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Health Habits During Isolation

Reinventing Your Routine

During the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, routines are off, emotions are high and many people are spending most of their time at home, all of which can increase the risk of falling into unhealthy habits. To help protect your physical and mental health, find a daily routine that you can stick to. Circumstances may change dramatically and present real challenges, but the behavioral targets for health remain the same. Think about including five specific and important behavioral targets for sustaining health and well-being, even in times of crisis.

Protect your sleep.

When other routines in your day change, it is easy to let sleep patterns change as well. Sticking to the same sleep schedule every day and getting an adequate number of hours of sleep per night (aim for 7 to 8) is vital for your physical and emotional health. To do this, set an alarm for wake time and bedtime. Limit screen time at night, and try to power down both the TV and phone or other electronic devices at least 30 minutes before you get into bed. In the time between checking electronics and bedtime, find a relaxation routine instead. Consider plugging your phone in across the room instead of right next to you to avoid the temptation to keep scrolling.

Be thoughtful about nutrition.

Create a schedule for eating, which may include three meals and up to two snacks. Have a plan for what and when you will eat each day; for added accountability, plug everything into a calorie-tracking app the night before. Or, write your meals down in a journal.

During a crisis, it may be challenging to stock the fridge and pantry with ideal foods (fresh fruits, veggies, lean proteins), and you may be limited by what is currently available in the local market. With your available options, do your best to have a home food environment that will set you up for success. Keep highly processed, tempting foods out of sight (such as on the top shelf of a cupboard, in the basement, in a drawer you rarely open, behind things in the fridge) and out of the house if you’re able to find healthier choices.

Keep moving.

When you’re stuck at home, the odds of sedentary behavior go up. To counteract this, schedule activity every day. At a set time each day, try taking a brisk walk outside (think walking at the speed that you would to catch a bus), walking your stairs at home or dancing in your living room. Remember, movement can take any form, and you don’t have to change clothes to move! Set reminders to get up and move around every couple of hours. You can even engage in cardio and strength training at home without any equipment.

Be intentional about stress relief.

Build your own personal recharge and recreation toolbox. Purposefully take time to socially connect (virtually if necessary), play a game, make others laugh, engage in a hobby, take a bubble bath or hot shower, read a book, listen to music, practice a relaxation exercise, meditate, stretch, practice yoga, engage in prayer/faith activities, or take a walk outside. The need for stress-relieving activities is even greater in times of uncertainty.

Promote a feeling of productivity and gratitude.

Spend time on activities that help you feel a sense of accomplishment. These don’t have to be big things: You could reorganize a drawer or closet, keep up with the laundry and daily chores, or take care of household or online tasks you’ve been putting off. Try to identify aspects of life that you appreciate or make you feel grateful for every day; this can help keep you from focusing too much on negative things that are happening.

Other Tips

  • Limit news time. Stay informed, but limit your exposure to the potentially constant stream of bad news. Consider checking in on what is going on at designated times in the morning and in the evening. Thirty minutes is usually plenty of time to catch up on the day’s events.
  • Keep your appointments if you are able, but see if you can do them virtually. Many physicians, therapists and dietitians are now offering e-visits by telephone or video.
  • If you are having trouble managing your mood or anxiety, consider starting or re-engaging in therapy. Therapists are now able to offer telephone and video counseling.
  • Put limits on behaviors that you know can be unproductive or harmful. Think about putting limits on activities like TV time and drinking alcohol.
  • Watch out for stress/boredom eating.

Featured Experts

Anjali U. Pandit, PhD
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