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How’re you doing?
Feeling more tired than usual? Those tears coming more frequently, more easily? You’re not alone.
As a child, I used to choose important dates and holidays to really dig deep into various illnesses – colds, coughs, tonsilitis, mumps, lumps, bumps. And as a full-time teacher, it was every single half-term or holiday time, BOOM I would get sick. Like the body knows how to hold on *just* long enough to get us through what it needs to get us through, but then as soon as it can let go a little bit? The whole thing collapses.
For the last week or so, I’ve been experiencing a fairly nasty flare-up of long-Covid, struggling with fatigue, joint pains and aches.
This is actually super common. It’s known as “the let-down effect”, and is pretty well-documented in the following few articles (to only give you three, there’s loads more out there)
So what’s going on? Well, according to this article, during acute stress, the body releases key hormones – including glucocorticoids (like cortisol), catecholamines (like norepinephrine) and adrenaline – to prepare itself to fight or flee from danger and to trigger the immune system to step up certain types of surveillance. In the process, "glucocorticoids can reactivate latent viral infections such as herpes simplex 1 [which causes cold sores] and Epstein-Barr virus [which can trigger fatigue, fever, sore throat and swollen glands], for which symptoms are only obvious after a few days," explains behavioral neuroscientist Leah Pyter, an assistant professor of psychiatry at The Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus. That's why the symptoms may appear after the stress lifts – say, over a weekend, on vacation or after an exam period.
Meanwhile, while you're under pressure, the rise in cortisol and other stress hormones can protect you against the perception of pain, which is helpful in the moment because it can help you reach safety in a dangerous situation without being hindered by pain, explains psychologist Dawn Buse, director of behavioral medicine at the Montefiore Headache Center and an associate professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "After a stressful period has passed, the body returns to a state of normality and many of the systems that were activated calm down," she says. "This includes a drop in cortisol as well as other stress hormones [which could] set the stage to initiate a migraine." Similarly, that post-stress drop in cortisol could trigger a flare-up of other forms of chronic pain, such as fibromyalgia and arthritis.”
So while the stress is building (say during a tense wait to see how the next 4 years might look, politically speaking, for the USA and thus the rest of the world because #globaldominance), our bodies are handling it as best they can, in the ways they’re used to. Once that stress-point is reached?
It’s like we’ve all been holding our breath for the last 4+ years and now we’re letting it out, but in a context still of uncertainty, of danger, of newness, of othering, of division, of lots of people shouting at each other and themselves. Out of the frying pan, but realising that the whole damn kitchen’s on fire and the people in charge of the sprinklers are self-serving lunatics, unwilling to spend the peanuts it would take to ensure safety for all, in case it takes them away from counting their billions.
So what can we do? We can ease ourselves into the (relatively) lower-stress swimming pool gently, so there’s less of a shock to the system. In a similar way to how we (are supposed to) cool down after exercise, with stretches and bringing our heartrate down slowly, we can keep up some high-energy activities and reduce them slowly, gently – not running full pelt until we hit a wall, then stopping dead. We can be gentle with ourselves as well as encouraging ourselves outside and into the fresh air, moving in whatever way gets our heart beating as fast as it does when we watch the news. We can eat good food – covering all the bases of vitamins, protein, carbs, fat, sugar (is that a base?) and happiness. Wherever you find those things.
We can ensure we get enough sleep. We can work on our breathing. Breathe in. Hold. Breathe out. Hold. Again. Slower. Again. Again. Again. We can do yoga. We can lie on a yoga mat and cry. We can watch our favourite people on TV and laugh and cry with them. We can talk to our favourite people in real life and laugh and cry with them.
We can recognise that very few people have ever been in such a situation. Putting it all on a curse from 2020 (I personally believe it all started on January 10th, 2016 when David Bowie passed away and let the demons come through) is temporarily helpful but ultimately not very realistic – people have predicted the kinds of calamities we have experienced this year for decades. Racial inequality and discrimination, gender bias, climate crises and emergencies, the rise of white supremacy, pandemics, corporate dominance, malfeasance, and irresponsibility... If we’ve not had to listen to those voices, we have been operating out of a place of privilege and ignorance. We have ALL had learning to do. We have ALL been stressed. And we ALL have work to do.
But that work starts with ourselves. We cannot pour from an empty cup, and we cannot expect to dismantle centuries-old systems of oppression by ourselves or when we’ve barely started the recovery process from a long, nasty, brutal battle. We need to look after ourselves in order to look after each other.
My commitments to looking after myself over the coming days: moving outside for at least 30 minutes a day (YES it’s annoying with a mask, YES it’s cold, YES I don’t have anywhere fun within the allowed 1km radius, YES it means wearing clothes I feel safe being outside in, YES I’m going to do it anyway), making sure I drink at least 2l of water (not sure the pot of coffee and numerous cups of tea do actually count towards it), doubling my breathing exercises to help my lungs recover and grow, muting the people and sources who bring me more anxiety than I need, turning towards those who motivate, comfort, support me.
What are you going to commit to?
Love, as always.
And, as always – if you are willing and able to support me via Patreon (a platform allowing individual artists, writers, activists to be financially supported through regular monthly donations starting at 1$) then you have my endless gratitude. You can find me at www.patreon.com/jowalduck.