This morning I was exchanging pleasantries with my neighbor about our dogs and discussing how each of us is holding up with COVID Chaos.
She’s a doctor, so I mentioned to her how it’s been hard navigating the COVID-19 era with my fibromyalgia.
For those unfamiliar, fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread pain, along with fatigue and sleep issues. As of those are similar to early symptoms for COVID, it’s all been a little confusing.
“You and everyone else,” she said.
Her practice has been overwhelmed with people experiencing COVID symptoms even when no virus was present.
“It’s the stress,” she said.
For a minute I was surprised, but…of course. Stress is energy, and unless we manage it properly, stress stays stuck within our bodies, leading to dis-ease or, in my case, fibromyalgia.
So in this time of angst, it’s no wonder everyone is experiencing symptoms of ill health. After all, we as a society don’t have the best coping mechanisms. That extra glass of wine, a few too many handfuls of ‘healthy’ granola, nonstop monitoring of the news and our social feeds…these common “drugs” of choice, while seemingly innocuous compared to actual drugs, in fact makes things so much worse.
At first, they give a bump of soothing: alcohol calms our nerves, carbs give us a spike of happy chemicals, and information-seeking gives us knowledge and empowerment. But then each one’s after-effects — hangovers, blood sugar drops, despair about the state of world, and comparing yourself to other people’s curated realities — quickly compound the stress, and then, ultimately, dis-ease within our bodies.
You’re probably thinking, “Thanks Bets…super helpful. I wouldn’t be doing those things if I didn’t need something to calm me down.” I get it. Deeply.
Even knowing how bad these things are for me, I find myself mindlessly watching the news on loop, Instagram-lurking without noticing, and all the while snacking on something “carby.”
Our fear drives us to engage in these unwanted behaviors because they are quick fixes to soothe and avoid the feelings we don’t want to feel — such as worry and alarm about the ambiguity of the coronavirus crisis, and the tense political climate.
The good news is that we can do something to counterbalance this dynamic. We just need to make positive choices that are as alluring and accessible as the quick-fix ones we know so well.
Here’s what I mean:
CARBO-RAMPAGE & WINE MATH – When I find myself taking too many trips to the kitchen, I make sure it’s stocked with things like cold, crunchy carrots, roasted salted almonds, dark chocolate and packaged seaweed.
These are things I love and that give me the fix of eating without the fallout of feeling depleted or mad at myself. This is particularly essential for me because carbs highly exacerbate fibromyalgia.
I myself am not a drinker, but based on my clients and friends who are, and who can’t live without their glass of wine, there are some good alternatives to adding more glasses to your day when the stress piles up.
Ideally, people would jump on their exercise bike or take a walk, but sometimes that’s a bridge too far and too slow. So, things like CBD bomb baths, pot tea and CBD gummies help people manage stress without adding sugar to their daily intake, which exacerbates both stress and ill-health.
NEWS OVERLOAD – When I catch myself deep-diving on news–which aims to keep you on the hook for hours, building up the stimulation with horror stories about the coronavirus and political mudslinging, yet offer no resolution, just more stress and commercials for scary-sounding drugs — I switch to watch an engaging but non-anxiety-inducing show that has at least some resolution in each episode.
Law & Order is always a good choice. It’s just the right amount of stress. You’re not usually worried about someone being rescued from a serial killer (as in an episode of Criminal Minds) and it’s all wrapped up in a neat bow within a TV-hour.
SOCIAL MEDIA BINGE – When I catch myself on an Instagram or FB bender, I shut down the app and switch to reading a book on my phone. Currently I’m reading my dear friend Alison Winn Scotch’s new book, Cleo McDougall Regrets Nothing.
It gives me a sense of excitement, as well as the same physical experience of being on my phone. But I don’t find myself comparing myself to others, and then feeling crappy the way I do after a social media scroll. Instead, I’m enveloped in a good story that will wrap up nicely, giving me and my psyche the resolution we all need right now.
Of course, everyone’s coping mechanisms are different. And if your idea of managing stress is settling into a meditation, bless you.
But if you’re like the rest of us, before you find yourself circling the drain on your way to engage in less-than-helpful activities, set yourself up for success by putting some soothing and appealing alternative options into place.
Let me know how you do!
Betsy Rosenfeld Vargas is a certified Fearless Living Life Coach. Raised in Los Angeles, she attended Marlborough School and was the President of Cuisine à Roulettes at St. Vincent Meals on Wheels. She holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MA from USC.