Strategies for Supporting Your Emotional Health and Well-Being During COVID-19

By Dr. Susan Tanner, MD

Our previous articles about the current COVID-19 pandemic have dealt with the physical impacts of the virus, preventive measures, and strategies to stay healthy. But, in order to truly address health from a big-picture viewpoint, I want to acknowledge the far-reaching impacts that social isolation, job loss, cutbacks, investment concerns, and the pervading feelings of fear and anxiety can have on our mental health and overall well-being. I feel that this is article is especially pertinent now, because some states are opening back up, and the confusion about what is “ok” and “safe” versus what should still be avoided can further the emotional rollercoaster and stress response.

We have all been affected by this virus in one way or another, even if we have not fallen sick or had a family member or friend that was infected. And, whether working from home, homeschooling children, dealing with job loss, or dealing with conflicts and fallout from our new “shelter in place” lifestyles, stressors for most of us have been at an all-time high. But, my intent in pointing out various COVID-19 struggles is not to paint a gloom-and-doom picture, nor is to be annoyingly cheerful and optimistic, but rather to give a few strategies to help you to deal with these vast changes. I understand the uncertainty of how long this will last adds to the strain of the current situation. Thus, I believe we must find methods of coping in healthy ways with all of this.

The Positive Impacts of Nutrition

The jokes abound about how much everyone is eating out of boredom—the social media posts about gaining the COVID 15 are everywhere. With all of us being at home so much more, we have endless access to food and snacks without a “normal” routine to help us with meal timing and/or portion control. But, contrary to how it might seem, this is an excellent opportunity to plan and initiate a healthier eating style for yourself and your family. Here is the #1 reason why: More than ever we are being forced to buy and cook our own food. Cooking has become a necessity with restaurant closings or limited takeout availability. Further, when we are cooking, we are regaining visibility as far as exactly what is in the foods that we are eating. This gives us MORE control than many of us normally have when it comes to what we are putting in our mouths.

If you don’t know how or where to begin, go online and research healthy eating plans, like whole-foods meal plans, and paleo meal plans. These are solid recommendations as they are meal plans based on unpackaged and unprocessed food sources. The main thing is to look for plans that appeal to both your taste buds and your lifestyle. I find that the plan that you adopt and stick to is the one that you are actually excited about doing. If you want or need professional guidance, there are certified nutritionists who can help—many offer remote consultations. My website, features a section about this and virtual appointments with Tammy Jett-Parmer PA-C are available. Being accountable to someone always helps, as well as receiving the support to hang in there during the rough spots.

Good, complete nutrition always supports healthier brain function (the gut-brain connection is real) and a stronger immune system, not to mention that what you eat can also have a significant impact on your hormones and your emotions. If you are subsisting on sugary and processed foods, your emotions and energy levels are going to peak and crash just like your hunger. Also, if you are a mold illness sufferer, then reading more about and adhering to anti-candida, low-glycemic foods diet is a necessity to keeping you on track with your healing and to keeping your immune system functioning at optimal levels.

Now you finally have the time to experiment with new recipes and find foods and products that can be incorporated into your diet. You can also play a little more with food timing and frequency to see what works best for your body. You may be surprised that you do better with a larger lunch and smaller dinner now that you have more control of your schedule, or you may find that an afteroon snack of a protein source stabilizes your blood sugar until the next meal. This could be a hidden gift of staying home– healthier eating habits that can last a lifetime!

Exercise—A Physical AND Mental Therapy

I am an admitted fan of exercise. My mantra is to get outdoors and move whenever possible. The good that I see from this sheltering in place is that more and more children and adults are outside playing, biking, walking, and just being in nature and in the sunshine. Gone are the days of staying planted in front of computers and video games–we all just want a change of scenery.

If you need ideas, ask yourself how long it’s been since you rode a bicycle or explored a nature trail? Get out there and try it! Some trails have reopened, and social distancing is still possible on these hiking and biking trails. The mental health benefits of exercise cannot be emphasized enough, as studies have now confirmed its healing capacity for both depression and anxiety.

With most gyms still closed, you can implement a home-based exercise plan. There are so many options; if you have a piece of home exercise equipment such as stationary bike, treadmill, or elliptical, then dust it off and get on! It doesn’t have to be fancy or new, it just must work and get you moving. There are also many training programs available online now. Some offer video streaming, so that it is like having a personal trainer in your home. I am very partial to the Peloton company, having found immense benefit from my bike, but more importantly from the training programs the company offers. Peloton is not just for biking, but also for walking, running, body work, yoga and meditation. They are offering their training app for free for 90 days which is a great deal, because you can try it without the financial commitment. I do NOT work for them, but personally have found it to be the most inspiring and motivating home based fitness app ever.

As you initiate or continue any exercise program, adequate hydration (Klean Hydration powder in water) and amino acid supplementation for recovery after your workouts (Klean Protein Isolate) are essential. Hydration has the added benefits of increasing satiety and helping promote proper detox and elimination.

Just like with nutrition, I tell my patients to try a variety of aerobic workouts such as biking or running, bodywork with weights, Pilates or yoga for stretching, etc. The type of exercise is not as important as that they are consistently trying or doing something active every day! Creating a new and healthy habit can carry forward even when this pandemic has passed.

Mental Support and Stimulation

Exercising your mind can mean different things for different people, but we all need a combination of stimulation and mental quiet to stay centered and stable. In terms of stimulation, what a great opportunity to learn something new! Take that online course. Take up a new hobby. Find something that interests you to keep those brain cells stimulated. Sometimes, even just journaling about your day or your efforts in that home project is enough. It will be quite interesting to read back in a year or two to see how we transitioned through this time.

Another way to stimulate your brain is through sound. Try different music. See if you can expand your musical tastes by listening to artists or genres you’ve never explored before. Listen to an audiobook or start a podcast. There are so many ways to access information and to consume it just by listening. You can even combine exercise with learning something new by walking and listening at the same time! There are many studies that show that we learn and retain information better this way.

Part of mental support is also recognizing that the worry and concerns we have right now are real and must not be ignored but acknowledged. Instead of pushing worry away, talk about it or write about it, so that creative solutions can be examined. For example, if a job change was a consideration, this may be a time to explore that in more depth. If not, are there ways to do what we have always done in a newer or more innovative way? If anxiety and worry are consuming you and draining your energy, then prayer or meditation may be most helpful for you. There are also many online services that can connect you with a licensed counselor in your area, or one that you can connect with via phone. These trained professionals can help you work through emotional issues and can help you find additional resources to build a network of support.

Getting Better Sleep Equals Better Everything

We all function better when we sleep more soundly. This means falling asleep and staying asleep so that you awake refreshed and energized. Everyone has a poor night’s sleep occasionally, but if poor sleep is the norm and not the exception, you need to dig into the cause. Sleep truly controls our appetites and metabolisms, moods, cognitive abilities, productivity, energy, hormones, physical performance, and immune systems. The brain detoxifies during sleep, and organs have a chance to rest. Sleep needs are quite different among individuals, but in general, a minimum of 6 hours per night is needed. My better sleep tips include keeping your bedroom cool, avoiding blue lights from computer screens and phones, having a dark bedroom, and breathing clean, mold-free air. The use of natural sleep aides may sometimes be helpful and/or necessary. I have personally used TranquiNox Deep by Nu Medica and found it to work quite well without any “hangover” effects. I also advocate staying on a schedule. Even if you do not have to drive in to work, attempt to maintain the same time routine and circadian rhythm as before all this started. In order to start your daytime clock, which also helps to establish a better sleep schedule, you should try to get into the natural light and sunshine as much as possible upon waking and during daytime hours. Then, as the sun goes down, also turn down the lights inside your home to start signaling to your body that the day is ending, and it is time to sleep.

Do the Best You Can

No matter what your current situation, I believe that there are ways to make this forced slowing down work for you rather than against you. While it may be something as small as cracking open that book that has been sitting on your shelf since last year, anything that enhances personal growth and wellbeing is a positive step. There is no dispute that this time of COVID is hard and is stressful. But, since we are currently unable to control the fallout due to the virus itself, I hope we can each try to find purpose and joy in something we can control to make our days a little brighter and our time a more filled intention.

(Note: The Klean products mentioned can be found on the Wellevate portal at a discount, The Nu Medica Tranquinox is available on their website, using the code 40568.)

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