We all should be continuing physical distancing and even as restrictions are eased, many of us will continue to spend significant time at home. While we've all made adjustments to live our "new normal," it's still a challenging time that we're not used to. Here are 10 tips – 5 for staying healthy and 5 for relieving stress for you and your family, amidst a global pandemic.
Tips to Stay Healthy
1. Eat Well
You don't have to follow a particular diet, but try to avoid processed foods in general. Eating as healthily as possible is important – not only to our physical health, but to our psychological well-being. A healthy diet has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, as well as anxiety and depression.
The best foods for mental health are usually the healthiest foods. Think fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. They contain complex carbohydrates which provide nourishment for our brains as they slowly release energy, which also stabilizes our moods.
A balanced diet ideally includes a variety of foods high in vitamins A, B, C, D and E, as well as the minerals iron, zinc and selenium. Broccoli and spinach, beans, bananas, eggs, poultry and fish contain B vitamins, which are important for our brains, as well as serotonin and dopamine – our brain's happiness levels.
2. Go Outside
Spring has sprung, and luckily we have a lot of warmer, brighter days ahead. Going outside and getting a little bit of sunshine elevates mood, improves sleep, helps strengthen the immune system, and more. Read more details from the Forbes article Why Sunlight is Actually Good for You. Just remember to apply your SPF!
"Not going outside can really start to affect our mental health," said Dr. David C. Damsker, director of the Bucks County Health Department. Nate Wardle, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, encourages people to still go outside, as it's not healthy to stay in all day. However, it's important to practice social distancing while out. Check out this Philadelphia Inquirer article on going outside while social distancing.
3. Avoid Smoking & Drinking
Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) reminds us not to "use smoking, alcohol or other drugs to deal with your emotions." If you're feeling overwhelmed, they recommend speaking to a counselor.
4. Get Enough Sleep
Just like our schedules for working, eating and exercising, it's important to sustain a regular sleep routine. While sleep requirements vary slightly from person to person, most healthy adults need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at their best. Going to bed and waking up at a similar time each day can help maintain a sense of normalcy.
Sleep is essential for our bodies to repair cells, clear toxins, consolidate our memories and process information. There's evidence that sleep deprivation can have major impacts on our health — negatively affecting our psychological well-being, concentration, and even our emotional intelligence, so try to get your rest.
5. Connect with Family
Eating dinner as a family is a wonderful way to connect with each other. Eating meals together has the potential to strengthen family bonds, as it provides a daily time for the whole family to be together. In a 2012 Columbia University study, 71% of teenagers said they consider talking, catching-up, and spending time with family members as the best part of family dinners.
Make eating at home a family affair by asking everyone help out in the kitchen – setting the table, pouring the water, making the salad, etc. Now is a good time to try new recipes – you can find great ideas all over the internet. If your family is far away, reach out with a phone call or FaceTime. Checking in regularly is another great way to connect.
Tips to Relieve Stress
Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to combat stress. While gyms are closed and social distancing guidelines are in place, it's still possible to walk outside or do at-home workouts. Physical activity improves your body's ability to use oxygen and also improves blood flow, and both of these changes have a direct effect on your brain. Exercise also increases your brain's production of endorphins, which are the "feel-good" neurotransmitters that are responsible for the coveted "runner's high" AKA the sense of well-being and euphoria that many people experience after exercise.
Regular exercise can increase self-confidence and it can lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety. Exercise can also relax you and improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression and anxiety. All of these exercise benefits can ease your stress levels and give you a sense of control over your body and your life. Learn more from the Healthline article: Exercise as Stress Relief.
2. Manage Boredom
Enjoy your hobbies: read, cook, help your kids with their virtual schoolwork, or do calming activities that you usually never have time for: gardening, baking, puzzles, reading, crafts, etc. The point is to stay busy and engaged—resist hanging around the fridge or mindlessly watching TV. Make the most of your time.
If you're looking for something to do, check out Skillshare. They're an online learning platform that offers a free trial to start out, and thousands of online classes in categories of animation, design, illustration, lifestyle, photography & film, business, writing and more.
3. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where you are and what you're doing, and not being overly reactive or overwhelmed by what's going on around you.
Mindfulness helps with stress in numerous ways. Practicing mindfulness reduces activity in the amygdala, which is central to switching on your stress response. In practicing mindfulness, you become more aware of your thoughts, enabling you to step back and not take them so seriously. By doing this, you don't immediately react and your stress response is not initiated in the first place. Check out more benefits of mindfulness here: Nine Ways Mindfulness Reduces Stress.
Mindfulness doesn't have to be a meditation practice, you can try it by being more intentional and aware of the things you do each day. Nearly every task we perform in a day can be done more mindfully. When we are mindful of our actions, we pay more attention to what we're doing. Learn more from this Getting Started with Mindfulness article.
4. Listen to Soothing Music
Listening to music can have a very relaxing effect on the body. Slow-paced instrumentals can induce the relaxation response by helping lower blood pressure and heart rate, as well as stress hormones. Listening to nature sounds can be very calming, too, which is why they're often incorporated into relaxation and meditation music. If that kind of music isn't your thing, listening to music you like can also be a good way to relieve stress.
5. Deep Breathing
Deep breathing exercises can help activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the relaxation response. The goal of deep breathing is to focus your awareness on your breath, making it slower and deeper. When you breathe in deeply through your nose, your lungs fully expand and your stomach rises. This helps slow your heart rate, allowing you to feel more peaceful.
Following these steps to stay healthy and relieve stress can go a long way to help you cope during COVID-19. Comment below one thing you're doing for your health during these times!