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Mental Health

Taking Care of your Body and Mind During COVID-19

 

Author: Jessie's Legacy, a program of Family Services of the North Shore

 

You may be feeling out of control around food. Like many others, you may be feeling that your eating habits have shifted in the absence of your regular routine. Maybe having more food in the house in preparation for self-isolation means that you have been eating more than anticipated. During a crisis, it is not uncommon for people to experience dysregulation. Our daily lives have all been significantly disrupted, and we have had to adapt to stricter and stricter guidelines of social distancing and self-isolation. These changes in our daily routine have come quicker than most of us have been able to adapt to and feelings of uncertainty and unease are normal. While our bodies and minds adapt to our ever-changing global environment, it's helpful to turn our attention to what's going on in our minds and our bodies. Dysregulation can take many forms. We see dysregulation in changes to how we eat, sleep, move our bodies, how we communicate with others, and our overall mood.

It's OK if your eating is disrupted.

When it comes to food, dysregulation may include over or under-eating. Increased levels of stress may cause either over- or under-eating. The most commons stressors from this global pandemic are concern for the safety of ourselves and others, maintaining employment or filing for EI, paying for bills and expenses, adapting to being alone, or adapting to living in constant close quarters with others. Like many other people, you may have stocked up on food in the event you must self-isolate for 14 days. I have heard many people admit they find themselves snacking on all the foods they stocked up on and are feeling guilt, shame and frustration as a result. When we are stuck at home all day for days on end, we may be reaching for food when we feel any kind of discomfort. Food is soothing and nurturing, but it's helpful to check in to see if our bodies may actually need something else.

1. Are you actually a bit dehydrated?

Being dehydrated can make it difficult to focus on tasks, we may feel more tired, or we may misinterpret our thirst as hunger. Maybe we're used to carrying a water bottle to work or school and while at home we may not have the same cues that remind us to drink. A helpful tip is to continuously drink water throughout the day. Some people enjoy adding fruits (i.e. lemon, lime, berries) and vegetables (i.e. cucumbers) to their water to make it more fun and favourable. Herbal teas, for us cold-bodies, is also a nice change from regular water. Caffeinated beverages (coffee, some teas, energy drinks and soft drinks) also contribute to dehydration so be mindful about balancing caffeinated beverages with equal amounts of non-caffeinated drinks.

2. Are you tired?

When we don't get enough sleep, or enough good quality sleep, our bodies become dysregulated and it can be harder to tell what our body needs. It is normal to feel hungrier when we're tired because our brains are looking for immediate sources of energy to help fuel us. If you’re feeling tired or fatigued, try taking a 20-30 minute nap (or lay down if you're unable to actually fall asleep). Research shows that a quick power-nap can help you feel recharged after a night of poor or reduced amount of sleep. I also encourage drinking a glass of water (I like it ice-cold!) upon waking up to help your body up shift into being alert and regulated again.

3. How is your mood?

If you are feeling sad, bored or lonely (thanks social distancing!) your body may desire the comfort of food. Recognizing you are experiencing these feelings is the first step to addressing them appropriately. If you're feeling sad, perhaps call or message a friend or family member. Virtual meeting apps such as Zoom and Houseparty are two free apps that are most popular right now. If you are bored, lets reconsider at-home activities. Some people I have spoken to have used their newfound time at home to get tasks they've always wanted to complete (hello storage beneath the stairs!). People are also showing a greater interest in home-cooking. They are finding new recipes using the ingredients they have stocked up on at home. Perhaps you want to try a dish that takes a bit more time, but tastes that much more delicious. Other at-home activities to curb boredom may include colouring, knitting/crafts, life goals planning, exploring new music genres, an at-home workout, reading, making virtual social dates (i.e. meal of coffee dates) and of course, watching TV or playing video games. I recommend doing one house chore, one form of exercise, one social activity and one (or maybe a few) pleasure activities each day. Maintaining an essence of structure every day and completing tasks will lead to feelings of accomplishment and productivity.

Get curious about what emotions you're experiencing and what activity could address that need. For example, if you identify that you're actually feeling lonely and sad, try calling a friend or playing with a pet first. Doing something to address the emotion will better address that need than reaching for food or engaging in another form of distraction if you’re not actually hungry.

What if you find yourself under-eating during this pandemic? You may be experiencing a lack of appetite in response to stress. Stress and uncertainty can make us crave a sense of control and could trigger some rigid or restrictive behaviours around food. When our body experiences a significant amount of stress, it shuts off common human drives, such as the drive for hunger and intimacy so that it can allocate its resources to solving the stressful problem. When stress induces lack of appetite, it is important to make efforts to reduce stress and maintain a regular eating schedule. Your body needs energy and nourishment throughout the day and without adequate amounts your mental and physical health will suffer. A few coping strategies to reduce stress while self-isolating include: taking a bath, listening to music, going for a solo walk, making a cup of tea and reading a book, stretching, doing mindfulness exercises, self-pampering, connecting with friends and family and reaching out to an online counsellor.

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Your Sleep and Rest are Important.

It is unprecedented (i.e. never happened before) that the entire global is being asked to "stay at home." Being at home all hours of everyday is not what we are used to, and may impact your sleep routine and/or quality of sleep. The biggest recommendation I can give to you is stick to a consistent bedtime! Despite the chaos that we’re exposure to each day from the news, social media and what we see occurring in our communities, it is important to know when to shut ourselves down and recharge. Without adequate sleep, our brains do not get a chance to recover from the craziness of the day prior, and we may awake the next day feeling physically and mentally depleted. Ongoing neglect of proper sleep during this global pandemic can have negative consequences on your physical and mental states; thus, even though we have more flexibility in when we are able to sleep, following a consistent bedtime will ensure you maintain optimal levels of restoration. Here are a few tips to sleep better during this global pandemic:

1. Limit the Amount of News/Social Media You Are Exposed To.

You may be noticing that the more news you watch in a day the more difficult it is for you to fall asleep. All those messages on the news and social media increase our worries and concerns about the uncertain future. My recommendation is to limit your exposure to the news to what is necessary. Some people have found that watching the news for an hour in the morning was more than enough for them to stay up to date on the latest government rules and restrictions. I have found people who are researching into the later hours of the evening had more difficulty falling asleep and even mentioned having lesser quality sleep. Remind yourself that what you’re exposed to during the day needs time to process, and for most of us, the time our bodies like to process the events of the day is often around the time we want to sleep. So, limit your exposure to news and social media, and allow yourself at least an hour before bedtime to process the events of the day.

2. Turn Off Electronics 1-2 Hours Before Bedtime.

The surge of binge-watching Netflix and streaming online social media has worsened our ability to fall asleep. Without demands to go to work or school the next day, it seems as if people are allowing themselves unlimited access to electronic use. When it comes to falling asleep however, the amount of screen time you had leading up is a big factor. Professionals have consistently recommended people turn off their electronics 1-2 hours before bedtime, to give themselves a change to process the events of the day and allow their circadian rhythm to work properly.

3. Only Use Your Bed for Sleeping

Now that people are spending the majority of their time at home, space may become an issue. Professionals and researchers have long suggested only using your bed for sleep so that your body clearly associates that location with those behaviours. This association of bed=sleep helps facilitate the sleeping process faster. However, if you live in a small apartment or live with multiple people, you may find yourself spending more time in your room, and perhaps on your bed, doing activities that you wouldn't normally do (i.e. eating, hobbies, watching TV, phoning/video-chatting friends, etc.). If you spend the day in bed doing multiple activities, your body disassociates that space for sleep, making it harder to fall asleep when you actually want to. If possible, do activities not on your bed, and try to spend as much time in the common areas of your home rather than the bedroom.

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It's OK if your activity level has changed.

We know that having a practice of consistent movement or exercise is helpful in regulating our stress, mood, and overall wellbeing. Trying to stay active during global self-isolation can be challenging. As our gyms, fitness clubs, parks, and community areas shut their doors indefinitely, the fear and anxiety of weight change may be at an all-time high. People who suffer from eating disorders, who may use exercise as a way to control their weight and anxieties around body image, may find they are experiencing more distress than ever before. Women are more likely to be in distress about gaining weight, while men may worry about losing muscle mass. Regardless of gender, our relationship with exercise and body image during this global crisis does not go undisrupted. Here are some strategies on how to adjust to the disruption of exercise:

1. Manage Your Expectations

A couple months ago it was easier to follow a daily routine of exercise and movement. We were privileged to have access to centers, outdoor spaces and fitness classes by the abundance. There was almost no excuse why we couldn't find a way to exercise in one way or another. Being required to "stay at home" is a tough adjustment for many active people, especially those who prioritize fitness or even have an unhealthy relationship with exercise. The very limited options of physical activity in the house creates more anxiety about changes in your weight and overall body image. During this temporary global situation, you must change your expectations. Create real expectations of what is doable each day in terms of movement and focus on increasing joy rather than controlling your shape and weight. Allow solo walks or jogs outside to replace time spent on fancy cardio machines. Accept that you will not be able to lift manufactured weights, and you may have to get creative with weight-lifting exercises (hello bags of flour and jars of pasta sauce!). Expect that you will have to use a smaller amount of space and adapt some of your workout routine to something more manageable inside and with less commercial equipment. Also, expect that you might find a fun new way of get in your daily physical activity.

2. Accept Reality and Adapt

The reality is, there's no place like home. Home has now become to place of all events. We work, eat, exercise, relax, socialize, etc. all from home until we are instructed by authorities to do otherwise. For now I hope you will come to terms with the idea that you can transform different areas of you home to meet your needs. Just like you have an entire room where you sleep, an area where you cook meals, and a space for entertainment/relaxing, now you must accept that you need to create space for physical activity. Here is my space for activity given I live in an apartment:

photo of a yoga mat and exercise equipment

This very small area of space is where I try to get in some daily movement because I know it has a positive impact on my sleep and mental health. It is not my normal exercise environment (i.e. the gym), but I have accepted the reality that this is where my morning magic now happens. This space is roughly the same size as my couch in the living room. I figured if I can spend hours upon hours on that couch working, studying, and watching TV, then it doesn't hurt to spend a bit of time each day in this space giving back to my body in a healthy way. If you're thinking this space is too small to get a decent work in, think again! All those 30-minute HIIT apps, boutique class (i.e. Bar Method, Pilates) allot roughly the same amount of space per client joining a class. You must unlearn what you think you need in terms of space to exercise in, and accept that where there's a will, there's a way.

3. Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Body

A lot of anxiety and fear comes from our thoughts about what is going on around the globe at this time. The easiest, and quickest way to redirect our negative thoughts is to focus on our body; moving from thinking to feeling. When it comes to movement, move in the ways that make you feel good, not how you think you should be moving. For example, you may be anxious about gaining weight after spending so much time at home. Instead of going out and buying expense work-out equipment and locking yourself in a room until you burn off a certain number of calories, think about what kind of exercises you prefer to do at home. Simple body weight exercises are very affordable and can be very satisfying. You may even try switching from sitting to standing while working from home. You may also find a sense of accomplishment doing laborious chores, such as vacuuming and scrubbing the bathtub, as ways of completing a task while also using strength and endurance. STRETCH! Staying at home often means being in the same position/location for long durations of time. We get stiff and cramped. Take time throughout the day to focus on stretching your body, get your blood flow going, and be mindful about the positions you allow your body to be in for long periods of time. Whether or not you find a way to involve a more structured home workout into your daily routine, consider these alternative options that also provide a healthy amount of movement.

 
About the author

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Jessie's Legacy, a program of Family Services of the North Shore provides web-based eating disorders prevention resources to support BC youth, families, educators and professionals. Visit us at www.jessieslegacy.com.

 

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