With all that is going on with the current health crisis, it is easy to be overwhelmed. By self-isolating, working from home, and worrying about mundane tasks such as heading to the grocery store, we are adapting to a new way of life. It is important to not create unhealthy habits that may contribute to your stress and anxiety. What you eat and how you sleep can affect your stress levels and immune system. Here are some things the experts are saying can help:
Maintain a healthy diet
Bryan Robinson, Ph.D., says “What you eat during self-quarantine and sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic can help you cope better or make your stress worse.” For some, stress can cause little-to-no appetite and for others it can result in overeating. Robinson says, “When we’re worried or frightened we are mostly likely to seek out sugars, fats and carbs,” which elevates our levels of cortisol and keeps our internal alarm systems on around the clock. Robinson suggests these tips for properly nourishing our bodies to have a higher stress-resistant shield:
- Eat nutritious foods. Drink water and fruit juices, eat high-fiber foods, and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids. Eating junky meals or barely any food leads to a weakened immune system.
- Portion meals. If you don’t measure food, you automatically eat more, which contributes to unwanted weight gain. Try portioning out snacks and meals on plates.
- Practice mindful eating. Make mealtime a singular activity by sitting down and eating slowly. Eating meals and snacks in front of the television can cause you to eat quickly and overeat.
- Inventory your kitchen. When ordering food, get healthy snacks and foods. Fill your cabinets and refrigerator with them to avoid the temptation of reaching for unhealthy food items. Consider throwing away unhealthy purchases that may tempt you.
- Change your routine. Instead of rewarding yourself after a long stressful day with a case of beer or carton of ice cream, try to change the habit with a healthier activity such as soaking in a hot bath.
*For those suffering from an eating disorder seek out help from a healthcare professional or support group for additional strategies.
Implement healthy sleeping habits
Boris Dubrovsky, Ph.D., says staying home in times of uncertainty can jeopardize healthy sleep. It is necessary to maintain a sleeping schedule to keep your immune system strong. Lack of sunlight, reduced physical activity, increased worrying, and turning the bedroom into a place of work are not conducive to a good night sleep. Here are some things that are:
- Regulate your circadian system. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time. Try to get some sunlight for an hour a day either through a window, in the backyard, or a brief walk outside. (Be sure to maintain your social distance.)
- Exercise. Dubrovsky says, “Less vigorous, but consistent physical activity is a good predictor of longer and deeper sleep.”
- Create a comfortable sleeping environment. Darken your room and set the thermostat to a lower temperature.
- Stay away from electronics. Philip Cheng, Ph.D., says there’s evidence blue light from electronics can impact your circadian rhythm and keep you awake.
- Try to limit your media exposure. The CDC has stated, “Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.” Overthinking things we cannot control can keep us up at night.