Self-Care Matters More in Stressful Times

Do something you love like reading a book or playing with your dog. Albina Glisic/Shutterstock

Every day there's more news about the coronavirus. You don't know whether to go buy more supplies or just hunker down and stay home. The uncertainty can be unsettling. So you need to take care of yourself.

Practicing self-care isn't easy. But looking out for your body and mind is especially important when your immune system is up against a virus. It's essential for your health and the safety of your community.

Here are tips on how to do it:

Get plenty of sleep

It can be hard to fall asleep when you take your worries to bed with you. But sleep deprivation has been linked to many health issues from stress to high blood pressure. It can dampen your mood and make you less productive at work.

To keep you from tossing and turning all night, try to avoid reading headlines or watching the news before bed. Instead, have a quiet bedtime routine: maybe taking a bath or reading a book. Make sure your room is cool, dark and quiet and follow a good sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day.

Eat healthy

Add greens to a fruit salad for some extra crunch.
A colorful salad is better than chips or cookies to keep you healthy. Nina Firsova/Shutterstock

It can be tempting to reach for the chips and ice cream, but your body needs healthy food to function well. That means loading up on lots of fruits and vegetables, as well as lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Smart food choices will give you energy and keep you healthy, but they can also make you feel better. Lots of research shows, for example, that fruits and vegetables can put you in a better mood.

That's not to say you can't have the occasional cookie or piece of dark chocolate. Sometimes self-care involves a treat. Just make sure you eat healthy the rest of the day.


going for a walk
Taking a walk can be good for your mental and physical health, especially during stressful times. Creaturart Images/Shutterstock

Although you might be tempted to curl up in a blanket on the couch, it's important that you keep your body moving. Exercise releases feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins that can help ease anxiety and depression, points out the Mayo Clinic.

There's no need to go to the gym. Get outside and take a walk or ride your bike — just be sure to watch your distance from those you encounter. If you'd rather (or you must) stay inside your house, then do laps around your furniture, squats in your living room or run up and down the stairs. Do jumping jacks or put on your favorite music and dance. There's always something you can do and you'll feel better when you're done.

Be social

woman on a video chat
You can chat, text and call people even if you're stuck inside. silverkblackstock/Shutterstock

You might not be able to go hang out with your friends at the coffee shop on at book club, but that doesn't mean you have to become a hermit. Keep up with everyone by phone, text or video chat. It's easy to become anxious and fearful when we're alone and don't have people to ground us, Nadine Kaslow, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, tells GPB News.

"I think that to manage anxiety and fear, it's really important to reach out to people who can be supportive to us to get good social support," she says. "When you notice that you're thinking over and over again, try to combat those irrational thoughts."

Do something fun

Whether it's knitting or reading, playing with your dog or doing crossword puzzles, take a break from working or watching the news.

"Self-care means identifying what you enjoy doing and what's fun for you and make a serious effort to integrate it into your day or, at the very least, your week," New York clinician Maria Baratta, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., writes in Psychology Today. "Make it a habit to plan something to look forward to everyday and that doesn't have to be complicated."

Breathe deeply

walking meditation man in forest
Try walking meditating where you concentrate on each step and your breathing as you walk. Jaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock

When the world is overwhelming, take a deep breath. Breathing slowly and steadily forces you to focus on something else.

Breathe in for a count of five through your nose and then breathe out for a count of five through your mouth. Keep doing that 10 times or until you feel yourself start to relax. Once you start breathing rhythmically, you should start to feel a sense of calm.

You might even want to take things a step farther and try meditating. If you've never done it before and don't think you can conquer the idea of sitting still and utterly clearing your mind, try distracted meditation. Just making an effort is a big step to dealing with stress.

"I think mindfulness strategies can be really useful right now," Kaslow says. "Noticing the anxiety, letting it ride in and out, kind of like waves, doing things like meditating and then doing things to distract us like exercise and finally, getting news, but from reliable sources."