7 Ways to Take Control of Your Mental & Physical Health During COVID-19
By Laine Seaton
The Coronavirus pandemic has put our nation to the test. In a span of barely two weeks, people had to face the closure of their offices and schools, cancel travel and events, and figure how to conduct their lives in a "virtual" environment.
As if these adjustments weren't jarring enough, there's the added stress of facing empty grocery store shelves, observing the harrowing battle being fought by healthcare providers, and witnessing the tragic loss of tens of thousands of lives.
It's no wonder many of us are feeling depressed, anxious and generally out of sorts. But there are ways you can take back control and reduce stress.
The key is to balance your mental, physical and nutritional health.
Give yourself permission to process what's happening
In a crisis, it's easy to get overwhelmed with information. Today's 24/7 news and social media can sap your energy and keep you in chronic stress mode.
"It's kind of an emotional overload, and for some people it can become overwhelming," said Dr. Ivy Alexander, professor and director of adult gerontology at University of Connecticut's School of Nursing, and a member of HealthyWomen's Women's Health Advisory Council. She recommends getting the information you need and then unplugging.
"Most of us need some time just to be quiet and reflect. Sometimes you need to turn everything off and read a book," Alexander said.
Start taking some time to slow down and be present in the moment. Get outside and take a walk or write in a journal if that's more your thing. The point is to first get grounded and let yourself feel what you're feeling. Take hold of your "stability rocks" — those routines and practices that remind you that some things are in your control, even as many parts of our lives have been disrupted.
Make time for you every morning and evening
Start the habit of taking a brisk walk first thing in the morning. Listen to the birds, uplifting music, a mindfulness meditation or a book — just get out there. Even five minutes will do you good. Do the same thing in the evening to relax your body and mind before bed.
Be more intentional with nutrition
Staying healthy is more important than ever, and that includes what you put on your plate. With most of us now working from home, there might be more time to plan and cook healthy meals that include more fruits and vegetables.
"There are different nutrients in every color, so eat the rainbow," Alexander said.
If you have access to the ingredients, experiment with international recipes or start incorporating more vegetarian dishes during the week. If you've always wanted to try a kale smoothie, now is the perfect time.
Involve the whole family. Cooking is a fun activity for kids of all ages, and baking is a great introduction to science for the little ones. Just be sure that you're mindfully planning your meals. Think of this time as a nutrition reset.
Get moving — and make it fun
Just because your gym is closed doesn't mean your workout has to be boring. Again, take advantage of this time to expand your horizons and try something new.
There are a gazillion free workouts online, from ballet-inspired Barre to military-style boot camps. And don't forget all the dance workouts that allow you to indulge your best (or worst) 80's flashbacks or salsa aspirations.
If you're able, get outside. There's nothing simpler than lacing up and going for a run. Include the kids in your outdoor activities, too. Take them for a hike in the woods, pose a challenge to bike a certain number of miles, or set up an obstacle course in your backyard. The point is, get moving!
Make your healthcare appointments
Don't neglect your preventive healthcare and wellness visits. Call your provider and find out how they're managing patients. Many practices are conducting virtual visits by video (telehealth) or phone, so check to see if your provider is offering this option, and make those appointments if they are. Be sure to follow up in person once your state's restrictions are lifted.
"The bottom line is to keep on top of your health by keeping your appointments," Alexander said.
Tackle those long-postponed projects
Grappling with the uncertainty of the future during COVID-19 is hard, and it can make the weeks and months ahead seem aimless. But this may be the perfect time to finally undertake those projects you've been putting off. Make a list of the things you've been needing (or wanting) to do but haven't made time for. It could be as simple as clearing out a kitchen drawer, decluttering your closet, or going through your old books. Or perhaps it might be finishing a vision board or art project, or mastering that song on the piano.
Alexander suggests breaking up your project into smaller parts to help set yourself up for success. "Try to avoid overreaching so that you won't end up discouraged," she said.
Focus on what's most important to you
There's no doubt that this is a difficult time for many, but you can use this event as an opportunity to reevaluate your priorities. Take some time to reflect on what means the most to you and what brings you joy — and then focus on those things.
Laine Seaton's 25-year professional background includes experience in book & magazine publishing as well as marketing, communications, organizational development, strategic planning and fundraising for nonprofits.
Her writing has been featured online in Environmental News Network, Current.com, and the Socially-Conscious Blog, and in print for AZ Business Magazine, Green Living Magazine, Tucson Green Times, Natural Awakenings Magazine, Northern California Home & Garden and Mountain Views. She's also appeared on the Go Green Radio Show, Radio Disney, and PBS/KAET Horizon's Focus on Sustainability.