Trying to Stay Healthy During a Global Pandemic?

SBM: trying-to-stay-healthy-during-a-global-pandemic

Elana Maurin, MHS, PhD – Associate Professor, Clinical Psychology Program; The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

Keith Renshaw, PhD – Professor and Chair, Department of Psychology; George Mason University

The worldwide spread of Covid-19 has changed our lives. It is especially important to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle during this crisis in order to adapt and to limit our exposure. The following strategies can help you stay healthy during this challenging time.

1. Look for unconventional ways to exercise

  • Walk during meetings.  Log into your meetings by phone instead of video, if possible, and take that opportunity to get outside and walk.  Or, if you must stay in or be near the computer, walk inside.  One of us has gotten over 20,000 steps per day like this!
  • Turn your old commute time into exercise time.  Don’t let work or other responsibilities overtake all your extra time. Turn your old commuting time into exercise time.
  • Try something new.  Have your friends been trying to get you to take up yoga or pilates?  Now is the time!  There are tons of videos available online or through different television subscription services.

2. Monitor your eating

  • Avoid over-snacking.  Eating healthily when you’re home all day can be difficult, particularly with your fridge and pantry beckoning you.  Avoid over-snacking by measuring out portions and taking them into another room with you.  Mindlessly eating is too easy when you have an entire bag of snacks at your side. Also, use timers to space out your snacks!
  • Portion your take-out orders.  Ordering out is a great way to support local businesses right now, but it can be an invitation to eat more than you need.  Split the portion in half before you dig in and put the other half into the fridge for another day.
  • Engage in mindful shopping.  Be mindful when you shop and never shop when you’re hungry.  The best way to avoid eating unhealthy foods is not to have them in your home in the first place.

3. Focus on sleep

  • Limit bingeing your new show.  It’s tempting to stay up and binge your favorite new show. But this can interfere with sleep by delaying bedtime, exposing you to blue light from the screen, and potentially activating you too close to bedtime.  Limit yourself to 1-2 episodes per night and, most importantly, wrap up at least 1 hour before you want to go to bed. 
  • Give yourself a break from devices.  Many of us are on these much more than usual now, between video conferencing, virtual get-togethers, and being stuck at home.  Like TV, the content can be activating, and the blue light can interfere with sleep.  Put down all devices at least an hour before bedtime and do something relaxing, like taking a bath or reading a book. 
  • Remove that activity tracker when getting into bed. While activity trackers are great for monitoring activity levels, some recent evidence suggests they can increase your anxiety about sleep, which then makes it harder to fall asleep!

4. Foster more meaningful social connections

  • Get creative to stay connected.  It’s easy to become isolated when we’re at home almost all the time.  Schedule virtual get-togethers, happy hours, or game nights with friends, family, and colleagues.  Reach out to friends whom you haven’t talked to in a while. Combine this with exercise by scheduling a walk with a friend or neighbor -- making sure you are social distancing by wearing a mask and maintaining at least 6 feet of distance!
  • Get beyond social media.  It can be easy to feel like you’re connected through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the like. However, these types of connections aren’t usually meaningful and many involve scrolling past crafted pictures of how well others are handling things – leaving you wondering why you can barely keep it together. Take a break! Consider using a time-monitoring app on your phone, if you need help.

5. Give yourself a COVID break

  • Limit your news consumption.  Many of us are obsessed with reading about the epidemic.  This can be a huge time suck, not to mention anxiety-provoking for some.  Schedule a limited amount of time each day (or every other day, if you’re up to the challenge) when you’re allowed to watch, read, or listen to the news. Set a timer and make yourself get off when your time is up.  You can enlist a roommate or family member to help keep you accountable!
  • Limit your Covid conversations. It’s easy to lapse into talking about nothing else. Try to find other topics to talk about, whether it’s the show you’re watching, spring blooms, or that crazy thing you saw your neighbor doing…

6. Be self-compassionate

  • Cut yourself some slack. Literally, no one on the planet has ever been through an experience like this one.  We are all still trying to figure things out, and none of us is going to handle this perfectly.  Do the best you can and forgive yourself when you come up short. You won’t be alone!

Focusing on these tips will hopefully help to improve your overall health as we all go through the COVID-19 pandemic. Look after your mental health, maintain a healthy diet, and try to exercise regularly. We will get through this together!

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