As we continue to navigate the ups and downs and ins and outs of this pandemic, it is completely normal to feel anxious and a bit overwhelmed. And if your body is under constant stress, it can affect your sleep, immune system and mental health. That’s why it’s important to make sure you are taking the time to care for your body as well as your mind, even if that routine looks a little different than it used to. Here are some proven strategies to help put your stress to rest so you can enjoy your todays and be your healthiest self when it’s time to get back out there again.
1. Connect with others
Remember that social distancing does not mean that you have to be alone. “Research has shown that loneliness is a significant health issue for older adults – with a greater impact on mortality than smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” Wider Circle President and COO Darin Buxbaum said. “At Wider Circle we believe that social connections are critical to achieving positive health outcomes and have been focused on this issue since our inception. It can be daunting to think about socializing while sheltering at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, but even connecting with neighbors, family and friends by phone can make a huge difference for your health.”
“Instead of social distancing, we should think of it as socializing from a distance.” Darin Buxbaum, President, Wider Circle
2. Get quality sleep
You probably have your daily “quarantine routine” down-pat by now, which is already a win because establishing a routine helps lower stress hormones and keeps your mind off things you aren’t able to control. But when it’s time to hit the pillow, it can be especially difficult to wind down and get those 7-8 hours of quality sleep your body needs to keep your immunity strong.
The good news is that your mind can turn off and slow down. According to Dr. Michael Grandner, director of the University of Arizona Sleep and Health Research Program, you just need to give yourself the proper time and space. Try these tips:
- Take at least 30 minutes to wind down at night. The laundry and cleaning and emails and news can wait. Give yourself the mental space to relax.
- Say goodnight to your electronics. Charge your phone across the room to avoid temptation. Refrain from watching TV in your bedroom, especially right before bed.
- Before you get into bed, make a list of the things you need to remember for the next day. Just the act of writing things down can help clear your mind and allow your brain to shut off.
- Be sure to nix the coffee, alcohol and any eating before bed – these things don’t promote quality rest.
- Don’t get discouraged – give yourself a good week or so to make these healthy sleep habits stick.
3. Make time for relaxation and meditation
A great way to reduce stress is to practice a simple, active relaxation routine. “Be careful not to confuse relaxation for distraction – like watching TV or overloading on social media,” Dr. Grandner advised. “Relaxation is a specific, active process to calm and clear your mind.” He recommends two simple methods that you can do anytime – all you need is a quiet space:
- Diaphragmatic (“belly”) breathing: This is that deep breathing where your stomach expands as you inhale and contracts back in when you exhale, maximizing your oxygen intake to help slow down your breathing, your heart, and your thoughts, as well as relax your muscles and improve your mood. Just a few slow breaths can help set the stage for a restful night.
- Body scanning: Pair this one with your deep breathing exercises. Start at your toes and bring your awareness up your legs, torso, arms and hands, shoulders and back, neck, and head. While you take your breaths, pass your awareness over those muscles and if they are tense, feel them relax. In just a couple of minutes, this can help you prepare to let go of the day.
4. Get your daily dose of sunshine
As we spring into the warmer weather months, now is the time to enjoy that sunshine and all growing things! Plants and trees emit healthy chemicals that get into our bloodstream and can help calm us as well as lower inflammation. Sunlight not only increases vitamin D, but it boosts serotonin – an important chemical in our body known to elevate mood levels and help us sleep. “Bright light in the morning, especially sunlight, also helps set your circadian rhythms, promoting alertness across the day,” Dr. Grandner said. “Light in the morning can also help you set your internal clock so that you get sleepy at the right time at night.” Try to get out even just a little every day – and of course don’t forget your face mask and sunscreen if you venture out into the neighborhood!
5. Exercise every day; no gym required
According to Dr. John Ratey, a practicing psychiatrist, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and founder of the Sparking Life organization, getting your heart rate up not only eases muscle tension, it also changes brain chemistry, increasing the availability of important anti-anxiety neurochemicals. “If you’ve been feeling down and you start to exercise and feel better, the sense that you’re going to be OK and that you can count on yourself shifts your entire attitude. The stability of the routine alone can dramatically improve your mood,” Dr. Ratey said.
Exercise has also been shown to balance blood sugar, and increase immunity by enhancing antioxidant levels in your body. Try to get at least 30 minutes per day. The time will fly if you make it fun and doable for your fitness level. There are a variety of free at-home workouts available online. Like to dance? Turn on your favorite fast-paced music and samba away in your living room!
6. Laugh – it’s good for you!
We intuitively know that laughter feels good, but there is real science behind those chuckles. Research tells us that laughter increases endorphins, those feel-good hormones in the brain, and has an anti-inflammatory effect that helps protect against cardiovascular disease. Laughter also promotes brain connectivity: when we hear a laugh, our brains try to figure out what sort of communication is coming through. This in turn is believed to be related to lessening the body’s stress response, which is directly linked to increased inflammation. Phone a friend or loved one and laugh it up – it’s contagious!
It can be helpful to remember that the shelter-in-place orders are temporary. Planning a future outing or maybe even working on some details for a milestone anniversary can remind you that there are happy activities to look forward to down the road.
If you or a loved one is in need of support during COVID-19, please click here, or call our hotline: (877) 470-0390.