5 tips to take care of your mental and physical health this week

Photo credit: Brooke Larke via Unsplash.

Physical health isn’t the only thing we should be thinking about as we navigate the challenges presented by the spread of COVID-19. It’s important to look after our mental health as well. Below, find some ways to care for yourself during this time of uncertainty.

1. Reach out to your community

Social distancing is an important preventative measure that can help limit the spread of a virus. But practicing physical social distancing doesn’t mean you have to cut yourself off from your community. In fact, during times of stress, it’s more important than ever to stay connected.

Schedule phone calls and video chats with your friends and family members to continue to feel close with them. If you have to cancel a date, try moving it online or to the phone instead of simply cancelling it. And if you have an important gathering coming up, like a birthday party or wedding, consider holding it in an open space where people are spread apart – or postponing it for a time where everyone can celebrate safely.

Increasing the physical distance between yourself and other people doesn’t mean you have to increase your emotional distance. Use this time to recommit to feeling close with your friends and loved ones. They may be just as much in need of your support as you are in need of theirs.

2. Move your body

Exercise improves mental health by lowering anxiety and improving negative moods, as well as raising self-esteem and cognitive function. But how can we exercise while practicing social distancing?

Even if your local gym stays open, try moving your workout outside. As the weather warms, running and hiking in the fresh air are better options than working out in a crowded indoor space where a virus has plenty of opportunities to move from person to person.  

Many gyms and fitness studios are moving their classes to online formats. Rather than going to classes at the gym, try livestreaming a workout class or following along to a pre-recorded session on YouTube. Create a routine that works for you – whether it’s exercising first thing in the morning, over lunch or before dinner – and stick to it.

3. Eat well

Good food isn’t just good for your body. It’s good for your brain, too. Eating a high-quality array of whole foods can improve your mood, keep your energy levels consistent throughout the day and help you feel more focused and alert. On the flip side, sugar and processed foods can lead to inflammation throughout the body and brain, which may contribute to mood disorders like anxiety and depression.

Focus on eating plenty of fruits and dark, leafy vegetables throughout the day. Foods that are good for your brain include nuts, seeds, legumes – such as beans and lentils – and foods with plenty of good fat, like avocados, full-fat yogurt and salmon.

4. Sleep well

Sleeping is as essential to our bodies as food and water. Continue to follow good sleep practices during this stressful time. Watching TV and spending time on your phone are stimulants, so spend at least 30 minutes away from them before heading to bed. Create a cool, dark and quiet sleep environment for yourself, and stick to the same bedtime each night.

If you are struggling to quiet your mind before bed, try deep breathing. Inhale for a slow count of four, and exhale for the same length of time. Try increasing the length of your inhales and exhales until you feel more relaxed.

5. Stick to a routine

Routines give us structure and can help us to feel stable – even when the world around us feels unstable. The best way you can take care of your mental health is to set a routine that works for you and stick to it. Create time and space to do the things you enjoy.

If you’re struggling to feel motivated, create a schedule for yourself that allows you time to complete work and homework, prepare meals, exercise, spend time outside and stay connected with your loved ones.

Remember, everyone responds differently to stressful circumstances, and it’s normal to feel anxious or concerned. If your feelings of anxiety get in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row, reach out to your healthcare provider. If you do not know who to contact for support, read about mental health support available to UCCS students, faculty and staff.