Gyms are closed, the kitchen is always within striking distance, and our normal routines have been thrown out the window. This trifecta of change challenges our hard-won healthy habits. And allows some not-so-healthy habits to make a triumphant return.
However, in stressful times, tending to your physical health: exercising, eating, and sleeping well, is more important than ever because it reinforces your body’s first line of defense against stress and illness. The key is not to try to fall back into old habits, but rather to establish new routines that work right now in this “new normal.”
Here are the three keys to staying healthy from home:
1. Physical Activity: Get Creative
Your fitness routine is going to look different right now, and that is okay. A major mistake many of us make, according to meQuilibrium Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Adam Perlman, M.D., is that we forgo doing anything when we can’t do it all. According to the latest guidelines, healthy adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity) a week. But repeat after us: anything—and everything—counts.
Reframe roadblocks as a creative challenge. Set an alarm on your phone or computer to take regular activity breaks throughout the day. Get up and stretch, fold laundry standing up, dance to your favorite pump-up song (get your partner or kids in on this too!), walk outside on your lunch break, do squats during commercial breaks, or take advantage of the thousands of virtual fitness classes online right now. You can even make it a social endeavor by recruiting a friend: Schedule a standing fitness session every morning or a few times a week, and hold each other accountable.
2. Eating: Plan Ahead
With lines to get into grocery stores and some items less accessible, it’s easy to fall into the scarcity trap; the same fallacy that leads people to panic-buy large quantities, which is a net negative practice for our communities—and our pantries.
Instead, approach shopping trips with a plan:
- Make a list of what you need along with one or two backup items, just in case.
- It’s okay to buy frozen, canned, and dried non-perishable foods, but be sure to check the sodium and sugar content, which can be high for some of these.
- Aim for complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, which induce serotonin (your brain’s calming hormone).
- Buy versatile “staple foods” that can be used for several kinds of meals.
- Get ahead of boredom grazing by choosing healthy snacks, like citrus fruits, which are high in immune-boosting vitamin C, and foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (think: salmon, tuna, nuts, and seeds), which can reduce stress and depression.
- Make it an event: Let the kids cook one night or experiment together with new recipes. You can even assign a different theme or type of food for each night, invent your own recipes, eat picnic-style, or the opposite: candlelit dinner!
- To ease emotional eating (a common response to stress), make a list of activities you can do when cravings hit, such as journaling, watching a funny video, calling a friend, or taking a short walk. Note: You’re more likely to crave high-carb, sugary foods when you’re not well-rested. (Read on for tips on sleep!)
3. Sleep: Ease Anxiety
Sleep is not only crucial to dealing with stress—processing the day’s events, problem-solving, and emotion regulation—it’s also when your body produces many of the cells and proteins that fortify your immune system.
Right now, a lot of us aren’t getting the sleep we need because we’re going to bed ramped with worry or waking up wired. One way to combat this: Put the phone away before bed and resist checking it first thing in the morning. According to Sleep Scientist and Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology Matt Walker, of the University of California, Berkeley, these habits create the same kind of “anticipatory anxiety” that diminishes your sleep quality before an early morning flight.
Retrain your brain by filling the first five minutes of your day with a new routine: Name three things you’re grateful for, check your thought feed with a neutral mind, or do a morning meditation to set the tone for the day ahead. And start an evening bedtime routine, too: Take a hot bath (it improves blood flow and helps you fall asleep faster), journal your thoughts, or do some light stretching. If you’re tossing and turning, CBT for Insomnia guidelines recommends that you get out of bed: read, stretch, etc. (but still avoid screen time!) to maintain your association with the bed as a restful—not a stressful—space.
Be patient with yourself through these changes in your routine; when your energy dips, your attention wanders, or when you feel sad, frustrated, or angry that things are different. It’s okay if your step count goes down or you occasionally indulge in comfort food that eases your anxiety. The most important ritual above all is always self-compassion.