How to beat pandemic stress: Advice from wellness guru Deepak Chopra

Deepak Chopra practises gratitude to help him counteract stress. PHOTO: FITBIT

SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of mind-body connection and why people need stress management and emotional support now more than ever, says alternative-medicine guru and author Deepak Chopra.

"Stress has a profound impact on your physical and mental health, so it is important to understand how your body reacts to it and how you can manage it," he says in an exclusive e-mail interview with The Straits Times.

He adds that according to a survey published by the American Heart Association last year, more than a third of people across the globe reported physical and mental side effects of stress - which, over time, can lead to health woes ranging from headaches to an increased risk of cardiac disease, to obesity and depression.

Stress is the No. 1 epidemic of modern society and one way to manage it is to practise mindfulness daily, says the 74-year-old Indian-American, who has written 91 books and is one of the most famous advocates of alternative medicine.

Born in New Delhi, Dr Chopra studied medicine in India before moving to the United States in 1970. A friend of the late superstar Michael Jackson, he won fame after going on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1993 to promote his book, Ageless Body, Timeless Mind: The Quantum Alternative To Growing Old (1993).

Like many people, Dr Chopra - who lives in Manhattan, New York City, with his wife - says he has found it challenging to deal with the stress and anxiety "that comes with living in a prolonged pandemic".

"I've used this time to more consciously bio-regulate my own body through good sleep, stress management, movement, yoga, breathing and emotional resilience," he says.

Practising gratitude also helps him counteract stress, he adds.

"I keep a daily gratitude journal to reflect on what I was grateful for during my day, which can range from taking walks with my wife to appreciating the world coming together in a moment of crisis."

Dr Chopra, who claimed in a 2019 interview with The New Yorker magazine that he had never fallen sick, says he tries to break his day "into mindful divisions of time, including time for work, sleep, restful awareness and creativity".

He usually starts his day at 4am with meditation and yoga. At 6am, he does some writing to clear his mind before starting work at 8am. He sometimes goes to bed by 8pm.

"I find intermittent fasting works for me, so I eat my first big meal at midday," he says.

Asked for advice on how to deal with the stress brought about by the pandemic, he urged people to consider meditation.

"In a 24-hour period, if you keep a log of how you feel, you'd see that the mind is all over the place. It's not naturally tending to anxiety - although these days, because of the news, it turns more towards anxiety," he says.

"But the mind by itself always vacillates between joy and sorrow, between despair and hope, between pain and pleasure, so by definition, the mind is never peaceful."

The pandemic, he adds, is an opportunity to not just reinvent our lives and how we feel in our physical bodies, but also to improve our emotional well-being.

To offer support, Dr Chopra has teamed up with integrated health device and services company Fitbit to offer an exclusive wellness collection titled Mindful Method to its premium members.

There are more than 30 sessions of less than 20 minutes each, which cover topics such as resetting a bad mood, managing emotions and relieving stress.

The collection draws inspiration from Dr Chopra's own techniques to help people start small in building a mindfulness practice and implementing it in their daily lives.

"My advice to anyone who feels overwhelmed by the strain that the pandemic has placed on them is to start small, but to start today."

He says mindfulness is not always about seated meditation but can be practised anytime, anywhere, and with anyone "by being fully engaged in the here and now".

"As with all skills, managing and being mindful of your mental well-being is a learnt habit that is most effective when practised consistently, so treat it like you would an exercise routine."

He adds that no matter how busy one is, he or she should plan the day to have a mindful division of time, which includes time for meditation, exercise, yoga and breath work, mindful eating and mindful awareness for sleep.

"When people tell me they don't have time to do these things even once a day, that tells me that they need it twice a day, because if you don't make time to take care of yourself, you're really in trouble," he says.

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