Sometimes the only thing that sees you through to the end of a difficult year is the warmth of the holiday season: gathering with friends and family, sharing a meal with loved ones, or baking festive treats for the neighbors.
As COVID-19 continues to impact day-to-day life, the much-anticipated holiday gatherings and get-togethers of years past are just another casualty of the worldwide pandemic. Whether you are celebrating Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or the ski season, connecting with others and enjoying this time of year is going to look a lot different.
The canceled gatherings, combined with shorter days, longer nights, and being housebound can bring feelings of disappointment, lack of motivation, isolation, and even depression. These feelings — and the way you cope with them — may dampen your immune system and make you more vulnerable to illness.
So, how can you make sure you stay healthy — both mentally and physically — during this less-than-together, somewhat odd, isolating time?
This year has a lot of people feeling like their lives have been put on hold, and that any desired progress has been stunted indefinitely. Schedules are likely more open than usual, as many activities have been canceled. It’s easy to feel blue when you feel this void in your life. However, taking advantage of this time will pay dividends not only now, but in the future. Try to view this season as a time to focus on developing maintainable healthy habits. Doing so can help you take back some control of your life during this very unpredictable time.
Here are a few tips to get started:
1. Establish a daily routine
Committing to a routine might feel limiting at first, but adding structure into your day can increase motivation, productivity, and give you something to look forward to. A daily routine can also improve your mental health and reduce stress levels. Make a list of things you want to accomplish and then schedule them throughout the day at specific times. Plan to do similar tasks at the same time each day to bring more certainty and structure. Plan the night before, and remember to schedule time for downtime, personal hobbies, and other activities that you enjoy. Even when things don’t go as planned, establishing a routine will help you feel more in control, less stressed, and better equipped to face each day.
2. Create a meal plan
Eating a balanced diet is vital to maintaining a strong immune system — something that is important during this time of year, regardless of COVID-19. A healthy diet is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. These food groups give you energy and help you maintain a healthy weight. When you eat healthy and balanced meals, you feel better overall. Plan your recipes and meals at the beginning of each week so that you always have tasty and balanced meals on hand.
3. Don’t forget to move
Physical activity decreases anxiety, improves sleep quality, and helps maintain a strong immune system. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week. Take advantage of the winter season and try out a new outdoor activity, such as snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. If you can’t muster up the energy to leave the house, search for workouts on YouTube, or revisit one of your favorite workout videos. It can even be as simple as going for a walk around your neighborhood.
4. Sleep hygiene and bedtime routines
That’s right — bedtime routines aren’t just for babies! Healthy bedtime habits — or sleep hygiene — can help you get a good night’s rest. If you are struggling to get to sleep or stay asleep, you may need to adjust your bedtime routine by leaving behind old habits and introducing some new ones. Here are some suggestions:
- Turn off all screens an hour before bedtime.
- Avoid eating and exercising an hour before bedtime.
- Wind down with a warm shower or a cup of tea.
- Try journaling before bed.
- Aim to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day.
Sleep is prime time for your body to recover and recharge and is a powerful component in immune function. Developing and practicing good sleep hygiene can help you feel more rested, more energized, and most importantly, healthier.
5. Practice mindfulness, embrace gratitude
Practicing mindfulness and expressing gratitude can help you develop feelings of satisfaction, inner peace, and allow you to be more in tune with your personal needs. Mindfulness helps you be aware of how you are feeling and encompasses more than just meditation. Take a few minutes throughout the day to pause, take a few deep breaths and check in with yourself. How are you feeling? What do you need? Keeping a gratitude journal is a great way to stay mindful. Writing down what you are grateful for each day can help you acknowledge the goodness in your life and put things in perspective.
Don’t try to incorporate all these tips at one time. Start with one that resonates with you and try it for a few weeks. Once you have fully adopted it, add a new one. These will soon become part of your daily routine and will help bring a more positive outlook — something everyone needs during these challenging times.