Welcome to Ask Doctor Zac, a weekly column from news.com.au.
This week, Dr Zac Turner explains
Question: Hi Dr Zac, I can’t believe half of Australia has been in lockdown this week, 18 months into the pandemic. When I see my friends in Europe sunning themselves in Italy while I look out the window and see a brick wall from my apartment – it’s all too depressing.
I’m feeling stressed and restless, and I can imagine so many others are as well. Especially those like me who live alone and don’t own a pet.
What can I do to alleviate this stress? I need exercises for my mind, just like I have with my body. – Troy 49, Sydney
Answer: Hi Troy, thanks for your question. In the past week I’ve had many virtual consultations with patients who are experiencing the same pressures you are. I’ve prescribed them all the same treatment: the 1993 comedy, Groundhog Day.
I encourage my patients to recognise they are going through the same thing Bill Murray was. Each day was the same as the last and he eventually loses all hope.
The silver lining of the movie is Murray’s character realises he needs to make the most out of every day, and that’s what I encourage my patients to do during a lockdown.
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Understand you can change your life even if your surroundings stay the same, all it takes is self-discipline.
Mental health pandemic
I have a growing concern that the next pandemic we encounter will be a mental health epidemic. Lockdowns, job losses and widespread death has made the atlas stone even heavier on our shoulders. I fear if we do not change our actions, mental health in communities will deteriorate.
Together, we need to implement techniques to improve our mental health in the long run. You’ll hear me say this time and time again, we need to be thinking about our health not only in the present but in the future as well.
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Research has found a widespread increase in psychological symptoms, including anxiety, depression, and irritability, which respondents attributed to the Covid-19 restrictions. People experiencing the worst symptoms were more likely to have lost their jobs, be caring for children or other dependent family members, or to be living alone in an area with few resources.
How to solve lockdown stress
Now I don’t want to be all gloom and doom, so I’ll let you in on a widely known secret that will be the answer to solving your lockdown-related stress. The next time you feel any type of anxiety, depression or a panic-attack coming on – try this out!
I’ll draw you attention to a quirky Dutch man who has changed many people’s life. Wim Hof, also known as The Iceman, is a Dutch extreme athlete noted for his ability to withstand freezing temperatures.
The Wim Hof Method is a combination of meditation, breathing exercises, and exposure to cold used by millions across the world to help regulate stress levels. Now I don’t suggest you start throwing yourself into ice baths to reduce your stress levels but there are elements that you can put to good use in your life whenever a stressful situation arises.
How to breathe Wim Hof style
Step one is to get comfortable, assume your meditation position.
Step two is to close your eyes, clear your mind and breathe in and out 30 to 40 times in short, powerful bursts.
Step three is to take in a deep, long breath and hold it in until you feel the urge to breathe again.
Step four is to take a recovery breath, filling your belly. Repeat this process three to four times without an interval.
The benefits for using the Wim Hof technique are endless, you will feel an inner fire light-up in your body – burning away any anxiety, depression and stress. Daily Wim Hof breathing has been linked to better sleep, enhanced creativity, more focused mental wellbeing, boosted immune system, increased energy and relief of symptoms for depression.
As the Delta variant spreads it’s important to make sure you are staying home and respecting the lockdown and its rules. I recommend you stay informed, have a daily routine, eat healthy, exercise regularly, minimise social media news feeds and maintain social contact!
Dr Zac Turner has a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Sydney. He is both a medical practitioner and a co-owner of telehealth service, Concierge Doctors, and is also a qualified and experienced biomedical scientist | @drzacturner