As U.S. COVID-19 cases surged in the winter of 2020, pandemic stress rates rose steeply. In January, about 4 in 10 adults reported symptoms of depression or anxiety. That’s four times as many as in June 2019 (Panchal et al. 2021).
Most likely, some of your clients have struggled to stay steady through lockdowns and job losses. In fact, you may have had similar challenges yourself.
As of mid May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has relaxed its guidelines for people who are vaccinated. Communities across the United States are slowly opening up, and some jobs are returning. What’s more, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. So the time is ripe to focus on the wellness benefits of exercise and meditation.
Exercise Helps With Pandemic Stress
In an upcoming IDEA Fitness Journal feature, author Shirley Archer, JD, MA, looks at today’s mental health crisis. Importantly, she goes on to describe how physical activity—and meditation—can help with pandemic stress.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd ed., physical activity can
- reduce feelings of anxiety—both short-term (state anxiety) and long-term (trait anxiety)—in adults;
- improve cognition in children ages 6–13 and adults over 50;
- lower the risk of depression in children age 6 and up and in adults of all ages;
- improve sleep;
- enhance quality of life; and
- lower the risk of dementia, including Alzheimers’s disease.
Moreover, clients can enjoy many of these benefits after one exercise session (CDC 2021). However, bear in mind that moderate to vigorous intensity is key. Look for Archer’s in-depth feature in the July–August issue of the magazine.
Listen to Your Clients
As clients and participants return to your facility, welcome them with an open heart and mind. Like you, they have been through a lot this past year. They may have lost someone to COVID-19. They may be less used to noise and people. As a result, they may be sensitive to their environment. Some may be frustrated by weight gain. For others, a loss of strength or aerobic capacity may be disappointing. Some may not be sleeping enough.
Let your clients set the pace. Listen to their stories. Take time to connect. Of course, as you gauge their level of pandemic stress, stay within scope. But remember: You have something of value to offer by helping people return to regular activity.
Meet Pandemic Stress With Mindfulness
If clients are wound tight, introduce breathing and meditation exercises. Or combine mindfulness with movement, as in this workout by fit pro Melissa Weigelt. In addition, provide resources. Mental Health America has a free 2021 Mental Health Month Toolkit. And Friday, May 21, is World Meditation Day. At 9 a.m. Central, Healthy Minds Innovations will host a live meditation with neuroscientist Richard Davidson, PhD. Further, the HealthyMinds Program app is available for free through the HMI website.
Tend to Your Own Pandemic Stress, Too
In these stressful times, how well are you following your own advice? Even if the paperwork is piling up, don’t skip your workouts. Listen to your body, and slow down when it tells you to. Get in touch with your breathing. And take time to connect with friends and fellow fit pros. It’s been a long haul, and you’re ready for this.
Panchal, N., et al. 2021. The implications of COVID-19 for mental health and substance use. Issue Brief 9440-03. KFF. Accessed Apr. 7, 2021: kff.org/report-section/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use-issue-brief/.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). 2018. Brain health, in Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd ed. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf#page=39.
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