Coping with Anxiety and Stress During the Coronavirus Crisis

Anxiety levels are understandably high due to concerns about the coronavirus. Dr. Doni Wilson suggests some natural remedies and stress recovery activities.
Coronavirus anxiety is real, and being in a constant state of stress has the potential to weaken our immune system. Here are some tips for dealing with the anxiety and fear of COVID-19.

Anxiety levels are high right now. The coronavirus is affecting people around the globe, leaving no one untouched:

People are losing jobs and income…
Families are learning how to restructure and educate at home…
Everyone is confined to their own space…
People are sick and yes, some are dying.

All of these—fear of the unknown, financial or health concerns, new schedules—together or individually are more than valid reasons to cause fear and anxiety… and maybe even grief.

I’m certainly not immune to these same emotions. In recent weeks, I’ve noticed my anxiety levels have been higher than normal, as well. I often wake with racing thoughts and concerns. I worry about delayed shipping and increased demand affecting whether or not shipments of vitamins and supplements will get to patients or not—especially in this time when stress recovery and a strong immune system is so important. (Luckily I have an amazing team who is staying on top of this and we have products arriving every day.)

What I’ve learned over the years through my research into stress recovery and personal experience is that when we stop to take a look at the bigger picture… as to WHY the anxiety is popping up… we can help quell our worries.

So let’s talk about it: COVID-19… anxiety… all of it. But most importantly, the natural approaches to support our bodies to recover from stress—now and in the future.

How Does Stress Trigger Anxiety?

Often when we’re worried about something, in reality it’s our elevated adrenaline and cortisol levels that are triggering our brain to look for something to worry about. It’s a human characteristic that we all experience during times of high pressure or stress.

By now, I don’t have to tell you that stress is necessary for all of us each day—and that includes cortisol and adrenaline production. The difference, however, is that on a normal day, cortisol levels are higher, gradually decreasing throughout the day to allow us to manage our tasks and responsibilities until it’s time to lay down for a good night’s sleep.

With moments of stress—be it the current Coronavirus pandemic, a loved one’s health, marital issues, or sweeping life changes—our stress response triggers a ‘fight or flight’ response.

From there, adrenaline makes our hearts race and brains think faster, readying us to respond to anything that may happen. This is helpful in life or death situations—but damaging to our bodies to experience on a daily basis.

Anxiety and the Effects of Imbalanced Cortisol

When our bodies recognize stress, our brains signal to the adrenal glands to make nonstop cortisol. This has a devasting ripple effect throughout our bodies as it communicates to our different systems. Even the slightest imbalance in cortisol can cause digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, immune system flares, and issues with our nervous system such as sleep, headaches, and yes, anxiety.

Not only that, but once stress affects our digestion, we don’t digest food well, leaky gut increases, and our gut bacteria are thrown off. This perfect storm becomes an internal stress signal back to our brain, creating a vicious cycle of stress. This is referred to as the Gut-Brain Axis. It is real. And it can be stopped with careful attention to stress recovery and healing leaky gut (more on that below).

Disrupted Neurotransmitters

Another important fact you need to be aware of is that when stress affects our nervous system, it disrupts our neurotransmitter levels. The calming neurotransmitters, serotonin and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), “buffer” the impact of stress and adrenaline in our bodies—similar to the role of shock absorbers in a car. When we are stressed, we use up GABA and serotonin faster than our bodies can make it.

With depleted or imbalanced serotonin and GABA, we’ll feel every bump along our road of anxiety.

To find out if your serotonin and/or GABA levels are low, I suggest doing a urine neurotransmitter panel (this is included in my Adrenal Recovery Program). This way we can know exactly whether your stress buffer is depleted and make a strategy to build it back up again.

All neurotransmitters are made from nutrients in our bodies – and serotonin is (mainly) made in our intestines. So all we need is the right precursor nutrients, and your body can make more on its own. 5-HTP is the precursor nutrient for serotonin, for example. This is referred to as Targeted Amino Acid Therapy, and is something I’ve specialized in for over 15 years.

If you are taking a medication that affects serotonin receptors (an SSRI or SSNRI) then don’t take 5-HTP unless approved by your practitioner, because it is possible to have too much serotonin. I work very closely with patients in that situation, so please don’t feel you need to do this alone.

It is possible to support GABA by taking it, and nutrients that support the production of GABA, in a supplement form. Find GABA support in my Dr. Doni’s Calming Support product.

How to Rebalance Cortisol and Adrenaline Levels

The good news is that we can actually take steps to reset and shift our stress response—with both daily activities and supplements.

I find that when we take a step back to put space between ourselves and the things we THINK we’re stressed out about, we can better understand the influence of stress on our bodies.

What’s causing my heart to race? Why can’t I sleep? Taking a bird’s eye view to these issues allows us to pull back the curtain and deal with it. Problems, current events, etc. become less scary when we understand what is causing our stress.

In essence, our awareness helps to calm us down. The alternative is allowing ourselves to get so caught up in the fear and anxiety that it snowballs into MORE fear and anxiety… sound familiar?

It’s also important to measure cortisol and adrenaline levels, particularly when stressed, to identify how our bodies respond to stress. Doing so allows us to know how stress is affecting YOUR body at this point in time, because it is different for each person.

Once we know your cortisol and adrenaline levels, we can then give your body the right support to bring those levels back to optimal. Our bodies can get stuck in stress mode, and over time that can lead to health issues because it turns on gene expression that leads to health issues.

But what you won’t often hear (especially from standard medical approaches) is that we can help our bodies to get out of stress mode. We can use stress recovery activities (see below), nutrients, herbs and peptides to bring cortisol and adrenaline back in line. Back to the level we need it to be to send healthy signals out to our cells, hormones, digestion, immune and nervous systems.

Ashwagandha, for example, is an herb that has been shown to decrease cortisol when it is high. Phosphatidylserine is a nutrient (from lecithin) shown to turn down the stress signal. Magnesium is a nutrient/mineral that is known to help process adrenaline and therefore decrease adrenaline levels in the body, which is especially helpful if you have gene variations that tend to keep your adrenaline high.

We are able to counteract the stress triggers, and instead, send calming signals to our body. Herbs such as Lemon Balm and Passion Flower are known to support the calming part of our nervous system, and by doing so, decrease the stress signal stimulating the adrenals in the first place.

Find these ingredients in my Dr. Doni’s Stress Support product, along with vitamin C and B vitamins which are essential for healthy adrenal function.

It’s up to us to give our body and brain the signals to show that it doesn’t have to be in a constant state of stress response. And this allows it to maintain a new healthy normal. So even when anxiety creeps in—because it will—we can shift and rebalance our response to recover faster.

Stress Recovery Activities

First, there is no shortage of activities we can do when feeling stressed to shift our response. By simply taking a step back and acknowledging that we’re feeling a certain way, we can choose at that moment to do something to improve it. To show your brain a different signal, consider activities such as:

  • Listening to music – check out Solfeggio frequencies for healing sounds
  • Journaling
  • Breathing
  • Going for a walk
  • Spending time with a pet
  • Watering your plants or gardening
  • Observing nature (preferably outdoors but through a window if necessary)
  • Talking to a friend or family member who brings you joy
  • Meditating – search on YouTube for free meditation sessions
  • Working out – whether that is walking up stairs, doing Pilates, or other form of strength & cardio
  • Dancing
  • Being creative
  • Embracing a loved one (studies say 20 seconds or more improves health!)

Secondly, during times of uncertainty, it’s important to establish regular routines. Consider sticking to a bedtime without exception. Plan healthy meals and when you’re going to eat each day. Starting with a protein shake can be a good way to start the day off with protein and nutrients. Set a specific time for your daily walk.

While you can allow for flexibility, knowing that some things are in your control can help. Just like babies, our bodies prefer consistent patterns, and it can actually decrease our stress by being able to anticipate when we eat, drink, move, relax, and sleep.

Sleep is essential during high-stress times—even if it feels impossible. It’s not just about the quantity. Getting the recommended 7.5+ hours of sleep each night is important, but actually going to bed and waking up at the same time each day helps to sync our bodies to the right circadian rhythm.

While we sleep, our bodies recover and heal, stress hormones rebalance, melatonin comes, and our brains are able to clear out (we literally have a glymphatic system that works while sleep). So even if you grew up in the time period when we thought sleep was a sign of weakness, now we know sleep is what keeps us going.

If you struggle with sleep, or find yourself waking in the night and can’t get back to sleep, I feel your pain and have lots of help for you. Start by reading my blog posts on sleep. Consider getting my book all about getting your sleep back on track (available as an ebook).

You can learn more about the vitamins I recommend for adequate sleep in my Facebook post here.

Nutrients and herbs that support sleep – including GABA and 5-HTP – plus melatonin, are included in my Dr. Doni’s Sleep Support product.

And if you are still struggling with sleep and would like my help, reach out to my office to join my Sleep Solutions Program so we can get this solved for you.

Natural Remedies to Take For Stress and Anxiety

I always recommend combining healthy activities and behaviors with vitamins and supplements* for optimal effects. With the right nutrients, herbs, and/or peptide therapies (more info below), we can help your body recover from stress; in doing so, the over (or under) production of cortisol and adrenaline.

If you’re anxious about the coronavirus or viruses in general:

cold, flu, infections, viruses, immune system, fever, chills, congestion, headaches, antibiotics, probiotics, immune support

Another recent tool I’ve added to my toolbox is peptide therapy. Peptides have the ability to signal at a genetic level to reset healthy function after exposure to stress. There are peptides available for each system or tissue in our bodies, so we choose peptides to match what your body needs.

Peptides may be able to not only extend our lives but to improve the quality of our lives while fending off viruses, infections, and stress. You can read a recent post about how peptides are helping us to become resilient to stress here.

What are peptides and what do they do for your skin, sleep, stress, and immune system?

I invite you to check out my book Stress Remedies to learn about more things you can do to help your body recover from stress from a lifestyle and dietary perspective.

Additionally, my 21-Day Stress Remedy Program comes with pea protein shakes, digestive enzymes, leaky gut healing powder, and probiotics to help establish a healthy gut biome, plus daily tips to help you recover from stress.

You can also choose to do the 21-Day Stress Remedy Program without the products but still obtaining all of the invaluable guidance to implement selfCARE, clean eating, adequate sleep, stress reducing activities and exercise.

To get started with my Stress Recovery Protocol, I’m offering my 7-day Stress Reset FREE now. Sign up here.

In Conclusion…

Ultimately stress exposure ages us faster, while also leading to conditions directly caused by oxidative stress such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and more. Anxiety is merely a signal or indicator—like a blinking red light on your dashboard—that you are experiencing too much stress.

Don’t forget, we are built for stress… but it’s up to us to respect our need for stress recovery at the same time.

–Dr. Doni
26th March 2020

*Please keep in mind that any and all supplements—nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other—should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.