No one is immune to anxiety particularly in this unprecedented time. Thoughts about the safety of parents, grandparents, friends and yourself can mushroom, causing sleepless nights--further fueling anxiety. At a time when you want to preserve whatever reserves you have and shore up your immune system, increased stress does just the opposite. Learning to reduce your stress is essential.
But what can you do to help yourself and those around you cope more effectively? Turns out there’s plenty you can do to decrease your anxiety and stress levels.
Reduce Your TV and Social Media Time
Even in the best of times watching less of the 24-hour news cycle is best practice. And then of course there’s Facebook and Twitter. Nothing fuels your anxiety like picking up your phone every 30 minutes to check the stock market or the latest post or tweet about the virus. Start small. Start by cutting back the number of times you look at your phone by 10%. And then every few days cut back by another 10%. Also, make sure you don’t look at your TV or phone an hour before bedtime.
One of the best tools for reducing anxiety is practicing mindfulness. If you’ve been meaning to develop a mindfulness practice or learn to meditate there is no better time than now. Fortunately, there’s been an explosion of apps, CDs, and videos to help you do it more easily. One that my wife and I use at bedtime is Calm. This app contains many wonderful meditations and stories to help you calm down. Another easy-to-use app is Headspace which bills itself as a meditation and sleep tool. If breathing shallowly is your issue, try the Breathe+ app recommended by Dr. Brad Lichtenstein of Seattle at The Breath Space. Set it for four breathes in for every six breathes out.
Improve Your Sleep Hygiene
It’s not only your hands that need better hygiene right now. Good sleep depends on it. Sleep is problematic for many of us in times of high stress. Here are some important tips:
- Maintain a consistent routine – go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- Avoid caffeine – it’s OK to have caffeine before noon. But avoid it after that. Keep in mind that chocolate and tea also contain a lot of caffeine. Sorry chocolate lovers!
- Minimize alcohol intake – alcohol can contribute to sleep problems.
- Go outside in the morning – to help with your circadian rhythm your body needs light. Not always easy in this cloudy part of the world. But even diffuse light is helpful. Go outside for at least 20 minutes.
- Create a comfortable sleep environment – people sleep best in cool, dark, and quiet environments. Also, make your bed more inviting by changing your sheets regularly and putting out your best comforters and pillows.
- Exercise – exercising at least 30 minutes a day can help improve sleep.
- Reduce Your Exposure to Blue Light – according to the Sleep Foundation blue light from your phone and computer screen can delay the release of melatonin, making it more difficult to fall asleep. To help reduce the blue light from your devices, download an app like F.lux onto your computer and set your phone to dim automatically in the evening.
Get More Exercise
Meet a friend and walk, making sure you keep your social distance of six feet. Want to give your whole body a workout, trying Zooming a yoga class. Online classes are available at Two Dog Yoga here in Lake City or at 8 Limbs Yoga. If you’re a runner, just make sure you have supportive shoes. Check out “How to Buy the Best Running Shoes”.
Eat Well Balanced Meals
Although many of us resort to eating comfort foods during times of stress, try to balance that out with healthy meals. It’s fine to eat an occasional meal from Dicks if you’re healthy, but a steady diet of fat, sugar, and alcohol will not help your immune system function at its best. Stick to lots of fruit and vegetables, chicken, and fish. Crack open a cookbook or dive into recipes on the internet. Cooking from scratch is always healthier. Consider your local restaurants offering take-out. And not just pizza. Order from your local Vietnamese, Thai restaurants, or other familiar places that serve low fat food. Plus, it’s important to support your local businesses at this time.
Share Important Moments With Friends and Family (Yes, Over Zoom)
A friend just told me she participated in a Zoom birthday party. Someone else I know is reading books to his granddaughter over the internet. Some families are planning to do their Passover seders remotely. The possibilities are endless. Don’t have a gathering to attend? Set up a Zoom session with family or friends just to talk. This is particularly important if you live alone.
Revisit or Try and New Hobby
Recently I wrote a blog, "10 Fun Activities to Do At Home During the Coronavirus Outbreak". Spending time engrossed in activities that are creative and stimulating is much better than watching TV or playing endless video games on your computer. Revisit hobbies you’ve done in the past but haven’t had time for. Pick up your old guitar and belt out a few cherished tunes, finish your scrapbooking project, or pick up your knitting or needlepoint. All of these can bring satisfaction you forgot long ago. Or with the miracle of YouTube you can learn a new hobby. For those who know me, I love to sing. I recently stumbled across a fellow in England, Gareth Malone, who runs The Great British Home Chorus. It’s loads of fun!
And then there’s the professor teaching about The Science of Well Being through Yale. You can access this course for free online. Over 1 million people are enrolled.
The best way to get out of your head and stop your anxious thoughts is by taking action. Whether that’s sewing masks for your local hospital. Calling friends who are isolated to check on them. Or taking groceries to your neighbors who are shut in. Any of these activities is good for your head and your heart.
Yes, the stock market is down by 1/3 and you may have had your work hours cut. But there is also a lot to be grateful for. Developing a gratitude practice is the first in a list of strategies named by author Sonja Lyubormirsky who wrote the groundbreaking book, The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. She says, “Expressing gratefulness during personal adversity like loss or chronic illness, as hard as that might be, can help you adjust, move on, and perhaps begin anew.”
Finding the silver lining in this crisis is important. I’m in awe of all the wonderful things people are doing to help others.
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