How to keep your mind and body healthy during COVID-19 crisis

After several months of staying home to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), we’ve learned to work, play and socialize from the confines of our living space.

But with uncertainty still swirling around when we will be able to return to normal, we may be dealing with restlessness and feelings of isolation.

Two California State University experts offer tips for coping by keeping our minds and bodies active, strong and healthy in circumstances that are challenging us both mentally and physically.

A Strong Mind

Change your attitude: Adapting to this unusual situation poses plenty of mental and emotional challenges—from learning to work productively at home to relying on technology to connect with other people.

And since outings are limited to a walk around the neighborhood or a trip to the grocery store, we may be further challenged as we’re confronted with a seeming loss of freedom.

But adjusting our “attitude can change the way we frame those challenges from being frustrations to being opportunities [to grow],” says Richard Addante, Ph.D., professor of psychology at California State University, San Bernardino.

“You might not be able to go to work, but this is an opportunity to maybe catch up on old work,” he continues.

“Maybe it’s an opportunity to spend time with your loved ones. Maybe it’s an opportunity to decompress from whatever it is that might be stressing you at work.”

Develop self-awareness. For many, this time also means being confined at home with roommates, partners, children, parents or other family.

And after weeks spent together, tensions and tempers could flare.

Dr. Addante, who participated with a crew in NASA’s HERA mission, a 45-day isolation experiment to simulate a trip to Mars, says these situations “allow us to practice tolerance and being more peaceful. It allows us to work together and overcome some of those challenges.”

When disputes do occur, he recommends taking a moment to consider your reaction and the other person’s point of view.

“You’ve got to let some things go and understand people are going to have bad days, bad moods, bad times,” he says.

“We’d better forgive them because we’re going to beg them to forgive us when we have the same thing come around the corner next.”

This attitude will also be important during virtual interactions, especially because virtual and written communication can allow more room for misunderstandings.

Practice resilience. Those who live alone may begin to feel isolated with fewer opportunities to be physically active and connect emotionally and socially with others.

Many of us have turned to virtual get-togethers to help fill this space.

However, this may be particularly difficult for those who go to a counselor or therapist. While they can similarly connect online, it is not always the same as that face-to-face interaction.

In such cases, Addante sees this as a chance for people to practice emotional resilience and make use of the methods they’ve learned in their counseling sessions.

He also says keeping a journal can help with processing this new experience and the associated challenges.

“You can come back to [the journal] later and then show the whole book to your therapist when it’s all done. And you might find yourself growing from it and reflecting.”

Set routines and boundaries. Lastly, those who are new to working or learning from home may find they struggle with either focusing on work or stepping away at the end of the day, as they lack a clear delineation between the workplace or classroom and home.

“You need to practice self-discipline in terms of time management, and I think structure can help in that regard,” Addante says.

This can be done by setting aside blocks of time dedicated to work and to rest. Going one step further, it may also be helpful to establish a physical area in your space for working and one for taking breaks.

A Strong Body

Get up and move. As part of the effort to contain the virus, gyms and studios have closed, disrupting many of our usual workout routines.

And because we’re staying home, we’re apt to move around a lot less, missing out on steps we usually take in a day.

“People are going to be more sedentary and are probably going to be eating more,” says Pablo Costa, Ph.D., associate professor in California State University, Fullerton’s Department of Kinesiology.

“So that will definitely lead to a decline in their fitness level, aerobic fitness and muscle function.”

Whether indoors or outdoors, Dr. Costa recommends everyone make sure they do something to move, as long as they continue social distancing.

Here are a few examples:

Indoors

Aerobic exercises (e.g. jumping rope)

Calisthenics (e.g. pushups, squats)

Household chores

Yoga and stretching

Outdoors

Walking

Running

Biking

Gardening

Beyond the physical benefits, exercise also reduces stress and anxiety—particularly helpful during this time of uncertainty.

“Just doing something that is pleasing is going to be helpful,” Costa says. “If a person is inside the whole day and they’re not used to that … that’s going to lead to a bit of anxiety.”

Ease into stretching and exercise. If you’re new to exercising, haven’t exercised in a while or are waiting to begin exercising again until you can go back to the gym, Costa says to start with low-intensity activity and build up gradually.

Your level of exercise should allow you to hold a conversation while working out, and you should only increase one variable at a time: volume, intensity or frequency.

In addition, stretching helps keep your muscles limber and mobile.

But make sure to do a five- to 10-minute warm-up before stretching to protect your muscles, and ease into each stretch, stopping before it reaches an unbearable point.

Check your work setup. Protect your lower back, neck and shoulders by setting up your home workstation in a way that suits your body.

Sit upright with your feet on the floor, and place your screen at eye level and your keyboard and mouse at suitable angles.

“Make sure you don’t get into a trap of something that may feel very comfortable, but at the same time may be a bad position,” Costa says. This may preclude working on the couch too often.

Also, ensure you’re getting up every 30 minutes to stretch, stand and move—a habit that should be part of your workplace routine, too.

Consider setting up a reminder, like Google Chrome’s Break Timer extension, to help you remember.

Boost your immune system. Finally, though important for your physical and mental health, exercise also improves your immune system, Costa explains.

“You’re less likely to get sick … and then if you do, you probably would respond better and recover quicker.”