This last year has been tough. And as we move forward into more “normal” lives, it’s important that we address the stress that came with it all — from working and caring for kids at home to long separations from loved ones. That’s what the Alzheimer’s Association – Eastern North Carolina Chapter is reminding North Carolinians as we move into the summer season.
“Chronic stress, like that experienced during the pandemic, can impact memory, mood and anxiety,” said Lisa Roberts, the chapter’s executive director, in a press release. “As North Carolina residents begin to return to normal, we encourage them to make brain health a priority.”
In the release, the Alzheimer’s Association offered these five suggestions to help us all restore our mental well-being:
Recommit to Brain-Healthy Basics
Evidence suggests that healthy behaviors took a backseat for many Americans during the pandemic. Gym memberships were put on hiatus, social engagement became more challenging and many Americans swapped out healthful eating for their favorite comfort foods, take-out meals and frequent snacking while working remotely. One study published recently found participants gained nearly 1.5 pounds per month over the past year, on average.
The Alzheimer’s Association — through its U.S. POINTER Study — is examining the role lifestyle interventions, including diet, may play in protecting cognitive function. Right now, many experts agree that people can improve their brain health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline by adopting healthy lifestyle habits, preferably in combination, including:
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining a heart-healthy diet
- Getting proper sleep
- Staying socially and mentally active
Return to Normal at Your Own Pace
Many Americans are eager for a return to normal life following the pandemic, but others are anxious. In fact, one recent survey found that nearly half of adults report feeling uncomfortable about returning to in-person interactions when the pandemic ends. For those feeling anxious, the Alzheimer’s Association suggests taking small steps. It may also be important to set boundaries and communicate your preferences to others in your social circles.
There is evidence to suggest that helping others during the pandemic may not only make you feel better, but it may be good for you as well. Research shows that helping others in a crisis can be an effective way to alleviate stress and anxiety. One study published during the pandemic found that adults over age 50 who volunteer for about two hours per week have a substantially reduced risk of dying, higher levels of physical activity and an improved sense of well-being. To help others and yourself during June and throughout the year, volunteer in your community ,run errands or deliver meals to a home-bound senior or donate to a favorite cause.
Unplug and Disconnect
Technology has dominated our daily lives during the pandemic like never before. While technology has kept us connected through COVID-19, it has also created fatigue for many Americans. Experts warn that excessive stimulation coming from our phones, computers, social media sources and news reports can add to our already heightened anxiety levels. To avoid technology overload, experts advise setting limits on your screen time, avoid carrying your phone everywhere, and disconnecting from digital devices at bedtime.
Control Your Stress Before it Controls You
In small doses, stress teaches the brain how to respond in healthy ways to the unexpected, inconvenient or unpleasant realities of daily life. Prolonged or repeated stress, however, can wear down and damage the brain, leading to serious health problems including depression, anxiety disorders, memory loss and increased risk for dementia. Reports indicate that Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers are especially vulnerable to physical and emotional stress. The Alzheimer’s Association offers tips to help manage caregiver stress. Meditation, exercise, listening to music or returning to a favorite activity you have missed during the pandemic are just some ways to manage stress.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been an overwhelming time for all of us,” Roberts said in the press release. “It’s important for people to know there are steps we can take to lessen the stress and anxiety we might be feeling. It can be easy to take brain health for granted, but now more than ever, it’s a good idea to make it a priority.”
June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, and the Alzheimer’s Association will be hosting a variety of ways to learn more about brain health and get involved. That includes The Longest Day, a fundraising event, on June 20.
The association also offers a variety of virtual programs, including a Healthy Brain, Healthy Body, Healthy You Symposium starting June 7.