By Michelle Udayamurthy, M.D.
Whether you’ve been sheltering in place at home for days or weeks or you or loved ones have experienced the illness firsthand, you can’t help but be affected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). It’s literally and figuratively everywhere – on the news, on social media, and most likely always on your mind.
You’ve done everything you can to protect yourself and your loved ones. You’re washing your hands frequently and practicing social distancing. But that doesn’t mean that COVID-19 isn’t affecting your mind, body, and spirit.
Stress and anxiety are rampant, with people adjusting to the “new normal.” Employees are learning how to work from home. Parents are learning how to homeschool when they never have before. Many people in service and retail jobs are either not working or have lost their jobs and don’t know how they will pay their bills. Adult children are worried about their elderly parents across the country. And everyone is wondering how long this will last.
These are stressful, uncertain times. It’s understandable that many people are turning to things that comfort them, like eating unhealthy foods, binge-watching TV shows, and sleeping frequently. Some are even drinking alcohol more than usual. But taking time for your health while cooped up at home is just as crucial as the other protective measures you’re taking to avoid the coronavirus.
When you're stuck at home, it’s tempting to plop down on the couch and stay there all day. But, when for an extended period, this isn’t healthy for your body or mind. Your body needs to move to stay healthy, and physical activity helps relieve stress. Here are some things you can do to stay active at home:
• Start your day with exercise. The key here is to move, move, move. You don’t need fancy equipment. You should make use of what you have, whether it’s dumbbells, kettlebells, a jump rope, resistance bands, or a yoga mat. If you don’t have equipment, using your own body weight is just as effective. Many local gyms like HIIT Houston, YESyoga, and others have loaned equipment out to members and are offering online nutritional advice and workouts with and without equipment through Facebook, Zoom, or YouTube as well as one-on-one or small group training sessions that allow for social distancing.
• Get outside. Most areas, even if a shelter-in-place order has been given, allow residents to spend time outside. Play Frisbee, soccer, or toss around a ball with the kids. Take a walk with your spouse or bike around the neighborhood. Do some gardening. Being exposed to daylight is an important aspect of mental health, and the physical activity helps you stay fit, so do what you can to spend at least a short amount of time each day outdoors. Just be sure to keep a 6-foot distance from others who are not in your household.
• Do some spring cleaning. This is the time of year when many people want to do spring cleaning but don’t have the time. Well, thanks to coronavirus, most of us have more time on our hands than we’d like. Taking a day (or several) to clean out your closet, organize drawers, or deep clean your house is a way to get active and occupy your body and mind.
• Make home improvements. Another thing many people usually put off because they don’t have enough time is home improvement. If you have supplies laying around or can have them delivered, occupy yourself and get in some physical activity by painting or making repairs around the house.
Hopefully you’ve already stocked up on groceries, but if you’re heading out to the grocery store, don’t just pick up canned goods. Many people have focused on stocking up on nonperishables, but there’s no reason to think that utilities will be affected by coronavirus. You’ll still be able to refrigerate, freeze, and cook your food, so make sure to get some fresh fruits and veggies, as well as lean meats.
Not much of a cook? Now is a great time to find recipes on Pinterest and cooking videos on YouTube and learn basic cooking skills. Your body will appreciate your attempt to whip up healthy meals instead of filling it with empty calories from processed foods.
Laughter really is the best medicine. No, it won’t cure coronavirus, but it can help your mental and physical well-being while you’re stuck at home. If you live alone, call a friend or family member who always cheers you up. If you’re with your family, play a game, have a dance-off, or watch a comedy.
If you have children with you, get down on their level and play that video game with them or join that tea party they’re always inviting you to. Coloring books and puzzles can be both fun and therapeutic. Whatever you consider fun, try to do it every day and notice what a difference it makes to your mental and physical health.
COVID-19 has created a situation most of us have never been in before, but none of us is alone. We’re all in this together, and we’re all trying to make the best of it. Taking time away from the ever-present coronavirus news to take time for yourself is crucial to getting through this outbreak in good health.
Dr. Michelle Udayamurthy is a board-certified Internal Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold. She cares for her patients at the Spencer R. Berthelsen, M.D., Main Campus. She views the doctor-patient relationship as one of the most important parts of healthcare. Her clinical interest is preventive medicine.