STRESS & YOUR BRAIN

By Jennifer Ulie-Wells, Ph.D. on Thursday, April 23, 2020


Why maintaining your mental wellness is crucial 

Jennifer Ulie-Wells, Ph.D., Please Pass The Love

The negative mental health effects of COVID-19 will far outlast the virus itself: A recent study released by a team at Iowa State University projects the increased rate of suicide worldwide due to increased unemployment and social isolation could be close to 50,000 individuals.

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That's why it's important during this time to prioritize self-care, because its really more like "self-preservation,"says Jennifer Ulie-Wells, Ph.D., executive director of Please Pass The Love.

When we are stressed, our bodies release a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol in small doses is manageable. However, the stress and anxiety related to the coronavirus outbreak, is likely causing additional amounts of cortisol to be released.

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"Suddenly we are overwhelmed with these high-levels of stress and our brains are drowning," said Ulie-Wells. "Cortisol becomes a toxin and it becomes corrosive to the brain."

The effects can be even more severe in children whose brains are still developing. The goal is to prevent this "overflow" from happening so we can prevent the long-term impacts of the trauma.

8 self-care activities that can help reduce cortisol:

1. Move your body outside: Sunshine produces vitamin D and other natural endorphins. Get some fresh air and exercise with a simple walk around the block.

2. Fill your brain with oxygen: Intentional breathing brings high levels of oxygen into our brains, allowing the release of cortisol. 

3. Avoid media: Set personal limits with social media and the news media to avoid additional stress.

4. Find healthy disruptions: Identify activities which help distract you from stress and anxious feelings, such as puzzles, games, reading or connecting with friends.

5. Make connections: Connect with friends and family via phone or video chat, write a letter, see someone from a six-foot distance.

6. Let go of the pressure: When it comes to balancing working from home and educating your children: "Sometimes it's going to look good enough, and sometimes it isn't."

7. It's OK to be selfish: Prioritize your mental wellness so that you can help your family stay safe and healthy. It's OK to set boundaries, take some me-time and say "No." 

8. Take a break: Additional stress and anxiety naturally causes more fatigue. Allow yourself more breaks than usual. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

JenJennifer Ulie-Wells, Ph. D., is the executive director of Please Pass The Love, a youth mental health initiative which provides training and support for educators, schools, and districts across Iowa.

This blog post was adapted from a discussion filmed on Facebook Live on April 20, 2020, as part of a "Mental Health Monday" series presented by the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative, Make It OK and Please Pass the Love. 

Watch a full replay of Ulie-Wells' discussion at the top of this blog post.