This unprecedented time is extremely challenging on our mental and emotional health. Here are 9 things I’m prioritizing to support my mental health during this challenging time.
As April comes to a close, most of us remain in quarantine for the foreseeable future. This new normal was thrust upon our society almost overnight. We’ve banded together as humans to adjust, but quarantine certainly has consequences for our mental and emotional health.
Most of the activities that bring us joy are off limits right now. Restaurants, shops, and gyms are closed. We can’t even hang out with friends and family. Humans are inherently social creatures, so isolating ourselves is a shock to the system. Couple that with the fear and uncertainty revolving around COVID-19, and it’s almost guaranteed our mental health will suffer.
As someone with pre existing anxiety/depression (that’s been defined by health related fears in the past), I am taking extra care to support my mental health while in quarantine. Read on to see what’s working for me.
9 things i’m doing to support my mental health
Sticking to a regular sleep schedule
It’s tempting to stay up late binging Netflix shows since we have nowhere to go these days! But, the benefits of good sleep go beyond just feeling well rested. Sleep can improve cognitive performance, enhances athletic performance, and may even support your immune system.
It’s recommended that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep per night to reap all the benefits. My personal sweet spot is a solid 8 hours. That’s when I feel most rested and productive. It’s also important to have a consistent sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at approximately the same times every day.
You can optimize your sleep environment to encourage the best night’s sleep in a few ways. First, make your bedroom dark and cool. Eliminate any blue light from technology, and pull the curtains to get rid of street lights beaming in if you live in the city. The ideal sleep temperature is said to be about 67 degrees F, so crack a window if you need.
What’s different for me during quarantine: I’m hitting snooze a bit later in the mornings, allowing myself to slowly wake up to the day. I’ve also been really tired on some days, so I’ve allowed myself to get into bed even earlier than usual if that’s what I need. My usual 8 hours is oftentimes 9 these days.
One of the BEST ways to support your mental health in general is exercise. It improves mood, boosts your energy, and helps raise self-esteem when done consistently. You don’t need to spend hours working out – even small amounts of exercise have benefits.
Exercise has always been a key supporter of my mental health, and it’s no different in quarantine. I’m prioritizing movement in some way every single day. Some days it’s a sweaty tabata HIIT, other’s its an AKT dance class (SO fun). On rest days when I’m not doing a specific workout, I walk outside in the neighborhood and stretch.
What’s different for me during quarantine: No gym or studio classes, I’m doing all home workouts! I make up 1-2 a week, and do a mix of online classes on other days. My favorites are AKT and Peloton.
Eating nourishing meals
Good nutrition supports good health, including mental health. Research supports that Mediterranean style diets may help protect mental health (1).
A Mediterranean style diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. This style of eating is also beneficial in lowering risk chronic disease. Additionally, foods eaten on a Mediterranean style diet are rich in nutrients that support immune function.
It’s important to note that there is no evidence that any one single nutrient or ingredient will significantly affect your mental health. Rather, it is the pattern of eating that will benefit you.
What’s different for me during quarantine: I’m eating more canned and frozen goods because they last a long time, including frozen fruits and vegetables, canned beans, and tuna.
We’re preparing comfort foods more frequently. For me, this means more refined carbohydrates like white pasta and bread. If you’re in the same boat, I assure you it’s a totally normal response to this global crisis. Food is not only meant to nourish us physically, but also emotionally.
It’s so important to honor your cravings at this time. A healthy eating pattern of course includes fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, but it also includes foods like pizza and pasta. The unwavering pursuit of the perfect diet will likely leave you feeling deprived, food obsessive, and stressed. This can lead to binging, affect your social life, and in more serious cases, an eating disorder.
Limiting the news
I figured out early on during quarantine that keeping the news in my ear all day was doing my mental health no good. All the numbers, plans, and dates just added to my anxiety.
Ben and I watch CBS This Morning and our local news for about half an hour before we begin working each day, just to get pertinent updates we need. Besides that, I’m staying away from other news outlets the rest of the day.
Staying in touch with family and friends
Keeping in touch with my family and friends has been crucial for supporting my mental health at this time. Phone calls, Zoom, and even texting all help me feel connected.
Even though I am introverted, consistent contact with my best friends and family has always greatly enhanced my mental health. These days, group chats on iMessage are the best! Also, it’s helped a lot to talk about something other than COVID-19. Some ideas include: TV shows, memories, future plans, dating, new recipes, celebrity gossip, books, or gratitudes.
What’s different for me during quarantine: Just like everyone, not being able to spend time with loved ones in person. I’ve relied heavily on texting, Zoom, and FaceTime to connect. Also, I’ve reconnected with friends I haven’t spoken to in years, which I don’t think would have happened without quarantine.
Each time I step outside these days, I let out a literal sigh of relief. While we haven’t had the best weather here in Boston lately, the fresh air just feels so good (even with a mask on).
Besides the grocery store, “outside” is practically the only place to go right now. We are lucky enough to live in a safe and quiet neighborhood with beautiful streets to walk down. On the weekends, we’ve been going for even longer walks throughout the city.
What’s different for me during quarantine: I used to walk for transportation most places: to the grocery store, to a coffee shop to work, downtown to meet for brunch. Now, getting outside and walking is a release from being at home all day.
Our daily afternoon walks have become almost sacred. I always feel more at peace during and after we go, which definitely supports my mental health right now.
Making weekend plans
Weekend plans look a little different right now, but having something planned to look forward to has been so helpful for my mental health. It’s important to separate the weekend from the workweek to mentally reset, relax, and reconnect with friends and family.
A few things I’ve had planned for the weekend include: happy hours (with alcohol or not), DIY manicure sessions on Zoom, and taking long walks around the city. Another SUPER fun thing we’ve been doing with Ben’s friends is an Iron Chef competition. Ben and his friends are the chefs, and the significant others are the judges. We all hop on Zoom as they’re cooking, everyone presents their meals, and we have a formal judging panel after eating.
What’s different for me during quarantine: All socializing has been via technology, instead of in person. I’m definitely craving in-person contact more than ever right now. I’m also itching to travel and see my friends and family who don’t live nearby.
I’m reading more than I have in years now. I’ve already read 9 books this year – I don’t even think I read 9 total last year! I prefer fiction, because it allows me to get lost in a story. It really does wonders to take my mind off the uncertainty of the present.
Also, I’m choosing to read before bed every night, which helps my transition to sleep tremendously. I’ve struggled with falling asleep in the past, and reading absolutely makes it easier. After this pandemic is over, I’ll definitely continue the habit of reading before bed.
What’s different for me during quarantine: I read much less often than I am now before quarantine. Reading was pretty much reserved for vacation because I felt too busy otherwise. I’m now carving out time every single day to read, and it feels great.
Planning for the future
Right now, the present and the future are very uncertain. I’m sure we’ve all had to cancel exciting events, trips, or future plans, and that feels really disappointing.
In spite of it all, I’ve continued to visualize and make future plans for when we are safe to travel and socialize again. This has been essential for my mental health, to know that things will eventually go back to normal. I’ve been making plans both big and small: friends’ birthdays, weekends on Martha’s Vineyard, our wedding in October, and our honeymoon.
As we gain more knowledge about COVID-19, I’m hopeful that we can begin slowly transitioning back to normal. I can’t wait for the future plans I’ve made, whether they are two months from now or a year from now.
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