Small daily habit changes while stuck at home can improve our health after the COVID-19 pandemic is over

We have had disruptions in our work, home and social schedules so much so that many of us may feel we have no daily routines anymore. The pandemic has affected our mental health, according to recent surveys, which, in turn, impacts our physical health.

While there are some things we can’t control, we are in charge of our daily behaviors and habits, which can positively contribute to our mental health despite the crises in the world right now. Here are five factors to consider:

1. Create consistent sleep patterns

We all know most adults require 7 to 8 hours of sleep per day, but recent research shows that our sleep schedule may matter just as much as the time spent in bed. A study published this year in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology tracked nearly 2,000 participants’ sleep patterns over three years and found that those with irregular sleep schedules had a greater chance of developing cardiovascular disease.

Stick to a consistent schedule and good sleep hygiene. This means eliminating activities that contribute to poor rest, such as alcohol and smartphone use or consumption of news before bed, while ensuring your bedroom is quiet, dark and cool. Sleeping on your back or side, as opposed to your stomach, is also associated with higher quality sleep and less back and neck pain.

2. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet

Most of us are still working from home, so the proximity to our kitchen may be negatively influencing our eating choices, as well as mental and physical health. Processed foods, for example, with excessive sodium, added sugars and trans fats can trigger inflammation, which has been shown to contribute to stress-related diseases, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. The first step in correcting this habit is to eliminate those foods as much as possible and add anti-inflammatory options such as purple grapes, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, oranges, green tea, ginger, green leafy vegetables, nuts, fatty fish and olive oil to your eating plan.

3. Drink enough water each day

Easy access to our kitchen may also mean that we’re drinking more sugary or caffeinated beverages than we would normally consume at our workplace. A better choice for our health is staying hydrated with water, as dehydration is associated with greater anxiety and depression, according to research. Focus on drinking ½ of your body weight in ounces of water each day. Not everyone, however, likes to drink plain water. An option is to add lemon, cucumbers, strawberries, mint leaves, raspberries and limes to add a hint of flavor. Since fresh fruit is mostly water, including them in meals or as snacks can also healthfully increase hydration levels.

4. Place exercise in your schedule

Research shows we are more likely to exercise when we place it into our daily schedule. A state- or self-imposed exile from your gym does not mean we cannot incorporate exercise into our daily schedules. Walking and jogging are great activities if you can maintain a social distance in your route. There are also numerous yoga, Pilates and workout apps for your phone that require little or no equipment and plenty of free workout videos are available online that you can do at home. If exercise has never been part of your schedule, start with just 5 minutes a day. Chances are you’ll want to keep going after the time is up.

5. Actively manage your mental health

Sleep, diet and exercise can all have positive mental health impacts, but additional–more direct– self-care may be necessary to improve mental health. For example, despite the disruption from COVID-19, establishing a consistent daily routine, even with everyone home together, can create a stronger sense of stability and calm. Scheduling time alone — if too much family time is fraying your nerves — can be helpful. During your time out, mindfulness meditation, particularly guided meditation, is an effective tool for curbing anxiety and depression. Reach out to a mental health professional for guidance. They can assist you in creating new coping strategies for this very unusual time. If you need a referral for a practitioner, please do not hesitate to call the office and we are happy to assist you.