How to Increase Your Well-Being During COVID-19

The next phase of the coronavirus pandemic response may feel even weirder than the last one. Some places will open, while others stay shuttered. Everyone will be wearing masks. Social distancing will be the universal norm. As society emerges from weeks of sheltering in our homes and operating on “essential” mode, we may experience a greater sense of insecurity navigating the “in between” than we did through solid lockdown. Amidst an ever-shifting and uncertain situation, one of the best resources you can have is knowing how to reduce stress and boost your immune system. Ongoing stress suppresses your immune function, increasing your risk of infection and other physical and mental health symptoms. How do we go about easing into a sense of normal while reducing stress and taking care of ourselves?

Intentionally taking care of yourself is just as (if not more) important than ever. Here are 8 ways you can reduce stress, boost your immune system, and support your overall health and well-being during the coronavirus pandemic.

1. First, take a few deep breaths.

When you’re facing a stressful or demanding situation, your brain prepares itself and your body for action. While useful for rising to challenges, this stress response can become troublesome if it’s continually triggered. In the face of new and uncertain situations (like the COVID-19 pandemic), your brain may try to create a sense of control by excessively worrying about the future or overanalyzing information, which can generate overwhelm or anxiety.

Though it may sound a bit cliché, pausing to take a few deep breaths throughout the day can help you navigate the uncertain nature of the coronavirus pandemic with greater ease. Intentional breathing helps reduce stress, soothe your nervous system, and support your mental calm and clarity.

2. Prioritize rest.

Your body needs quality sleep to fight infectious diseases and help minimize your risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Along with clouding your mental faculties, sleep deprivation inhibits your immune system from recovering from illness and stress and producing infection-fighting proteins, cells, and antibodies.

Whenever you feel tired, your body is trying to tell you something important: Rest. Give yourself permission to take a short nap when you need it, along with creating an environment conducive to sleep. Limit stimulating substances or activities at least an hour before bed, do your best to stick to a sleep schedule, and sleep in a room that is dark, cool, quiet, and comfortable.

3. Eat a nutritious diet.

Like all cells of your body, your immune cells function at their best when they receive optimal nutrition from real foods, like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, eggs, and unprocessed meat. Along with helping you maintain a healthy weight and prevent chronic disease, a balanced diet of real foods can help you reduce your risk of coronavirus infection by giving your immune cells what they need to effectively respond against pathogens.

Though they won’t cure or prevent COVID-19, adding supplements, such as zinc and vitamin C, to a balanced diet may support your overall immune health and function.

4. Use technology to nurture relationships.

After weeks of social distancing, many of us are feeling the impact of having to stay at least six feet away from the friends, colleagues, and strangers we’re used to encountering each and every day. Along with negatively impacting your mental well-being, a sense of social isolation can impact your decision-making abilities and even increase your susceptibility to illness. In other words, a lack of social connection could interfere with two essential faculties during the coronavirus pandemic: your ability to process information and your immune function.

To nurture your natural human need for connection while staying true to social distancing recommendations, carve out time once a day or week to call different members of your family, hold regular virtual playdates for your kids, or schedule a regular video chat meetup with a small group of colleagues or friends.

5. Be mindful of social contagions.

Social media and the news can become an excellent resource for staying connected to friends,  family, and the outside world—with a caveat. When charged with panic or worry, information on social and news media—which may or may not be accurate—can amplify your feelings of fear and anxiety. Known as social contagion, anxious ideas and behaviors—like stockpiling toilet paper—can spread like a virus through social contact.

If you find yourself feeling revved up while you’re using social media or watching the news, pause, take a few deep breaths, and consider devoting some time and energy into an activity that produces positive feelings and reduces stress (see tips #6-8).

6. Exercise regularly.

Regular exercise is a boon to your total well-being. It can reduce stress and anxiety and promote a sense of well-being. An active lifestyle also improves immune function, sharpens focus and memory, enhances creativity, and promotes better sleep.

Of course, getting regular exercise may be easier said than done if you don’t currently have access to your favorite fitness studio, outdoor recreational facility, or gym. In the interim, you may consider researching bodyweight exercises (like pushups) or high-intensity interval training (like burpees) or seeking out online or app-based fitness classes.

7. Connect with nature (from inside your house).

From going on a hike to gardening, spending time in nature reduces stress and greatly supports your physical and mental well-being. While not an exact replacement for the real thing, you can experience the benefits of nature right from your very own home and neighborhood. Listening to nature sounds helps lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, while looking at images of nature and bodies of water inspires a sense of positivity and well-being.

If your space allows, you could also open your windows for fresh air, plant a vegetable garden, or intentionally observe plants, flowers, and trees as you take a walk through your neighborhood.

8. Create.

From singing to expressive writing, artistic expression can help you reduce stress, bolster your immune system, and increase feelings of calm and well-being. As an immersive experience, artistic expression can help your brain take a break from processing the new normal and, instead, settle into a present-minded flow of creativity and imagination.

Your options for artistic expression are truly endless. You may learn all the lyrics to a new song, draw what you see out your window, pick up a coloring book, or write a poem about living through the coronavirus pandemic.

For more activites that may help you reduce stress see this post about 25 Things to Do While in Self-Quarantine.

In the end, remember that you know yourself better than anyone else, and you can often intuit what it is you need to decompress from stress if you only take a moment to pause and listen. Give yourself permission to take breaks, ask for support, and let go of expectations of perfection. The latest installment of the new normal may feel like anything but normal at first, but know that your efforts to minimize stress and take care of yourself will carry you through.