With new headlines hitting the internet every hour, it can be hard to take a real break from everything that is happening. While it is good to stay informed and aware, it is also important to give your brain a break from all the stress.
First, know that the stress you are feeling right now is normal and you are not alone. However, reducing your stress is one of the most helpful things you can do to improve your physical and mental health. In addition to eating well, drinking enough water, and getting enough sleep, these activities are great ways to take a short mental break and get your mind away from the pandemic.
Sitting in the same position for most of the day can cause your neck, back, and shoulders to become stiff and tight. Your upper body is also more likely to slouch and hold tension when you are stressed. Stretching can help release this tension, improve your posture, and leave both your body and mind feeling more relaxed.
For the best results, make stretching a regular part of your routine—you’ll be able to feel the difference. We love this list of upper body stretches, but there are many combinations you can try!
2. Go Outside
During this time of social distancing and staying at home, it isn’t hard to accidentally go a few days without going outside. Take a moment to step outside, whether that means walking around the neighborhood or simply standing by the front door. If you can’t or don’t want to go outside, open a window to let in some fresh air.
While you’re outdoors, take time to slow down and listen to the sounds around you. Is it raining? Are birds singing in the trees? What do the cars sound like on the road? Be overly observant and aware of your senses. What can you see, smell, hear, or touch? Do you see anything you’ve never noticed before?
3. Sit Still
Put all distractions away and take some time to be still. Use techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises to help you relax.
To do a simple breathing exercise, first find a comfortable place to sit or stand. Silence any cell phone or computer notifications. If you would like, you can play soothing music or nature sounds in the background. Set a timer—preferably one without a jarring alert noise—for five to ten minutes, or however long you would like your breathing exercise to be. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Think about the way the air feels when it enters your lungs. Try to fill your lungs all the way before exhaling, and then exhale all the way before inhaling again. If you would like, try inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Keep focusing on your breath during this exercise. If your mind strays for a moment, simply turn your attention back to breathing. When the timer is up, you are done! Intentional, focused breathing is a great way to listen to your body and give your mind some space to be calm.
4. Get Active
Getting active might be the exact opposite of sitting still, but it is also an effective way to reduce stress and anxiety. While you may not be able to go to a gym, there are many other ways to stay active. You could go on a walk or a run, ride your bike, do some jumping jacks, or find exercise videos you can follow at home. Some fitness instructors are using social media to offer livestreamed workouts. Like stretching, staying active will release tension in your body and help you feel more relaxed. No matter the intensity, finding an activity that works for you can make a huge difference in both your mood and your body.
Sometimes it is helpful to get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper. Journaling can be an effective, private way to process your stress and improve your overall mental health. There are no rules to what you should write about—you could write about your stress if it would help you process, or you could write about something like the weather or your daily routine. However, journaling about stress or fear can allow you to name your worries and give you space to reflect and think of a way forward.
You also don’t need to structure or organize your journal in any certain way. Some people enjoy decorating the pages with colorful pens, and others enjoy writing in the margins. There are no wrong answers here.
Try to set aside 10-15 minutes to write in your journal. Sometimes you’ll have less to write about, and sometimes you’ll want to catch every thought before it escapes. Giving yourself a certain amount of time merely gives you room to write and reflect freely without distractions.
6. Color or Draw
If you haven’t already used an adult coloring book, now is the perfect time to get one. Coloring is for everyone regardless of skill level, and there are a wide variety of designs to fit all kinds of interests. The activity can help shift your focus to creativity and staying between the lines, which lets your brain take a much-needed break. If you don’t want to buy a coloring book but you have a printer, you can find single page designs online and print them out. Or, if coloring pre-drawn designs doesn’t appeal to you, you could doodle your own designs on a blank piece of paper.
7. Put on Music and Dance
It may sound silly and cliché, but dancing to your favorite music can really boost your mood. Put your headphones on or turn your speakers up and just start moving! Follow your body’s lead and don’t worry about how good (or not good) your dance moves might be. If you live with other people, invite them to join the party! Dancing to music engages both your mind and your body, raises your heart rate, releases endorphins, and can ease anxiety.
8. Watch Live Animal Cams
Some days, you just need to be distracted by kittens being kittens. With Explore.org’s live animal cams, you can see what the world’s animals are up to in real time. Have you ever seen a bald eagle feed her babies or watched a manatee float gracefully through the water? Maybe you would rather watch horses grazing in a field or wait patiently for an elephant to come to the water hole at the Tembe Elephant Park. The live cams are constantly updated to include new and exciting opportunities to relax and observe life outside of our own.
9. Go on a Google Maps Adventure
Did you know you could explore the world from your living room with Google Street View? MapCrunch.com is a website that randomly generates a new street view every time you click “Go!” You can customize your settings to drop you in specific continents, countries, or even urban or indoor settings. You might find yourself in a vineyard in Slovenia, on a rural road in Rio de Janeiro, or in a quiet neighborhood in Greece. Randomize the street view as often as you want or “walk” down one street until you’re ready for a new location. You can even submit your favorite views to MapCrunch’s gallery and see the places other people have virtually visited.
10. Learn a New Skill
If you feel weighed down by your daily routine, try learning a new skill or new recipe (bonus points if you can use ingredients you already have in your home). Have you always wanted to do a handstand? Now is a great time to learn. Did you find knitting tutorials online and now you can’t stop thinking about the perfect purl? Now is a great time to learn how to knit. Is there a dessert you have always wanted to make? Now is a great time to make it.
Being productive during this time is not something everyone can manage, and the pressure to be productive can be overwhelming. However, sometimes trying new things can introduce variety into your daily routine and make each day a little more exciting.
You’ve Got This.
First and foremost, take a deep breath. It is normal to be stressed and overwhelmed, especially right now. This is only a short list of healthy ways to manage, process, or reduce the anxiety you may be feeling. Remember to be kind to yourself during this time by eating well, getting enough sleep, and taking steps to lower your stress levels throughout the day.
WFMC Health believes that understanding the link between physical health and mental well-being is vital to long-term good health, so we integrate mental health services into our primary care practice. If you need more support in this area, contact us to get connected with one of our experienced behavioral health providers.