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Finding opportunities for wellness during COVID-19 pandemic

By: Tyler Francischine

As people across the globe hunker down at home in an attempt to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, stress and anxiety levels mount. Some may find their mind cannot rest, thinking, when will this end? Are my loved ones safe? Is there anything I can do to feel better in this moment?

Lisa Merlo Greene, Ph.D., director of wellness programs at the University of Florida College of Medicine, offers some tools and techniques to maintain wellness during a time of great uncertainty and unrest.

Lisa Merlo Greene, Ph.D., director of wellness programs at the University of Florida College of Medicine
Lisa Merlo Greene, Ph.D., director of wellness programs at the University of Florida College of Medicine

Q: What are some practices that can help ease anxiety and depression during this time?

Perhaps the most important strategy is to limit your intake of information to reputable sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the local health department. Try to minimize your exposure to social media and sensationalized news stories and resist the urge to track the latest number of infections.

If you are feeling mildly anxious or depressed, consider reaching out to friends and family for support, but try to focus your conversation on topics other than the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, stick to more pleasant topics. Engage in some form of entertainment with them.

If you are experiencing more severe depression or anxiety, consider reaching out to a licensed mental health professional. Many are currently offering telehealth services that allow you to participate in sessions via phone or internet. In addition, various apps are now available to engage with a therapist via text message or chat. If you are experiencing a true mental health crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK, call 911, or go directly to a psychiatric hospital or emergency room.

Q: How can one work to achieve mindfulness during this time?

The practice of mindfulness is centered in the strategy of staying focused in the present moment. Rather than ruminating about the past or worrying about a future problem, when we stay grounded in the present moment it is easier to manage our associated thoughts and emotions.

Attending to your five senses can help you connect to the present moment. Ask yourself: What are you seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting right now? Are any of these experiences indicative of danger? Remember that this situation has been evolving so rapidly that it is truly unhelpful to think or worry too far ahead. Take one day at a time, or one hour at a time if necessary. Focus on what you can do right now to continue moving forward and caring for yourself, your family, your pets and anyone or anything else for which you may be responsible. This can help you avoid becoming overwhelmed.

Q: What are the benefits of physical activity for those at home who are able to do so?

Exercise is an excellent way to relieve stress, boost mood, improve sleep, promote physical wellness and have fun. While gyms are closed, there are many resources available for free online to help you exercise at home. If you have time during the day to go outside to walk, hike, bike or run, you may experience an even greater benefit due to the healing aspects of spending time in nature, including exposure to the sun and fresh air. Just be sure to maintain adequate social distancing of at least 6 feet if you venture outside near others.

Q: How can maintaining a healthy diet help during this time?

During times of stress, many individuals turn to comfort foods, convenient snacks or other unhealthy foods to regulate their moods. While this may feel satisfying in the moment, it typically results in negative effects on mood, energy and physical well-being over time. As a result, it’s best to maintain healthy eating habits to the extent possible. Try to limit the amount of junk food in your home and stock up on convenient options that are nutritious and satisfying, like fresh fruits and vegetables, yogurt and hummus.

Q: How can socially distancing or self-quarantining be beneficial for one’s mental health?

This situation can actually offer individuals and families a chance to slow down and engage in some activities that they don’t usually have time for. It’s a wonderful time to read a book, engage in some spring cleaning, spend time outside or return to a hobby you’ve given up due to lack of time. In addition, a great option is to keep a journal to document what this experience is like for you. Write about how your routines have changed, how the impacts on your life compare to others, what has surprised you about society’s response, how you are working to make the situation better and what you are learning from this experience. This will allow you to gain some perspective and will provide you with a priceless souvenir of your experiences during the time the world collectively paused.

Visit https://wellness.med.ufl.edu/2020/03/18/resources-to-promote-well-being-during-covid-19-outbreak/ for a complete list of wellness resources created by Dr. Merlo Greene.

This article originally appeared on UF Health News.