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Stress: The Real Pandemic

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared coronavirus aka COVID-19 a global pandemic. The last pandemic before this one was in 2009, the H1N1 flu pandemic. 

In between those two, in 2016 when the WHO had some extra time on their hands, they declared STRESS – “the health epidemic of the 21st century”. 

If you’re wondering the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic, I was too. An epidemic becomes a pandemic once it reaches a certain scale. With the rise of the coronavirus pandemic, I think it’s safe to say it has brought stress along for the ride too, giving it a pandemic status. 

I thought it was ironic that an organization that was once ringing the alarm bells on stress were now stressing the world out over a new strand of coronavirus. The more I looked into it though, I saw it was more of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the media more so stressing everyone out. 

The CDC is known to give overly cautious guidelines because they inherently know most people won’t follow them (well…except for this time). And it’s no secret what the media’s real motivation is. Scare you enough to keep you needing new updates. Stress sells. 

Turns out, the WHO actually released an infographic made to reduce stress during this time. It’s too bad this never saw the light of day on any media outlets, considering it advises you to turn off media outlets. 

WHO coping with stress

I came across a stress documentary that aired on HBO but was somehow available on Youtube for a day when I caught it. It’s called “One Nation, Under Stress”, and it’s narrated by Dr. Sanjay Gupta. 

The documentary starts off with dead bodies in a morgue (don’t attempt to eat lunch while watching this as I did). The man performing the autopsies says he did 556 autopsies last year and over 300 were drug-related deaths. He said that even though the cause of death says “drug overdose”, the real causes of stress in these persons’ lives are unknown. These deaths of despair get recorded with a certain way of dying, but we don’t fully understand the way they died. 

Back in 2016, just after the WHO declared stress to be a health epidemic, Andrew and I lost our cousin Kim to an opioid overdose. 

Dr. Gupta enters the documentary speaking about the dangers of opioids. One of the first things he says is, “Fentanyl is fifty times stronger than heroin.” 

Fentanyl is used to relieve severe pain and was the listed cause of our cousin’s death. 

I don’t think we’ll ever fully understand “the how” of her passing. We don’t know what led to her years of addiction and overuse that fateful night. We know she struggled for a long time. We know we don’t want to see others go through that same struggle, be it themselves or a close family member. 

This is one of the reasons we are so passionate about mental health as well as physical health. 

This wasn’t the first death in our family related to mental health. Just after I was born, my grandma on my dad’s side, took her own life after years of struggling with mental disorders like bipolar disease. 

Stress has been known to worsen conditions of mental disorders. During this time of the coronavirus pandemic, we are sadly hearing so many stories about rises in suicides and drug overdoses. It really hits home and we want to do what we can to help people lead happier, less stressed lives. 

One of the best ways we know to reduce stress is to connect socially and move physically. Movement and connection are key to living a happier and healthier life. 

The reopening of gyms, churches, and schools are going to be key to defeating the collateral damage of the coronavirus. The Florida Governor’s recent announcement of allowing summer camps to open is a huge step in the right direction. The mental health of our kids needs to be placed as one of our highest priorities. And for any fellow parent out there, you know how much a kid in school or camp reduces your at-home stress levels. 

As gym owners, t’s been very tough for us mentally and emotionally to navigate the criticisms of being non-essential and selfish or even greedy for opening back up. 

I’ve also talked to parents who have been made to feel selfish if they attend the gym. Employees who have been guilted by their employer to not attend the gym. Again, “it’s selfish for you to put others at risk” is the rhetoric. 

Please, let’s change this rhetoric. 

This isn’t superficial. This isn’t to get our abs back after too many quarantine snacks. 

This is a matter of life and death. Maybe it’s a slightly different view than the biggest risks to death you see. 

This is the death I know. I know death from stress. 

I believe dying from a broken heart is a real thing. I believe there’s a lot of people towards the end of their life dying from loneliness right now. I believe stress is killing more people right now on this day, May 29th, than coronavirus. 

You’re not going to see these as official causes of death. Even with suicide or overdose, it tells a very small portion of that person’s story. This is not HOW they died.  

There’s one more thing I believe…I believe you can “worry yourself sick”, or you can “will yourself healthy.” 

I’ve learned through my own mental struggles, stress is very much created by its own beholder. Just as we practice physical activity to make ourselves healthier, we must practice stress relief and prevention. We must be the gatekeeper of our minds because we ultimately decide what makes us stressed. 

There’s a powerful feeling you get when you workout alongside others in a setting like FitTown Jupiter’s group classes. You are forcing a stressful situation upon yourself so that you can adapt and grow stronger. At times your body feels like it’s about to hit its own emergency OFF button. 

But then you look around and you see everyone else pushing themselves right there with you.  They are struggling too yet they keep moving forward. You see them and your body subconsciously says, “hey they’re ok, I’m ok too.”

We want you to know you’re ok too. 

No matter how alone or stressed you’re feeling at this moment. We are right here with you. 

In the documentary, “One Nation, Under Stress,”  Dr. Gupta says “In order to best care for ourselves, we have to care for each other.”

Keep caring and sharing at a time where it seems our politicians and media outlets want to divide and conquer. If you’re on social media, make a new rule, only post and engage with extremely positive sh*t. If you’re not wearing a mask, use that opportunity to smile at someone you don’t know.

You never know what kind of stress your happiness and support can push out of someone’s life. 

It could be the stress that would have taken their life. 

Keep living and loving. 

-Coach Tony