If you’re feeling stressed and anxious lately, know that you’re not alone. With COVID-19 disrupting the daily lives of so many people around the world, there’s no way to avoid anxiety, sadness and pressure. However, despite the many facets of our life that we can no longer control, we can take charge of how we manage this situation by examining our coping mechanisms and building healthy habits. Our physical and mental health are inseparable, and we can take steps to empower ourselves by practicing a holistic approach to overall wellness.
If you often find yourself nervous and worried, try making changes to your daily habits that impact your physical health, and watch your mental health improve! Here’s how you can start:
- Nutrition: Many people cope with stress by immediately turning to calorically dense, sugary foods for quick comfort, ignoring the long-term health effects. What many people don’t realize is that our digestive system plays a crucial role in regulating our mental health, since reactions in our digestive system impact the neural pathways to our brain. Studies show that whole-food diets (meaning diets comprised of meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, legumes and other minimally processed foods) can improve how the body mediates emotions.
To see how a whole-food diet can improve your overall health, try eliminating processed foods and sugars for two or three weeks, and observe how your body and mind react to the changes. You might notice a significant improvement in your energy levels and mood! While I encourage my clients to eat whole-foods whenever possible, it’s impossible to do so all the time. Especially during stressful times when fresh groceries might be harder to procure, it’s okay to cut yourself a little slack. If there are certain foods or treats you love, you can slowly reintroduce them back into your diet over a few weeks. Just be mindful of how much you are consuming!
- Exercise: Everyone knows that exercise is conducive to building strength, maintaining cardiovascular health and preventing disease. Many people, however, don’t know that physical activity also boosts brain activity. Exercise releases all sorts of chemicals, like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, all of which affect our focus and productivity. It is also linked to reducing insulin resistance, reducing inflammation, and stimulating the production of growth factors, which affect the health of the cells and the growth of new blood vessels in our brains. All this scientific talk ultimately means that exercise is a great preventative practice for mood disorders and cognitive decline.
So, while a few jumping jacks won’t solve all your emotional needs, there is a link between regular exercise and improved mood. You don’t even need a gym membership or fancy gym equipment to make exercise a part of your daily life. With just your body and 30 minutes of your day, you can easily incorporate exercise into your daily routine.
- Rest: Your physical and emotional health are very reliant on rest. Restful sleep is crucial to a healthy mind and body and can make a huge difference in your day-to-day health. Deep sleep, also known as REM sleep, is especially important because it is the most restorative stage of sleep when our bodies release hormones that regulate our emotions, hunger and energy. Scientists have even observed a link between sleep deprivation and mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
While more serious sleeping disorders may require professional assistance, most people can incorporate a number of lifestyle changes to improve their sleep quality. Some examples include reducing alcohol and caffeine intake, exercising regularly and removing distractions such as phones and televisions from their bedrooms. Creating a bedtime routine that helps you relax and wind down, like deep breathing or meditation, can help prepare your body and mind for sleep.
- Stress: Stress is a complicated issue that many consider a mental problem, but there are physical components to it as well – after all, stress can manifest physiologically as hormones. When we face stress, it can be a positive experience that helps us stay alert and motivated. It only becomes negative when we are constantly undergoing stressful situations without moments in between to rest and recover. In these situations, stress will trigger hormonal imbalances that have a direct effect on our mental and emotional health.
The most important thing to remember is that staying stress-free forever is virtually impossible. What we can do is learn to change our behaviors to avoid stress whenever possible. Do you say “yes” too often to your friends and family, even when they have unreasonable requests? Do you continue to entertain distressing people and situations, even when they’re avoidable? You can evaluate the various stressors in your life and see which ones you can circumvent more easily.
As you attempt to navigate your wellness journey during this unprecedented time, it is important to remember that you can’t transform your entire lifestyle at once. Establishing new habits is a long and sometimes arduous process. The most important thing is that you are taking small and incremental – but no less significant – steps to identify and pursue opportunities to improve our wellbeing. During a time when many of us feel helpless to the circumstances around us, taking control of the choices we can make can be surprisingly empowering.