When you eat a well-balanced diet, exercise, stretch, decrease alcohol intake and stop smoking, you are contributing to physiological resilience. If your body is well taken care of, there is a decreased susceptibility to diseases that can be brought on by stress.
In order to increase psychological resilience, one can practice mindfulness through meditation.3 Meditation practices have become quite popular in the last few years as treatments for stress and anxiety as well as for general improvements in health. Mediation can improve self-awareness.3 When individuals are more self-aware, it is easier to identify, and therefore modify, reactions to different situations. Meditation can be thought of as training for stressful events to build resilience. In a six-week study examining the impact of meditation on college students’ stress and anxiety levels, researchers found that the students' anxiety and stress scores decreased significantly while their total mindfulness scores increased significantly.3 The authors concluded that “adopting a mindfulness practice as little as once per week may reduce stress and anxiety.”3
Supplements to Consider
Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter which works in the brain to decrease the activity in the nervous system.4 GABA has a calming effect and can help reduce feelings of stress rapidly. A study which assessed the role of GABA in the adaptability to stress, found that those prescribed 28mg of GABA had a faster recovery after a stressful situation when compared to those who were given a placebo.4
5-HTP is another supplement which can aid in mood regulation during stressful times. 5-HTP is naturally produced in the body to make serotonin.5 5-HTP works by increasing the levels of serotonin in the body, using 5-HTP as a precursor.5 Serotonin is important for proper sleep, mood regulation, appetite and pain sensation.5 By increasing the levels of serotonin in the body, 5-HTP may help increase resilience to negative feelings and sleep changes found with low serotonin.5
Adaptogens are types of herbs that can be used as a tool to increase an individual’s resilience to stress by supporting the health of your adrenals. The adrenal system is responsible for the fight or flight response we often feel when stressed. When you are under high amounts of stress and anxiety, the adrenal system increases the release of chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol. Adaptogens work to restore balance in the adrenal system, to bring down the unnecessarily high levels of these chemicals under chronic periods of stress.
Rhodiola is a more stimulating adaptogenic herb that may improve energy, focus and can help boost your mood.6 Ashwagandha is a more relaxing adaptogenic herb which has several health benefits including lowering stress.7
Although the rate and intensity of stress may not subside anytime soon, there are ways to support yourself to create a more resilient body and mind to help cope. Implementing a combination of different types of treatments may help combat stress and increase your body’s ability to respond appropriately in stressful situations.
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- Palsson O, Ballou G, and Gray S. The U.S. National Pandemic Emotional Impact Report. Harvard Medical School. 2020.
- American Psychological Association. Building your resilience. 2012. Accessed Feb. 19, 2021. https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience
- Lemay V, Hoolahan J, Buchanan A. Impact of a yoga and meditation intervention on students' stress and anxiety levels. American journal of pharmaceutical education. 2019 Jun 1;83(5).
- Nakamura H, Takishima T, Kometani T, Yokogoshi H. Psychological stress-reducing effect of chocolate enriched with γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in humans: assessment of stress using heart rate variability and salivary chromogranin A. International journal of food sciences and nutrition. 2009 Jan 1;60(sup5):106-13.
- Natural Medicines. Consumer Information and Education. 5-HTP Monograph. Dec. 29 2020.