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The entire world is currently reeling with an unprecedented pandemic, which means anxiety and stress are at an all-time high. While scientists are still figuring out ways to combat the novel coronavirus, it can take some time before a vaccine is made available.
In the meantime, social distancing, stringent hand hygiene, and wearing specialized face masks are the three primary tools for protecting yourself from the virus and containing its spread.
But there are other things you can do to build your immunity and ease your mind. Exercising, clean eating, and practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation can strengthen both your mind and body and help you cope better during these harrowing times.
Balancing Professional and Personal Lives While Working From Home
I have noticed people faring badly when they interrupt their work, sleep, and wake cycles. People tend to operate best when they are in tune with their natural circadian rhythms, and they can experience many health consequences when they are disrupted. (1)
I help my clients create a daily schedule that includes:
- A consistent wake time
- Regular times for meals
- Scheduled activities and work
- A definite end to the workday, complete with turning off phones/computer/email
- Time for rest, exercise, mindfulness, and meditation
Foods That Aid Mental Health
Right now, people are craving comfort and stress relief.
The University of Illinois conducted this great review that showed how fiber-rich carbohydrates, along with an overall healthy diet, help reduce depression and anxiety, provide energy, and allow the brain to function properly. (2)
Carbs usually get a bad rap, but if you choose healthy whole grains, lean proteins, and fill half of your plate with colorful vegetables, there is no reason why you cannot have a hearty baked sweet potato with your dinner!
Avoid Stress Eating
I find that many people’s struggles with eating arise from boredom, sadness, or other negative emotions. That is why mindfulness can be a very important skill to use to combat any disordered eating. (3)
I recommend taking a pause on the way to the kitchen or during a meal and asking yourself a few questions before digging into the chips and salsa:
- Am I really hungry? Or am I bored/tired/scared/depressed/etc.?
- Am I actually just thirsty?
- What emotion am I feeling?
- Am I full?
- How does my food taste?
- How was the food prepared?
- Am I chewing each bite enough?
Each question can disengage you from the “autopilot” mode and bring you into the moment, allowing you to enjoy your food fully. When you eat slowly and with intention, you tend to enjoy your food and naturally eat less.
Mindfulness Exercises to Relieve Lockdown Anxiety
Mindfulness exercises help decrease depression and anxiety by allowing you to be grounded in the present, attuned to your surroundings without judgment or criticism. (4)
The wonderful thing about mindfulness exercises is how easily accessible they are. A quiet place is all you need to bring yourself back to the present moment. As an illustration, this is how mindfulness exercise work:
- For 5 minutes, sit comfortably in a chair with your feet on the ground, inhaling for five counts and exhaling for five counts.
- Take notice of your senses: smell, touch, taste, sight, and sound. Just be aware, without judgment, of your surroundings while continuing to breathe.
- After 5 minutes have passed, gauge your feelings and emotions. I can bet you will feel much better and more connected to the present moment.
Stay Active During Lockdown
I am seeing an increase in sedentary behavior because people are staying on their couches or in their beds all day long. This habit can only add to a sense of depression, isolation, loneliness, and physical discomfort.
The advantages of physical exercise include:
- It helps decrease depression and anxiety.
- It releases healing endorphins in your system.
- It can help build your stamina and keep you physically fit.
Before the lockdown, I purchased an inexpensive mini trampoline because I love to bounce around, and that little guy has seen much action during this time! However, always ask your doctor what forms of exercise are beneficial for you before starting an exercise regimen.
If allowed by your doctor, I recommend 30 minutes of bouncing, walking, running, hiking, or anything that gets your heart rate up every day, plus some form of strength training at least 2 times per week. (5)
Coping With COVID Stress Through Meditation
Since I started meditating regularly almost 10 years ago, I have seen a dramatic improvement in my overall well-being, connection with others, and ability to regulate my emotions.
Many people have preconceived notions about how to meditate “right” and that meditation is daunting, boring, or overwhelming. Meditation is whatever you want it to be, so I suggest to my clients to find some way, their way, to begin practicing meditation.
- You can sit, lie down, stand, walk, or do whatever makes you feel comfortable and at ease.
- You can pay attention to your breath, listen to music or guided meditation, repeat mantras, count to 100, or do whatever it takes to calm down your racing brain.
It gets easier with more practice, and over time, it becomes one of the best ways to center yourself. Hopefully, this eases the anxiety of confining yourself to sitting uncomfortably in a lotus position.
Best Ways to Stay Engaged During the Lockdown
I think that finding balance is the key, and here are some ways to do it:
- Media diet: I know many have struggled with heightened anxiety over the 24-hour news cycle providing fear-inducing content. I recommend adopting a media diet where you check the news and social media only once per day and find other healthy ways to spend time.
- Discovering and rediscovering hobbies: Many of my clients are rediscovering old hobbies, forging new ones, taking up playing instruments, reading long-forgotten books, taking advantage of free online museum tours, learning to sew, and baking up a storm in their kitchens.
All of these are wonderful ways to stay engaged, learn new skills, keep the mind sharp, and stay active at home.
Ways to Feel Less Alone During the Lockdown
I think the most important thing to know is that you are not alone, even if it feels that way. There are many ways to reach out to friends, loved ones, and mental health professionals.
Luckily, it is very easy to connect in such a technologically advanced time. I suggest conducting regular video calls with friends, community groups and churches, and loved ones to increase your sense of connectedness.
Video calls are especially helpful if you crave to see your family’s and friend’s facial expressions, warmth, and smiles.
I think it is also important to find a professional mental health counselor to help. Thankfully, the stigma against seeking mental health treatment is abating.
On That Note, With Some of the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health Abating, What Are Some of the Ways People Can Get Help?
While in-person sessions provide intimacy and a private place to share, it is hard to keep everyone safe and protected. Fortunately, because of the lockdown and technology, therapy is more accessible than ever before.
Most therapists, myself included, are practicing safe social distancing by working via telehealth. The flexibility provided by telehealth provides my clients with convenient times that work for them during the lockdown. (6)
My clients avoid having to risk exposure to the virus on public transport or by ride-sharing, and they can be in their own comfortable personal space. A helpful way to find a local therapist in your area is to use Psychology Today’s therapist search feature.
You can specify what area you need help with and look for those in-network with your insurance and those who will be practicing in the office in your local area after the lockdown.
It is easy to feel helpless and frustrated about things you don’t have control over, which is true for the current COVID-19 outbreak as well. But the anxiety will only get the best of you and make you more vulnerable to illness.
Worrying about the situation will serve no purpose, except diminishing your body’s ability to fight the infection. The trick is to be cautious without piling on unnecessary stress.
Also, self-care measures can give you a sense of control and normalcy in these uncertain times. Looking after your physical and mental well-being through proper diet, exercise, and meditation should be prioritized in your daily routine.
This will not only build your physical stamina and immunity but also distract your mind from the COVID-19 hysteria and focus your energies on something productive instead.