We are living in challenging times. Many people are confined to their homes or are practicing physical distancing. It is normal to feel anxious and/or stressed with so much uncertainty. While it is necessary to pull back from our normal routines, it is important for our families, our communities, and our own mental health to finds ways to take care of ourselves and those around us.
Food: The First Line of Defense
It’s age-old wisdom that’s been passed down through the generations—wholesome foods are what keep us healthy. A diet rich in brightly colored fruits and vegetables, protein, healthy fats and low in sugar and highly refined carbohydrates will provide your body with a wide range of key nutrients that are essential for maintaining a healthy immune response. You can also add an extra shot of goodness by adding shiitake or maitake mushrooms to your veggie stir-fry. Rich in beta-glucans, they are definitely on my recommended list for getting through a stressful time or season!
Movement: A Key to Mental Health
When we are stressed out and busy, our commitment to exercise often falls to the wayside, however, physical activity is a great way to channel stress hormones. If you are restricted to your home, find some home workout videos on YouTube. Get your kids or partner to join you. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn yoga or tai chi. If you have access to nature, studies show you’ll gain even greater benefits when walking or biking in green spaces. And besides, the sunshine and fresh air will lift your spirits. Speaking of nature – maybe put some nature images on your computer’s screen saver or move your desk closer to the window. Nature has a soothing effect on our psyche.
Supplements: For Additional Support
There is no substitute for a healthy diet, however, many of us fall short when it comes to certain vitamins and minerals. Research shows that vitamin D is crucially important during the cold and flu season, a time when levels are often low. Vitamin C is used by the body during times of physical and emotional stress, making replenishment important. Personally, I’m taking a multivitamin, 1000 IU vitamin D3, 1 gram of vitamin C twice daily, and loading up on yogurt and fermented foods for extra support.
Ever wonder why we tell ourselves to take a deep breath and count to ten when we are upset? It’s because when we slow our breathing, we calm our nervous system. Breathing exercises where the exhales are longer than the inhales are particularly powerful.
I encourage you to learn the four-seven-eight breath. You can do it seated or lying down. If seated, have your back straight but not rigid, legs uncrossed, hands resting softly on your thighs. Make sure you’re comfortable and that you have two to three minutes of uninterrupted time.
1) Breathe in slowly and quietly through the nose for the count of four, letting your belly expand, while your chest stays soft and relaxed.
2) Hold your breath for the count of seven.
3) Open your mouth and exhale audibly and completely for the count of eight.
4) This is one breath cycle. Repeat three more times for a total of four breaths.
To watch the demonstration, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlfJ_CVmMJY
Sleep: A Time to Restore
Getting adequate amounts of restful sleep is one of the very best ways to make sure your body is functioning at its best. When you move into deeper stages of sleep, your immune system gets to rest and recharge – an important daily defense against those viruses and germs floating around our shared spaces. Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and cool. If you have difficulty sleeping, particularly during these uncertain times, there are numerous apps that might help. I like Calm for those who have a hard time turning down the chatter in their mind. Pzizz is another great app for helping you relax into sleep. Enjoy a cup of herbal tea containing herbs like chamomile, passionflower, lavender, catnip and/or valerian. These can enhance your relaxation response.
Community is looking a little different right now with all the social/physical distancing – but connection is an essential part of being human and crucial for our mental health. With many of us staying and/or working from home, we must find other ways to stay in touch. Pick up the phone and check in on friends and family, particularly elders who may be particularly isolated. If you are venturing out to the grocery store, call and ask if you can pick up anything for your neighbor. Use Facetime or Skype so children can see and speak with grandparents. Send a card to an old friend. Trust me, the world needs positive connectivity, now more than ever.