By Juliana Gerena, Psy.D. (CEO & Clinical Director at Gerena & Associates), Morgan Branco, M.A., (Therapist at Gerena & Associates), Sydney Shear, B.A.,(Gerena & Associates)
The mind-body connection is often taken for granted. Yet, during a major national crisis, as the COVID-19 pandemic is creating, when families attempt to manage their “new normal” while facing adversity or distress, children and caregivers manage by trying to stay busy, getting creative, and staying mentally and physically healthy. This type of hardship offers a great opportunity to see how our physical health affects our mental health. During stressful times, one may have trouble with memory. When the stress hormone, cortisol, is released, it can kill neurons in the part of the brain that create memories, which is why distressing situations are often harder to remember. Too much cortisol may also decrease serotonin, the hormone that makes one happy. A decrease in serotonin can make one feel anger and pain, increase aggressive behavior and/or lead to depression.
Another example of the mind body connection is when boredom, not hunger, may make one go for that extra bag of chips. When we are bored, our mind doesn’t register that we aren’t hungry, like it might if we were keeping busy and practicing our normal routine. Similarly, sometimes the more one sleeps, the more tired one feels. During a crisis, we may be tempted to sleep more so as to pass the time. While catching up on rest is a good thing,too much rest can be counterproductive.
In times of distress, sticking to a routine can help keep everyone in the family physically and mentally healthy. You can absolutely let yourself and your kids sleep in a little later but try to instill a consistent timeframe to wake up and start the day to enhance productivity and mood. Waking up at a decent hour is the first step. Planning the day home with your family is the challenging
next step. Get creative, stay active, and spend quality time with each other. These are things that we often take for granted and can practice during tough times. Exercising can reduce stress and anxiety and improve mood and productivity by releasing endorphins and serotonin,which is another example of the mind-body connection.The mind and body are powerful allies and in times of distress you want to ensure they become best friends. Thoughts and emotions can affect how you feel physically, and it can be easy to find yourself in a “slump” while being cooped up at home. There are many ways for you and your family to strengthen the mind-body connection and get creative to stay “sane” during difficult times.
Here are ten helpful ideas to stay safe and physically and mentally healthy during times of distress:
1. Cook and bake healthy meals together.
2. Complete a puzzle or a Rubik’s cube.
3. Chess, checkers, or card games.
4. Arts and crafts.
5. Learn a foreign language.
6. Meditate! Try lying down with your eyes closed, palms up and focusing on your breath. Or spend 20 minutes sitting cross-legged and repeat a soothing word to yourself in your head. Or imagine yourself in a “happy place” while listening to soothing music.
7. Write letters to people, especially thank you notes.
8. Clear out the family room and camp indoors with blankets, popcorn and movies.
9. Write a book with your family. Pick a character and each member writes a chapter about their adventures. Read aloud to each other.
10. Indoor treasure hunt.
Here are five exercises you and your family can do together to stay active:
1. Bear Crawls: Palms and feet flat on the floor, arch your back so that you look like a momma bear. Race your kids across the room. Add some fun by having a competition! Who can “roar”
2. Star Jumps: Stand tall and then explosively jump into the air, expanding your legs and your arms so that you look like a large “X” in the air. At the height of the jump, be sure to exclaim, “I’m
3. Sit Ups: A classic. Feel free to tuck your toes under the sofa or coffee table if you need a bit of support, or, ask your kids to hold your feet and vice versa.
4. Lunges: Step forward and bend your front knee to a 90-degree angle. The goal is to have your back knee touch the ground without letting your front knee extend past your toes. To make it
harder, carry (small) children in each arm and lunge as you walk across the room.
5. Planks: Elbows on the floor and balanced on your tiptoes, go eye-to-eye and see who can last the longest. For fun, ask your smallest child to sit on your back and see how long you last.