The COVID-19 situation continues to change not even just daily, but hourly. With everyone mandated to stay home to help “flatten the curve,” that is, curb the spreading of the coronavirus, we find ourselves isolating at home for the foreseeable future.
While times are challenging, the healthy aging principles we embraced B.C. (before coronavirus) are even more important now to manage stress and anxiety. And we can in many small ways take back control of our health and our home environment. And if age has taught us anything, it’s the power of resilience, keeping calm and knowing that there are better days ahead.
“There is no question that there’s this collective angst we’re experiencing in this together, and it’s unprecedented. I don’t think we have ever experienced anything quite like this, if ever. We really don’t know what each hour, or each day is going to bring. The bottom line is that humans get anxious when they don’t have control over their lives or schedules,” says Lori Dennis, a psychotherapist based in Toronto. “What I am saying to people now is that we have to focus on the things we can control, which is true in any situation where we feel powerless, when things have gone awry.”
How to take charge of your life during the Covid-19 pandemic
Control the amount of news consumed
It’s easy to become immersed in current events when new information comes at a rapid pace. Dennis suggests limiting the amount of news you take in so that you’re not causing your anxiety to skyrocket. “You must be informed, but also be sure to choose your news sources carefully,” she says. “Listen or read for a short period of time, then pull out of it.”
Maintain a daily schedule
Practicing self-care is always important, but especially so during these troubled times. Caregivers, in particular, must take time out for themselves. “Self-care for caregivers is critical during times of extraordinary stress. Especially women, since they tend to put themselves last. This is a time when this lifelong conditioning needs to change,” notes Dennis.
Create a schedule for your day, a key practice that will help bring a sense of purpose and focus to your day. “Concentrate on how you want to spend your time,” she says. “Many of us are now working from home or self-isolating. Structure your time so you are in control of your circumstances. Dennis recommends planning a high-quality activity so that you’re not scrolling through social media for hours or parked in front of the television all day. “That could mean learning a new musical instrument or a new language. It doesn’t have to be that ambitious. Just look at doing something you’ve never had the time to do so that you’re reframing this as an opportunity on how to use this time well.”
Find your zen
Juggling kids, career and relationships, you may not have had the chance to slow down for very long. This is a good time to consider practicing meditation. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just sitting quietly and taking deep breathes will do, or you can up your relaxation by using a guided mediation app such as Calm and Headspace. Or you may want to catch up on your reading, which will help exercise your brain and keep it sharp.
Practice social distancing while staying connecting
Use this self-isolation time to spend quality time with those in your household, and for reaching to those living elsewhere via platforms like Facetime, Skype or Zoom to get together virtually. Studies have shown that video conferencing can help you feel more connected. You may not be able to go to your local coffee shop or hang out at Men’s Sheds, but you can have a virtual coffee date via a group video chat.
“When we feel burdened by anxiety, it really helps to share how we’re feeling. It can make a big difference, because everyone is feeling it in some way, shape or form. It’s important to not stay in your own head all the time,” says Dennis. Keep the conversation flowing, whether you talking about your worries with a trusted friend or a professional (many therapists, including Dennis, are available for sessions over the phone or video conferencing). Also, consider checking out online portals such as BetterHelp and TalkSpace.
Social distancing doesn’t mean staying indoors. Get outside for some needed fresh air (remember that taking your workout outside can elevate your workout) and get walking, while maintaining a safe distance – a minimum of six feet (two metres) from others. Although gyms and fitness studios have closed temporarily, many are offering free workouts streamed through their social media platforms.
Consider Tribe Fitness for yoga, Fit Squad Training for strength, core and overall conditioning, and Body Barre for HIIT workouts. And, of course, there are a wealth of workout apps and YouTube channels offering a range of workout types and intensities to help you keep fit. Check out Nike Training Club and Fitness Blender. If you’re new to working out or just getting back into it after a long hiatus, consider gentle stretching or chair yoga.
Eat better to feel better
While limiting trips to the grocery store, just buy what you need for one to two weeks. That means smart meal planning and making nutritious choices, even when a bag of cookies might seem more appealing. What we eat and how much is something we can control – something to consider when stocking your pantry. “Think about what you enjoy eating. It’s a stressful time so think about what gives you comfort, joy, and satisfaction. If you don’t like canned tuna, don’t buy a six-month supply of them,” says Dara Gurau, a registered dietitian based in Toronto and co-founder of the site HowToEat.ca.
Consider foods that are versatile and can store well. “Canned and dried beans will fill you up for less money, and they’ve got fibre and protein so you’ll feel full longer and they’re versatile,” says Gurau. Another versatile staple? Grains such as quinoa, rice, barley and farro. They’re a good source of fibre and you can use them in different ways, says Gurau, in soups, salads, and stir-fries, for example.
And finally, canned fish – not just canned tuna and salmon, but also sardines, which also have omega-3 fatty acids to boost heart health – a key component of healthy aging. You can use canned fish in many ways, from adding them to pasta and salads, or making patties. If you’ve got lentils on hand, try this recipe for Slow Cooker Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew. “It’s got few ingredients, and you can skip the spinach if you don’t have any, and substitute water for stock—it’s an adaptable recipe,” says Gurau.
Cook together/dine together virtually
While you may not be able to host a dinner, Gurau suggests cooking together virtually over a video conference call so you can maintain some connectedness. If you have kids at home, she adds that planning meals together is a way to get the whole family involved. Also, if self-isolating and spending more time in the kitchen is not something you’re used to, look for recipes that you can scale up so you can freeze portions for those days you don’t feel like cooking. Gurau suggests making Black Bean, Sweet Potato, Almond Butter Burgers. “They’ve got protein, fibre and they keep well in the freezer.”
Make thinking positive your baseline
When the world is in turmoil, it may feel impossible to put on a happy face. It means you have to work harder to find joy. Small ones will do – the sound of birds chirping in the morning, seeing buds starting to form on trees, a photograph from a special trip… We find a little something to be grateful for every day. Such positivity does pay off. A 2019 study found that how you perceive your life and aging could improve longevity by 10 to 15 percent. Other research shows it improves resiliency – a quality that is so precious right now and exactly what we need to tackle the weeks ahead with confidence.