With most of the world under lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19, there isn’t a single person not facing the possibility of escalating panic or extreme boredom. Both can do a number on the brain and the body. When this thing lifts, will we be 15 pounds heavier? Will our anxiety spiral out further?
As a former surgeon general (appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002) and now Chief of Health Innovation for Canyon Ranch—with wellness-oriented resorts in Tucson, Arizona; Lenox, Massachusetts; Woodside, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; and on board Celebrity Cruises and Cunard Cruises ships—Dr. Richard Carmona is experienced at taking care of both physical and mental health. His goal right now? “Aligning mind, body, and spirit.”
He offers these tips on how to prep yourself during this self-quarantine time, so you are prepared to hit the road later, and be a better human to those around you. This can be a time of chaos or chillaxing—your call.
Set a Routine
Pre-COVID-19, whether you were working in an office or chauffeuring the kids to activities, you were locked into a routine, dictated by the time you woke up, when (and where) you ate lunch, and your commute (or last trip for the day) back home. Now you may be working from home, clocking in reduced hours at a job site, or unemployed. That routine you slipped into so easily is now hard to keep up.
“For the average person, the challenge is—no matter how gregarious you are or wherever you work—that now you’re shut in,” he says. “What we lose is that purpose in life, what gets us up every morning. Fill the hours with purposeful activity, things that bring value to you and your family.”
Folded into your daily schedule should always be physical movement, whether it’s a walk in the neighborhood or a home workout (with thousands of apps and videos, you now have no excuse!).
“You want to stay active, both physically and mentally,” says Carmona.
Create an At-Home Gym
You don’t need an empty room in which to do your workouts. It can be a space as big as a yoga mat—for stretching, pilates or yoga—or, better yet, Carmona suggests adding a gym for the whole family to your backyard. His grandkids now play in the sun while his son and daughter-in-law squeeze in a workout with inexpensive tools and gadgets, like kettlebells, punching bags, and mats.
Go See Someone
Sure, you can pick up the phone to hear a friend’s or family member’s voice—and you can also log into a Zoom or FaceTime chat—but it will never replace the joy of face-to-face conversation. Take a cue from the multi-generational family connections you’re hearing about across the country, in which an elderly person is inside the home while his or her younger family members are right out front. Each party is on a phone, laughing, crying, and sharing in the same physical space, separated only by a sheet of glass.
“It’s better than virtual because you see them right there,” says Carmona.
Turn off the News
Whether you’re an NPR junkie or get excited about New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefings, moderate the intake.
“Whatever your favorite news is, don’t watch too much,” says Carmona. “Today’s news is more partisan and entertainment than it is real news. Find a place that’s non-partisan. Read and listen—and then turn it off.”
By taking even just 15 minutes a day to meditate, says Carmona, “you are calmer. You are less likely to be stressed. These are practices of great wisdom from thousands of years ago.”
This clearer frame of mind will allow you to better tackle issues concerning lines at the grocery store, helping the kids with algebra homework, or worrying about a family member’s vulnerability to COVID-19.
Get Enough Sleep
If you suffer from insomnia—whether chronically or are grappling with it for the first time—this is not helping your body stay strong enough to fight COVID-19.
“Lack of sleep can make your immune system more susceptible,” says Carmona.
Don’t stay up late reading the news or scrolling through social media. Begin to quiet down the mind a couple of hours before bedtime by reading a book or taking a bath.
Challenge Your Mind
Many of us feel bored and restless—coupled with the reality that stimulation only comes from within our homes.
“Instead of sitting around lamenting,” says Carmona, “turn it around and make it a positive experience.”
This could be a great time to learn a foreign language, take an online class in a topic you’ve always wanted to know more about, or play interactive games (board games, strategy games, card games, etc.) with others, both at home or virtually. Crossword puzzles, sudoku, and jigsaw puzzles have been reimagined into apps and websites, so there’s no excuse if you can’t get to the store or don’t subscribe to a newspaper.
Eat and Drink Healthy
“Most of us know more about the fuel you put in your car than the food you put in your body,” says Carmona.
Comfort foods and salty/sweet snacks—coupled from the fact that you are always within reach of the fridge or pantry now—might be what you think you need, but it’s not a long-term solution. Turn to whole foods instead that are not doctored up with preservations.
“Eat farm to table, without preservatives,” says Carmona. “Stay away from processed foods. And eat proportionate to your activity.”
This is also a golden opportunity to start cooking more regularly, tinkering with different spices on your favorite chicken dish or exploring a new-to-you cuisine.