1. Prioritize Sleep — Your Mood and Immune System Are Counting on It
When it comes to taking care of your health and well-being, sleep is always part of the answer. Adequate good-quality sleep keeps your immune system running at its best to fight off infections like the one caused by the new coronavirus. Indeed, there are parts of the body’s immune response that happen only during sleep. Scientists know that sleep is also one of the top ways we can keep stress in check, as sleep deprivation can make us more sensitive to the effects of stress, ramping up our reactions (or overreactions) to stressors. Finally, the brain needs sleep to function: Not getting it can make you less patient and focused, and more moody, irritable, and emotional.
2. Work. It. Out.
Spending a lot more time at home does not mean you get to be a couch potato. Physical activity not only keeps your body healthy (lowering your risk of chronic health issues as well as your chances of acute illness like COVID-19), it also improves your mood and general well-being. Exercise releases endorphins (hormones that make you feel good!), helps sharpen focus, and aids sleep. Healthy movement is also linked to a lower risk of mood disorders, higher energy levels, and improved mood overall. Talk about a one-two punch against the midafternoon slump.
3. Downward Dog Like You Mean It
Are you a yogi or have you considered starting a practice? Now is the time. Yoga offers a laundry list of health benefits from busting stress to stretching out inactive muscles to building strength to getting a burst of physical activity (depending on the type you do). Why might yoga be an especially useful tool to add to your stress-busting and coping arsenal right now? It links movement with breath. And because both these factors can affect our body’s stress-coping reactions, it can be a silver bullet in tough times.
4. Avoid Mindless Snacking; Eat Intuitively Instead
Are you now spending your days with your snack drawer within sight or reach? Rather than self-impose strict rules on what foods are and aren’t off-limits, try intuitive eating. It’s not a diet so much as a way of eating that’s all about giving your body what it needs when it needs it. Intuitive eating doesn’t restrict any specific foods or have you count calories. It’s a practice in which you listen to your body and pay attention to what you need at the current moment. Do you need a meal or a snack? You eat when you feel hungry, and you stop eating when you feel full. For inspiration, look no further than Instagram.
5. Reach for High-Protein Snacks When You Need an Energy Boost
What should you be noshing on when you feel hungry? Keep high-protein bites on hand to help you get to the end of your to-do list for the day. You’ve heard it before: Protein helps you feel full longer and avoid the energy crash you might experience after the energy high of a carb-heavy snack subsides. Think hard-boiled eggs, nuts, Greek yogurt, and nut butters and veggies. (Bonus: You’re literally feet from your fridge, so there’s no need to pack snacks ahead of time or tote them around for the day.)
6. Keep Stress-Busting Foods on Hand
Yes, you read that correctly. Certain foods can actually have a stress-lowering effect. Think: warm, soothing foods (like soup or tea) and fatty fish (the omega-3s may improve mood). Avocados are packed with vitamins C and B6, which are known to help reduce stress. Dark chocolate is antioxidant-rich, which is great for thwarting stress (do savor in moderation, however, as it’s a calorie-dense food). Other helpful foods include whole-grain carbohydrates, bananas, oranges, water, and leafy greens.
7. Leave Stress-Inducing Foods in Not-So-Convenient Places
Though you may be inclined to self-indulge with treats or your favorite cocktail, know that these actually have a counterproductive effect on stress: They tend to exacerbate it. Foods that can mess with stress in a less-than-savory way include caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugars. You don’t have to cut them out completely, but do limit your intake and enjoy them in moderation.
8. Practice Kindness and Gratitude Like Lady Gaga Does
Lady Gaga says she practices being kind to others and being grateful for what’s going right in her life. Clinical studies have found that people who regularly practice gratitude journaling (actually writing down what you’re grateful for) report better well-being, physical health, and increased optimism about the future. Practicing kindness is sometimes easier said than done (particularly when we’re in tight quarters and tensions are high), but remember that everyone is going through a tough time right now.
9. Take a Few Minutes to Practice Diaphragm Breathing
Calm and measured breathing can have immediate effects on your mental and physical state, whether the tension comes from the relentless news cycle or your ever-present housemates. Do your breathing practice regularly to start or end your day in a positive way, or try it in a moment when you need a little more zen. Need guidance? Certain meditation apps, such as Calm, have free Web-based resources that do exactly this.
10. Give Yourself a Meditation Break
You don’t need any special equipment or space for this one; you can do it anytime, anywhere. Meditation is thinking deeply or focusing your mind for a set period of time. The benefit: Meditation can help reduce stress, ease symptoms of depression and anxiety, and regulate negative thinking. If you’re looking for another tool to add to your arsenal to combat stress, consider this one. And, just as with deep breathing, you’ll be happy to know there’s no shortage of meditation apps available.