Living a healthy lifestyle, by maintaining proper diet and exercise, was challenging for many people who gave many reasons for not following guidelines. That’s when the world wasn’t experiencing a pandemic. Now with statewide stay-at-home orders, experts say the COVID-19 pandemic makes “self-care” more important than ever before.
“How you eat, how you sleep, how you exercise, how you cope with stress, what type of close relationships you have, will affect the quality and quantity of your life,” said Chief Wellness Officer Stephen Keithahn, MD, for MU Health Care. “And this doesn’t change when you’re going through a mass viral infection like we’re challenged with now.”
Dr. Laine Young-Walker, psychiatrist at University of Missouri Health Care, said the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak can test anyone’s mental health.
“The anxiety is really coming from uncertainty. There’s an uncertainty about what the next hour, day will bring, how long this COVID-19 will go on, and how much it will change people’s day-to-day life,” said Dr. Young-Walker.
But she advised there are some ways to help your family through these stressful times. In order to deal with that anxiety, she recommends focusing on what you can control and start to establish new routines.
“Try to plan your new normal. And so, if you had a certain habit of doing things that now you can’t do, what can you replace that with? That way you can start to have new routines, new habits,” said Young-Walker.
As MU Health Care’s chief wellness officer, Dr. Keithahn urges people to add exercise to their “new normal”, by getting outside several times each week. Simply walking or playing together as a family is a great start. He said exercise is critically important because it boosts the immune system. He said studies suggest 30 to 60 minutes of this basic exercise and movement, as often as three to five days a week, is helpful and healthy.
Now that people are spending more time at home, Keithahn said it’s a good time to focus on nutrition.
“We have more time and less access to restaurants, which can have higher calories and higher fat and sodium foods, so we can cook at home in a more healthy fashion.”
He suggests trying new recipes and eating less processed food, which can lead to developing new healthy habits that stick with you and your family for life.
Keithahn explained it’s important to stay socially connected. He said it’s healthy to maintain connections with family and friends. He recommended sharing fears, as well as reassurances.
“While it’s hard to be close to people physically, we don’t have to become isolated. We can be connected in ways using technology.”
He emphasized how proper sleep makes everything possible.
“Now more than ever, it’s important for all of us to stay healthy,” he said. “That we’re getting the proper amount of sleep, seven to eight hours. I know this, for a lot of us, where there’s been fear and anxiety, it has been disruptive to our sleep.”
There are a number of relaxation apps that can help manage stress and anxiety, as well as online counselors and mental health services that can offer help if you are struggling with anxiety or depression during this period.