Self care strategies you need right now

With the arrival of COVID-19, and as we practice social distancing and isolation measures, it’s important to consider self care. You have to take care of yourself in order to properly take care of others… and yes, even the little things can make a big difference. Try some or all of these tried and true strategies to show yourself a little love on a daily basis.

  1. Enjoy a long, hot soak in the tub or a soothing shower – Treat yourself to a daily bath or shower with subtly scented products that promote relaxation.
  2. Spend time reading – lose yourself in a good book for a while each day — or keep your brain sharp by devoting a few minutes a day to learning a new language.
  3. Check in on others – by phone or using technology. Banish isolation for yourself and others by staying connected.
  4. Get fit virtually – take time to stay active and fit by following an online fitness class or enjoying a walk or run.
  5. Send notes of appreciation and thanks – make someone’s day by sending them a note of appreciation, recognition or thanks.
  6. Take a break from the news – the news cycle repeats itself over and over again in a 24-hour period, so checking in on headlines once or twice a day should give you your fill.
  7. Meal prep – look out a few recipes and cook up a storm, prepping meals to enjoy now, freeze for later, or to drop off (at the door as we practice distancing) of friends in need, grandparents, etc. Many people find cooking and baking relaxing activities that promote self-nurturing and caring for others.
  8. Dance – no explanation needed here. Just press play on some tunes of your choice and start moving. Physical activity benefits our physical and mental health. It all counts, so even a few minutes a few times a day offers health benefits.
  9. Get creative and crafty – now’s a good time to pick up a musical instrument you’ve ignored, or to get crafty with craft supplies, to return to knitting, to do some creative writing, or do get creative your way.
  10. Get a little extra sleep – even an extra 20-30 minutes a night or a short cat-nap can leave us feeling refreshed and better able to cope. Learn more.
  11. Practice mindfulnesseven just 20 minutes a day can leave you feeling refreshed, present, and in control.
  12. Spend time in nature – spending time in nature leads to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lower blood pressure, and a lower pulse rate. Right now, due to social distancing guidelines, you’re best to enjoy nature on your own or only with those in your household.
  13. Do a digital detox – There are health benefits to going tech-free for a portion of each day… so unplug and enjoy life in the slow lane more often.
  14. Hug those you love – hugs offer all sorts of health benefits… so does a cuddle with a cherished dog or cat – but only with those you’re at home with and only if you’re all healthy. Once we’re through the COVID-19 social distancing measures, you’ll be able to hug more freely. Don’t forget that you can also send virtual hugs!
  15. Breathe deeplymeditation and mindfulness offer well-documented health benefits—including reducing anxiety and depression, according to a 2014 study in JAMA Internal Medicine.
  16. Learn more about conquering stress – I wrote about some simple tools (here) that can help.
  17. Ask for help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, share your burden with someone you trust and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Good reasons to move your exercise routine outdoors

With the arrival of spring, not to mention COVID-19, it’s time to make changes to your exercise routine. Some people are content to exercise indoors at home, while others already know, or will soon discover, that exercising outdoors offers a multiple of options and benefits.

A Scottish Health Survey (2008) of 2,000 active participants found that outdoor physical activity had a 50 percent more positive effect on mental health than exercising at the gym. The researchers also found that walking, running, biking, and other outdoor activities, particularly in a green space, also reduced stress. I’m a big believer in a daily dose of ‘Vitamin N’ (nature) in all seasons, which is why I opt to exercise outdoors several times a week.

Compared with indoor exercise, being active outdoors is also associated with increased energy, and decreased tension, confusion, anger, and depression — feelings that so many Canadians are experiencing as we follow social distancing guidelines amidst the Corona virus pandemic. Best of all, participants from a number of additional studies reported they were more likely to repeat outdoor activity at a later date.

Here are some of the additional benefits to outdoor exercise:

  1. Outdoor physical activity is often more strenuous than indoor exercise. In studies comparing running on a treadmill with running outdoors, treadmill users expended less energy to cover the same distance as those striding outside. What makes the difference? Small changes affiliated with exercising outdoors… things like wind resistance and changes in terrain.
  2. A few small studies have also found that those who exercise outdoors have lower blood levels of cortisol, a hormone related to stress, than those who exercise indoors.
  3. In a number of recent studies, volunteers were asked to take two daily walks for the same time or distance — one indoors on a treadmill or track, the other outdoors. In every study, the volunteers reported enjoying the outdoor exercise more, and scored higher on measures of vitality, enthusiasm, and enjoyment, while also reporting reduced fatigue and depression and tension..
  4. Enjoyment may be the most important reason to exercise outdoors and make it easier to commit to doing so regularly. With only a small fraction of Canadian adults active enough for their health, the prevalence of indoor gyms don’t appear to be changing behaviour.
  5. When we exercise outdoors, we create vitamin D3, which is important to bone health and metabolic function. Research tells us that exposure to sunlight during the day can help us sleep better at night, improve immune function, and increase feel-good hormones circulating throughout our bodies. Nonetheless, it is important to think prevention and to protect your skin from sun damage.

Easy ways to be active outdoors include: gardening and yard work, walking, running, hiking, cycling, skateboarding, active games and play with the kids (from games of Hopscotch, to jumping rope, to playing basketball). Right now it’s prudent to avoid outdoor gyms and group exercise.

Five ways to boost your health at home (while following social distancing guidelines)

It’s easy to feel helpless at times like this. After all, Premier Doug Ford just this morning, declared a State of Emergency in Ontario. I for one, listened to his address and then laced up my running shoes to take my dog out for a walk, smiling at others out for walks, jogs and bike rides as our paths crossed.

We all need to do our parts right now, and following the Public Health Agency of Canada’s guidelines to help ‘flatten the curve’ of COVID-19 is absolutely the way to go until we hear otherwise.  Even if you aren’t particularly concerned about your own health, we all know someone for whom this virus could be particularly dangerous or even deadly, and we need to ensure our public health system has the ability to meet the needs of those requiring it. Instead of feeling helpless or allowing yourself to be overcome by anxious thoughts, this is an ideal time to invest in your health and to establish some healthier habits. Here are five ways to do just this:

  1. GET SERIOUS ABOUT YOUR HEALTH – First off, if you cherish your health and believe health is the greatest wealth, carefully consider your health and lifestyle goals and what you’ll need to do to achieve them. Consider your needs now and into the future; your current health status; genetic risks, lifestyle risks, etc. Discuss them with a close family member or friend who will support you, and make an appointment with your doctor (for a few weeks from now or when social distancing guidelines are no longer in place) to discuss them, enlist their support, and for recommendations and referrals to other practitioners and supports who can help you. You’ll want to establish a baseline of your current health status against which you can measure progress going forward. You can also do things today to mark your commitment and fresh start. Tips 2-5 can help!
  2. GET MOVING – Make time to be active every day. Even if you’re someone who hits the gym regularly and has for years, you could be at risk of breaking good habits during a time like this. Instead, whether you’re new to exercise or it’s been part of your life for years, set aside time every day to be active at home or outdoors. If you have to remain indoors, consider following along to an online exercise class, listening to a favorite playlist and dancing, or doing some intervals (jumping jacks, jumping rope, push ups, sit ups, jogging on the spot… these all count) or using your stairs for a stair-climbing workout. Games of Hide and Seek, Freeze Dance, Simon Says and other active games played indoors, will keep young children moving too. If you are able to be active outdoors, walk, jog, hike, bike, and play with your kids.
  3. CLEAN YOUR HOUSE – Grab the least toxic cleaning agents that will work for the job, and start scrubbing. Rid your bathroom of mildew and mold, vacuum up the dust bunnies under the bed and in closets, launder bed linens including mattress covers and duvets and hot water. Few people like cleaning, but it counts as physical activity and a clean house makes for cleaner air to breath and a healthier environment. In fact, while you’re at it, set aside no-longer-used cleansers and chemical agents (like cans of paint and other old products) for safe disposal at a later date.
  4. COOK UP A STORM – See ya later junk food and unhealthy take-out! If you haven’t already discovered the joys and benefits of healthy cooking and tasty eating, now’s the time. Find a few easy recipes, shop for the required ingredients, enlist help from the kids or put on a favorite playlist, and fire up the stove. While making some healthy meals for yourself or your family, consider making an extra meal or two to drop off for a friend, neighbour, or elderly family member…at their front door for now.
  5. INVEST IN RELATIONSHIPS – Sometimes it takes uncertainty and strife to make us take stock of what really matters to us – and for many this includes often neglected relationships with family, friends and co-workers. Reach out, share stories, share some laughs, help and support each other while being mindful of the current social distancing guidelines (so, by phone, email, Facetime, etc.) and spend quality time with those in your home. Cook and eat together, exercise and go for walks together, watch movies as a family, do some baking, or learn a new language together online.