A sustainable world is a process not an outcome, as life—by definition—is never still.

Continual change and growth are natural states of being. Even stress has its evolutionary purpose and can be beneficial to our mind and body under the right circumstances. However, the pandemic has shifted this dynamic unfavourably towards stagnation and uncertainty—engendering a state of perpetual stress.

In his book A Monk’s Guide to Happiness, Gelong Thubten wrote: ‘We all have a natural biology of contentment, which our bodies know how to generate; when we move away from that state, our bodies are programmed to re-establish it.’

What the science says…

The late neuroscientist Candace Pert, who first discovered opioid receptors and endorphins; said ‘We are hard-wired for bliss’. Others since, agree our brains default state is positive—and that we are programmed to notice anything which threatens this equilibrium. If we are primed to notice what’s wrong, then preserving this vigil in a pandemic is likely to generate corrosive levels of fatigue.

In this guest article, Dr Jenny Brock takes a closer look at the symptoms of pandemic fatigue and provides four science-based yet simple practices to reinforce our ability for stress adaption.

If we are primed to notice what’s wrong, then preserving this vigil in a pandemic is likely to generate corrosive levels of fatigue.

How has living in a global pandemic for over 12 months made you feel?

Lonely, anxious, uncertain, overwhelmed?

No wonder many of us are feeling more than a little fragile.

Pandemic fatigue like Zoom fatigue is very real.

Lockdown, isolation, working from home and high levels of stress have led to blurred days and foggy thinking. Why does it feel as if we’re working harder than ever before, yet achieving less and perpetually tired even though we’re getting plenty of sleep?

The ongoing stress of trying to hold everything together is taking an emotional toll.

This is where adopting integrative mind-body practices can help bolster resilience and coping mechanisms by regulating the body’s stress response system and restoring equilibrium.

According to Professor Richie Davidson from The University of Wisconsin-Madison wellbeing is a skill, something that can be learned and developed through practice in the same way as we use physical exercise to build physical fitness. He believes awareness, connection, insight and purpose are necessary for us to flourish.

There is freedom in recognising the pristine openness and spaciousness of the mind’s awareness…and as we know freedom is happiness!

Building resilience begins with self-awareness

As unique beings, it is only by developing the awareness of our OWN physiology that we get to truly understand what supports or derails us. Self-awareness comes from tuning in to what your body is experiencing and asking, “how am I feeling, right now?” While feelings are always temporary, they influence our thinking and behaviours. Recognising and validating which emotions you are dealing with helps you regain control over what you do next.

Connect to what elevates your wellbeing

Adopting the conscious intent to engage in those activities that make you feel more positive, such as gratitude, kindness and calling out the good, leads towards a more positive state of mind and greater happiness.

Inspire insight

When faced with a gnarly challenge that refuses to allow you to find a solution, you can facilitate that elusive insight to pop into view by uncoupling from conscious focus. Aha!

Acting on purpose

Having a sense of purpose and meaning is associated with greater longevity, better health and overall happiness. If you’re unsure what your purpose is, ask what’s really important to you, what do you stand for, what are you really passionate about? 

Four key integrative practices to help overcome fragility.

Breathe.

Consciously slowing down of your rate of breathing influences your vagal tone, calming the mind and clarifying thought. 

Just three slow breaths can make a positive difference. Try it before a meeting, before picking up the phone to have that difficult conversation, or when you notice that stress is starting to get the better of you.

Consciously slowing down of your rate of breathing influences your vagal tone, calming the mind and clarifying thought. 

Spend time in nature.

Author Richard Louv wrote about our nature deficit. The average American now spends around 80-95% of their day indoors, yet the research suggests we all need a minimum of two hours a week in nature to maintain our mental wellbeing.

When was the last time you stood barefoot on the grass or felt the sand between your toes as you walked on the beach?

Whether a blustery cliff walk, watching a sunset, or listening to the wind in the trees, spending time in nature helps us to feel grounded and calm. 

Slowing down to notice or engaging in a formal mindfulness meditation practice builds greater awareness of self and others.

Mindfulness

Slowing down to notice or engaging in a formal mindfulness meditation practice builds greater awareness of self and others. 

Different meditation practices change the brain through a neuroplastic effect, improving cognitive flexibility, emotional regulation, innovation and creativity and attention. It is a mental discipline strengthened by practice, quietening the mind, alleviating stress and strengthening wellbeing.

Studies indicate that even a limited amount of practice over several days will induce a positive physiological and measurable change, while eight weeks of training has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. While there is no known minimal dose effect, even a couple of minutes of meditation will bring some benefit.

Connect with others

When feeling overwhelmed, our first action is often to find someone to talk to. We form relationships because the brain is a social organ, providing a sense of belonging, and connection with those we consider like us.

Spending quality time with friends, and family is just as important to our health and wellbeing as eating healthily and getting regular exercise.

Spending quality time with friends, and family is just as important to our health and wellbeing as eating healthily and getting regular exercise. Research has shown loneliness to be as bad for our health as the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day and shortens lifespans.

They have shown CBT or talk therapy to ease stress and symptoms of anxiety by helping the individual to challenge their negative thinking patterns.

The greatest tools we have to combat our stress are our body and mind. Incorporating any of the mind-body techniques as discussed here will help to elevate your overall health and wellbeing.

Dr Jenny Brock is is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.

Explorer and media producer, passionate about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation with investigative journalism to provide resources and opportunities for creative exploration.