As the world contends with the COVID-19 pandemic, most state and local governments in the United States have put stay-at-home orders in place as a means of enforcing social distancing measures. These stay-at-home orders have gone a long way in flattening the curve and supporting public health, but limiting contact with others and staying at home can be rough on mental health. Humans are social creatures by nature. Read on for some tips to help maintain your physical and mental wellness while social distancing.
Practice Meditation and Breathing Exercises
Meditation and breathing exercises are a great way to start your day and center yourself, shut out some of the excess noise, and bring some oxygen to your lungs and brain. Studies show that deep breathing exercises can improve sustained attention, minimize negative emotions, and decrease stress levels. Even better, breathing exercises do not require much time, effort, or money. Just five minutes per day is all you need to get started.
There are a variety of different types and forms of deep breathing. An easy place to start is with pursed lip breathing.
- Relax your neck and shoulders.
- With your mouth closed, breathe in through your nose for a count of two. Your breath should come from deep in your stomach.
- Purse your lips like you are about to whistle.
- Exhale slowly through your pursed lips for a count of four.
- Repeat as necessary.
This can be performed just about anywhere, whether you are sitting comfortable in your favorite chair or performing a specific physical activity. The idea is to slow down your breathing and force you to apply deliberate thought and effort to each inhalation and exhalation.
Exercise is a great way to work out your physical stress and get some endorphins pumping through your system. Dr. Michelle Sherwood, DO former Olympic athlete recommends getting 150 minutes of exercise each week. While you can’t go to the gym, you can still get in some workouts at home. Search online for at-home workout routines and videos. You’d be surprised how much you can do without weights and other equipment.
Yoga combines breathing exercises with strength and stretching. Stress causes physical tension in the joints and muscles, probably more than you consciously realize. Yoga can help keep your body and mind limber and relaxed, and fortunately, it does not require much space or experience. You can find instructional yoga videos through Youtube or Twitch.
Guidance on exercising outdoors has become a bit muddled. While you should still do your best to stay at home as much as possible, you can still go out for a jog or walk as long as you take the necessary precautions. Most importantly, maintain at least six feet of distance between you and others. Avoid any areas that may seem even remotely crowded, including hiking trails, running paths, and parks. Consider wearing a face mask or cloth that covers your nose and mouth.
Often the hardest part about exercise, especially when you are stuck at home, is finding the motivation, but remember that even a little extra movement can make a big difference to your physical and mental health.
During times of uncertainty, staying informed and educated can provide some level of practical comfort to your brain. Don’t be afraid to consult your doctor or health care provider if you are experiencing lingering questions that keep you up at night. Check the CDC’s official site for general information about the virus; do this periodically because as the situation evolves, updates will be available. The CDC also provides practical information and guidance about what you can do to slow the spread and protect yourself and loved ones.
Don’t always rely on information shared anecdotally or links to unverified sources. The fact is, there’s still not a lot that even researchers know about the novel coronavirus. Relying on hearsay or misinformation can be harmful to you and to others.
Know When to Unplug
While you should by all means seek necessary information, know when you should unplug. Watching or listening to the news 24/7 or constantly checking your social media feeds is not helpful to you or anyone else. That constant stream of information and opinions can be overwhelming and easily contribute to existing anxiety and worries. The pandemic should absolutely be taken seriously, but that does not mean you have to subject yourself to every article, opinion, or post about coronavirus. Take breaks or set specific times when you log off of your computer.
Maintain a Non-Inflammatory Diet
Inflammation of the gut can contribute to a whole host of gastrointestinal issues, including diarrhea, bloating, excess gas, and constipation. All of that equates to greater discomfort that can hurt your mood and your health. You’ll want to keep your body as comfortable and nourished as possible, and maintaining a non-inflammatory diet can be a big help.
Foods known to contribute to inflammation include:
- Sugar (particularly high-fructose corn syrup)
- Artificial trans fats
- Refined and processed carbohydrates
Unfortunately, those are often the easiest foods to reach for when you’re feeling stressed. Remove the temptation by stocking your pantry and refrigerator with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein. You may also want to consider taking vitamins and supplements, like colostrum, to support your nutrition.
Maintain a Routine
Being stuck at home for days on end can be disorienting, resulting in you easily losing track of time and meals. While you don’t have to block out every hour, make sure that you do try to keep a regular routine with a basic schedule for meals, work or study, and bedtime. This can help to instill some stability and normalcy to your days.
At the same time, it’s okay if you don’t stick to that routine every single day. Give yourself permission to stay up late or sleep in or eat at odd hours. With everything else going on, you do not need to feel guilty or beat yourself up. However, most people report better quality sleep if they get up in the morning and go to bed at night at the same time every day. Getting some early morning sunlight is also beneficial.
Maintain Connections with Friends and Family
With the advent of technology, it’s easier than ever to stay connected with your friends and family. From video calls to texts, you can maintain social connections with the people who matter. It’s no replacement for actual in-person interactions, but even the smallest conversations with people you love can make all the difference to your mood. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others. They probably need the burst of communication as much as you.
Don’t Always Talk About the Virus
The novel coronavirus is obviously the main topic of conversation for everyone. While it’s important to stay informed and share your thoughts and feelings regarding the pandemic, it can feel overwhelming, circular, and often boring to only talk about it. Go ahead and talk about the shows you are watching, your daily aspirations, and everything in between. Just because we are in a global pandemic does not mean we have stopped becoming complicated, multi-faceted individuals.
Go Easy on Yourself
Give yourself permission to be imperfect. While the term has gotten thrown around a lot, these truly are unprecedented times. No one, not even the experts, were ready for this, so don’t expect your brain or body to know exactly what to do right now. There are plenty of people saying that this is a time to be productive and learn new things, which is fine, but that does not have to be you. If you want to take up knitting or learn a new language, you by all means should, but if you want to stay in your pajamas all day, that is completely fine, too.
Nothing is “normal” right now, and anything you can do to get through the day (as long as it does not cause harm to others or yourself) is allowed. Try your best to eat regularly, stay hydrated, show self-compassion, and respect others. Above all, remember that we are all in the same boat, and we are all trying our best.