5 Tips for Staying Well During COVID-19
Six months past the initial stay at home orders and the COVID quarantine has continued beyond what any of us may have ever imagined. Most have experienced direct or indirect impacts of the pandemic to include mental, emotional, physical, and/or financial consequences. If you have been experiencing increased stress, sleep difficulty, anxiety, depression, and/or grief during this difficult time then you are not alone. The U.S. Census revealed that 33% of Americans have reported symptoms of clinical anxiety and depression during the pandemic. While many of the circumstances created by the pandemic are out of our control, here are some things you can do to manage stress and stay well during the pandemic.
#1 Eat Well
More time at home and disruption in routine can be a recipe for excessive snacking and unhealthy food choices. Some reach for high-calorie comfort food in times of increased stress. Given that we are all are experiencing stress related to the pandemic, what we put in our bodies becomes especially important. What we eat impacts how we feel, so be sure to fuel your body with feel-good food. A clean diet is a healthy diet. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and drink plenty of water. Limit your intake of processed food, refined carbs, and alcohol.
#2 Sleep Well
Having a hard time sleeping during the pandemic? This could be the result of losing your routine, decreased physical activity, and/or increased negative emotions. Working from home has afforded some of us with a lax start to the day and consequentially a later bedtime (or perhaps no bedtime at all)! While it might be tempting to stay up binge-watching the latest acclaimed Netflix show, sleeping like eating, has great impacts on our emotional health. Keeping a routine during COVID-19 is essential for your overall well-being. Try to maintain consistent bedtimes and wake times to avoid disrupting your circadian rhythm. Avoid bright screens (e.g. TV, phones) too close to bedtime or in the bedroom. Our bodies need time to wind down at night and bright screens do the opposite by stimulating our brains. Additionally, we are sensitive to bedtime cues and should reserve the bed for sleep, or like the sleep hygienists say the 3 S’s: sleep, sex, or sickness.
#3 Stay Active
Whether you were an avid gym-goer pre-pandemic or someone aspiring to maintain a regular exercise regimen, COVID-19 has likely thrown a wrench into your fitness goals. Many gyms are still closed, limited capacity, and/or not the safest place during a viral pandemic. Staying home on the other hand is not quite the workout motivation needed to jumpstart a new fitness routine. Yet physical activity remains imperative for our mental and physical health. Exercise has positive impacts on mood and sleep and can be helpful for staying well during COVID. Let’s face it, if you are spending more time indoors you have inherently decreased your level activity from going out for routine daily activities. You can offset this decrease by finding ways to increase your activity level during the day. Things you can do at home include mind-body movement (e.g., yoga, Tai Chi) via online videos, or online workouts, and intentionally taking more steps (e.g., up and downstairs). Get outside for a walk, get some fresh air. Start with an attainable goal and move from there. Be sure to consult your physician before beginning any new exercise routine.
#4 Stay Connected
Another risk factor for emotional distress is increased isolation. Find ways to stay connected during COVID-19. There are many free video platforms for communicating with others. Scheduling video calls with friends or family can help to maintain a sense of connection. Follow CDC guidelines for socializing with others in person. Get creative! Sit in the driveway for socially distant conversations with neighbors, meet a couple of people for an outside socially distant BYOC (bring-your own chair) gathering. The reality is that humans are social beings, we thrive when we feel connected to others, so finding safe ways to do so in COVID is essential.
#5 Maintain Boundaries
COVID has blurred a lot of lines. For some, home has become work, school, and nearly everything else. Try to reserve separate areas for separate things (e.g. having a workspace or room). Mentally it is helpful to maintain some sense of separation. Set boundaries for ending the work and/or school days and try to stick to them. Additionally, if you find the news distressing, set boundaries with your news and social media intake. Reallocate that time to a healthy activity or connecting with the members of your household (e.g. game night, family movie). Find time for yourself to recharge in the ways that feel useful. Meditation is a great way to practice creating and protecting space for yourself and the health benefits are well documented.
In sum, COVID-19 has led to significant impacts on physical and mental health. Focus on the things you can control during these chaotic times. Take care of yourself and stay well.
*Dr. Spesh is a Yale-trained, Licensed Clinical Psychologist who specializes in culturally responsive and evidence-based treatment for anxiety, PTSD, and other stress related disorders.*