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  • Writer's pictureChris Atkins

‘Just OK is Not OK’

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

It goes without saying that the last 5-6 months have been stressful.

Another word that comes to mind when I think about 2020 would be traumatic.

We have been chronically exposed to two of our greatest fears as human beings: death and the unknown.

The things that we once took for granted (ie a Target Run) had become eerily similar to a supply run on a certain long running TV show about zombies. We may not have had zombies, but when we are just as fearful of one another- who needs them?

If you have noticed that you have been a little more on edge as of late, you are certainly not alone. Take a few moments and try to (as kindly to yourself as possible) take stock of the current condition of your mental health. If you noticed that you have been eating more junk food or drinking more alcohol, take stock of that. Are you less patient? Don’t beat yourself up, just be aware of it. These are only symptoms, not the root problem.

Understand that this crisis has been traumatic. You didn’t cause it. Your brain is simply trying to cope with the stress the best that it can, but without support and emotional self-care it will (at best) keep you going in ‘survival mode’. Survival mode is fine for stressful situations that are short in duration. We are not meant to live in that state for long periods of time, however. ‘Fight or flight’ is an adrenaline fueled state that we enter into during stressful situations, like when our ancestors were being chased by saber tooth tigers. But now our stressors are chronic. Our bodies have not adapted to live with a high level of stress for very long.

Chronic stress can actually contribute to disease by lowering our immune system.

What can we do about it?

1) One easy and free thing to do is to breathe.

Breathing deeply through your nose will activate the calming receptors in the lower lobes in your lungs whereas shallow mouth breathing contributes to the feeling of being chronically stressed.

Breathing deeply for one minute or so will lower your heart rate, help better oxygenate your red blood cells, help you feel more calm and will allow you to escape the ‘fight or flight’ state of mind that you may be (unknowingly) living in.

Once you experience the state of relaxation and calm, even in midst the stress of everyday life during a pandemic, you will not want to go back to living the way you did before.

You’ll find yourself to be more centered and able to think clearly and rationally.

2) Go for a walk or hit the weights.

Working out will release the feel good endorphins that we are so desperately in need of right now. It goes without saying that exercise is good for your health. If you are “time poor”, you can take a ten minute walk around your neighborhood- plus you’ll get some fresh air and vitamin D which are also great for your health. If you have a dog, take him or her with you. Companionship is vital right now.

3) Get (re) connected with your friends.

Even if it is just a 10 minute phone call or a FaceTime session, connecting with an old friend will allow you to feel connected and loved. We need each other now more than ever. It is not surprising that women live longer (on average) than men, as they are far more connected socially. So men, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and ask your buddies to hang out. We need to be able to talk through what it is we are dealing with. This will help us feel like we are normal, and our struggles are common and that we are not alone.

4) Focus on getting good quality sleep.

We need sleep. Adequate sleep is critical for our health. Just ask any new parent how much they need a good night sleep (actually- that may not be a good idea). Our sleep/wake cycle is regulated by the hormones Melatonin and Serotonin (respectively).

Tryptophan is an amino acid (found in certain foods) that can be converted into several important molecules, including serotonin and melatonin. Tryptophan and the molecules it produces influence many functions in the body, including sleep, mood and behavior. Tryptophan deficiencies can lead to insomnia and mood disorders (and arguing on Facebook- jk). (For more information check out

In order to get good quality sleep, try to avoid blue light (from tv/smart phones etc) for about an hour before bed. If you have difficulty falling or staying asleep, you may want to try taking melatonin as a supplement before bed. But usually, just unplugging electronics an hour before bed will do the trick.

If we have been running off of adrenaline for the last 5-6 months, our brains will not be able to produce enough serotonin- which leads to depression. Good quality sleep is one of the best anti-depressants out there- without any side effects. Plus, who doesn’t love to sleep?

Taking charge of your mental and physical health will help you feel empowered. Empowered people will no longer feel helpless. Instead, we will look to help other people. And that is how we will get through this. Together.

We may not be able to control what is going on around us, but we will at least feel in control of ourselves and how we are responding to this public health crisis. And that, my friends, is 'doing all that we can do'.

In Health, Chris

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