May is mental health month, and it has never been more important than this year. During this time of global crisis, all of us— from healthcare professionals to home-based heroes—are experiencing higher than usual levels of worry, isolation, loneliness and anxiety. For those who have recently lost a job or a loved one, this time is particularly challenging. Here are ten proven ways to defeat anxiety and promote total wellness during and after the coronavirus pandemic.
1.) Develop, Evaluate & Adjust Your Routine
Structure can help us feel more stable. Daily life has changed in response to COVID-19 and will continue to change incrementally as the global community heals. During this unpredictable period of change, it can be helpful to maintain familiar routines as much as possible or develop new routines. Consider how you incorporate activities that spark joy for you like drawing, running, spending time with family, enjoying delicious (and healthy) foods, reading or journaling.
If cultivating an entirely new routine feels overwhelming, try focusing on one high-impact part of your day, like your morning or evening routine. Mindfully choosing the first five or last five things you do can have a big impact by setting the tone for your day or helping you wind down.
2.) Choose Self-Compassion Over Productivity
It’s an important time to prioritize mental health over productivity. Although cultivating a daily routine can be helpful, it is important to do so with self-compassion. Give yourself permission to make mistakes while adjusting to the ever-changing COVID-19 landscape. This is a unique and unprecedented time during which you should prioritize whatever allows you the mental and emotional space to feel your best.
When people practice self-compassion, they also experience greater social connectedness, happiness and overall psychological wellbeing. It can be helpful to remember that you and your loved ones are not alone in facing this challenging time. Public health experts around the world are working to ensure the best care for those affected, and by practicing preventative actions, you are giving doctors, nurses and hospitals a chance at improving quality of care.
3.) Mindfully Consume Information
Repeated exposure to turmoil in the media can negatively impact both physical and mental health. Continuous media consumption may also distract from participating in other healthy activities like engaging with loved ones, exercising, enjoying hobbies, reading, and practicing mindfulness or spiritual activities.
Although a near-constant stream of news coverage of COVID-19 is available, it can be helpful to focus only on important updates about COVID-19 by gathering information from reliable sources like health professionals, local public health authorities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Then, refocus the rest of your time in watching or listening to things that make you feel good like podcasts, audiobooks or music.
4.) Show Your Home Some TLC
Many of us are spending significantly more time at home right now. While staying in bed can feel comforting, it’s essential to stay active at least part of the day to curb feelings of anxiety.
There are limitless ways to get out of bed and engage during free time without guilting yourself up about productivity. Activities that are particularly helpful include immersive experiences in your own home like cooking, cleaning, doing the dishes and organizing. A moving body helps calm the mind and accomplishing any small task can be therapeutic.
5.) Practice Intentional Breathing, Meditation or Mindfulness
Breath is incredibly powerful. When you control your breathing, the physical symptoms of anxiety will reverse. Research has also shown that practicing mindfulness and meditation can reduce stress, increase serotonin and strengthen the ability to let go of thoughts that do not serve you.
There are many ways to practice intentional breathing, meditation and mindfulness and near-infinite online resources to help. Consider downloading an app like Calm or Headspace, or using videos like the one below:
6.) Limit Alcohol, Caffeine, Sugar & Processed Foods
Diet affects anxiety. Depression, anxiety and many other chronic diseases have been linked to chronic inflammation, so enjoying an anti-inflammatory diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can reduce the risk of those diseases. While caffeine, red meat, sugar, processed foods and other stimulants can increase anxious feelings, a diet rich in whole, plant foods can help curb them.
It is also essential to avoid using tobacco, alcohol or other drugs which can worsen mental wellbeing. If you are struggling to maintain sobriety, seek support from family members, talk to friends on the phone, or try these ten proven strategies. And, remember that seeking help early can make a big difference.
Ample research has shown that writing out thoughts and feelings facilitates healthy emotional processing and significantly reduces anxiety. Consider dedicating some time each week to notice and appreciate the things that make life meaningful for you through journaling.
Consider practicing gratitude by starting a list of people, places, experiences & things for which you are grateful and growing your list each week. Or, journal to reflect on how well a new routine is working. If it’s not going well, do not shy away from making changes so you end up with a routine that works best for you. You could also consider journaling to explore what is meaningful to you by saving or sketching pictures, writing poetry or copying quotes that resonate with you.
8.) Connect with your Support Network
Although social distancing measures are in place, find ways to nurture positive and supportive relationships in your life. Consider strengthening bonds with those who are most important to you by engaging in a shared hobby, offering praise or spending time together virtually. There are many fun and creative ways to virtually plan a date, send someone a gift or write them a letter, spend time with friends, or simply share a compliment.
While virtually staying in touch with your biggest supporters, consider using video, rather than just audio or messaging. Find ways to stay connected by joining an online community, engaging with loved ones through video-conferencing, participating in an online support group or trying these ten fresh and creative ways to stay connected.
Go ahead and laugh, even during a pandemic. Laughter is free— and a surprisingly effective way of reducing anxiety and boosting mood. A good laugh has both short-term and long-term health benefits. Laughter increases your oxygen intake, relieves stress, soothes tension, strengthens your immune system and can even relieve pain.
Watch a funny movie or your favorite stand-up comedian, read a comic or find news blooper reals on YouTube. To pass the benefit along, consider sharing your favorite sources of funny with those who could use a pick me up. After all, laughter really is the best medicine.
10.) Move Your Body
Exercise is one of the best anti-anxiety remedies. It is essential for brain and body health, and has a profound on anxiety, stress, self-esteem, confidence and sleep. It is helpful to make movement a part of your schedule and not just an afterthought. Early in the morning, during lunch breaks, after work or before showering are great blocks of time to work out. Every minute of movement counts— so consider adding even just 5, 7 or 15 mins of exercise to your routine.
To double the benefits by being active, try safely exercising outdoors. Research has shown that spending time around trees, in green spaces, or by bodies of water significantly amplifies feelings of wellbeing, boosts your immune system and reduces anxiety.