COVID-19 has dramatically changed our lives in the past couple of months, including the way we live and work. The sudden change in our lifestyle and the feeling of uncertainty about the future has caused many of us to feel stressed and anxious.
The best way to cope with this crisis is to practice self-care, while following sensible health precautions based on the latest science. Focusing on our own health and well-being is one of the best things we can do to not only reduce stress and anxiety, but also strengthen our immune system, which needs to be functioning at its best during this pandemic. In the past you may have thought of some of these self-care practices as indulgences, but now they’re essential as they help strengthen your resilience to COVID-19.
Here are 9 ways you can maintain your physical and emotional well-being during the coronavirus pandemic:
- Take a Walk Around Your Neighborhood
Go for a walk outside each day while practicing social distancing. Fresh air, sunshine and exercise are all essential for mental, emotional and physical well-being. Daily moderate intensity walking is especially effective for heart health and for keeping off the weight that many people are gaining during the stay-at-home orders. Sunshine provides critical Vitamin D, which helps reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections. Vitamin D has also been shown effective in reducing exacerbations of childhood asthma by 50%. There is also an association between low vitamin D levels and depression. Even people living in sunny areas can be low in this essential nutrient. The next time you get blood work done at your doctor’s office, ask to get your Vitamin D levels checked and supplement as needed.
- Take an Online Fitness Class
Exercise is one of the best things you can do to boost your mental health and physical health. Relaxation-based modalities in particular, like yoga and qigong have shown efficacy in meta-analyses in reducing stress and anxiety. Free and affordable classes are available online no matter what your interest or fitness level. Try yoga, Pilates, Bollywood or Hip-Hop Dance. No matter what your preference, just try something and make it fun!
- Try Healthy New Recipes
Eating a healthy, whole-food, plant-based diet can help reduce the risk of many of the chronic health conditions which may result in poorer outcomes from COVID-19, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and asthma. The bad news is that the standard American diet makes us more vulnerable by suppressing our immune function. But the good news is that we can enhance our health and immune function by beginning with easy changes – adding more veggies and fruits to our diets, swapping out beans for beef and enjoying soy or almond milk instead of dairy milk. Plant-based recipes like Blueberry Banana Baked Oatmeal, Mediterranean Quinoa Bowl with Garlic Roasted Chickpeas and Roasted Red Pepper Sauce, Tomato Vodka Pasta and Secret Peanut Butter Cookies are easy, healthy and delicious!
- Make Sleep a Priority
Sleep is critical to healthy immune function. 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep is essential for adults. Many people have difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep, especially during stressful times. To get a good night sleep, avoid alcohol. According to the World Health Organization, alcohol weakens the immune system, leaving one more vulnerable to the novel coronavirus. To help you relax before bed, try a warm bath and a cup of hot, herbal tea instead. Turn off LED screens for at least an hour before bedtime. Sleep in a cool, dark room, go to bed at about the same time every night and wake up at about the same time every morning. Get exposure to sunlight in the morning – open the shades when you first wake-up, go for a walk or at least sit outside to help set your circadian rhythm. And, reserve your bed for sleep or intimacy only. Don’t lay in bed and watch TV or look at your phone. If you’re not sleeping, get up and go do something else. Getting in bed should be a cue to your brain that’s it’s time to sleep.
- Schedule Video Calls with Friends & Family
Virtual connection during this pandemic is critical to maintain friendships and positive mental and emotional health when we can’t connect physically. According to Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, former Surgeon General of the United States “Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity.” To help reduce the risk of loneliness and social isolation, schedule video calls with friends at least once a week to play a game, host an online book club, enjoy a meal together or just chat. If you live alone, space out calls with different friends and family so you’re sure to connect with a friendly face every few days.
- Watch Funny Movies & TV Shows
We’re all feeling more stressed, anxious and helpless during this pandemic. This is understandable. One of the best ways to cope is through laughter. There is scientific evidence that laughter can help reduce stress by reducing cortisol levels and can help increase immune function by increasing natural killer cell activity. Laughter can also help elevate mood and is used in the treatment of depression. We’re fortunate that we live during a time in history that many of us have access to the internet with a wide array of comedy shows on YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, etc.
- Unplug from the News
Keeping up on the latest news is essential, but it’s important for our mental and emotional health not to overdo it. Set a limit for yourself and stick to it. Avoid replaying the news cycle over and over again and be especially sure to avoid the news or other stressful topics in the hours just before bed so you can get good quality sleep.
- Practice Empathy
Many of those around you may be scared, stressed, anxious and suffering (including you!). While kindness and compassion are always important, many more of us are suffering, so now is the time to practice a little extra patience and empathy. Research Professor, Brené Brown explains the four attributes of empathy beautifully, in her book, I Thought it Was Just Me (But It Isn’t). The four attributes of empathy are:
- To be able to see the world as others see it
- To be nonjudgmental
- To understand another person’s feelings and
- To communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings. Rather than saying, “At least you…” or “It could be worse…” try, “I’ve been there, and that really hurts,” or (to quote an example from Brown), “It sounds like you are in a hard place now. Tell me more about it.”
During this difficult time, just spending time listening and letting someone know you understand their feelings through empathy is one of the best things you can do for yourself and for the ones you love.
- Practice Self-Compassion
During this pandemic, many of us are working remotely, caring for children who are normally at school, while also cooking and cleaning more than usual. It can be difficult to juggle all the responsibilities of work and life. Many of us have unrealistically high expectations and can be our own worst critics. But, judging ourselves harshly is actually counterproductive.
According to Dr. Kristin Neff, Author of Self-Compassion, The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”
Focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t. Prioritize, then let it go. Self-compassion, rather than self-judgement, actually fosters greater mental health and resiliance as well as greater productivity.
I know this is a challenging time. Each of us are dealing with different and unique challenges, but you’re not alone. There are many resources available for coping during this time of crisis.
It’s important to reduce your risk of exposure by following common-sense safety protocols set forth by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO), including staying home and practice social distancing as much as possible, wearing masks, washing your hands for 20 seconds frequently and disinfecting high-touch surfaces regularly.
However, caring for your physical and emotional health is also critical during this time.
As a Certified Health and Wellness Coach, I’m offering special assistance to those impacted by this health crisis. Please click the button below to find out more about how I can help.
COVID-19 Health Coaching & Support