Because lowering your stress levels is one of the best things you can do right now
By Anika Nayak March 24, 2020
With the rampant spread of the coronavirus, upending of routines, and general uncertainty about when we’ll return to normal, it can be hard not to feel anxious. In thinking about all of this, know that you’re not alone, it is completely okay to feel anxious at this unprecedented time.
You’ll want to make sure you are reading the news and monitoring updates from the CDC, but it’s probably best not to overconsume information (we’re looking at you, 2 a.m. Twitter spiral). There is a lot of misinformation out there, which can serve to propel stress and anxiety. Instead, focus on what you can control and make sure you are taking steps to achieve mental wellness. As we practice social distancing, here are five wellness activities you can do at home when feeling anxious.
I spoke to three psychiatrists from Brainstorm, Stanford’s Lab for Mental Health Innovation, who are bridging medicine, technology, and entrepreneurship to develop and promote innovative, tech-based products to improve people’s mental health and overall well-being. Here’s what they said about keeping your stress levels down during this very stressful time.Sleep until you are well-rested
Research shows that one in three adults does not get enough sleep. Now that the majority of outside activities and events are canceled, take time to get a solid overnight’s rest—experts recommend 7–9 hours. “Sleep is one of the most important factors of short-term well-being and long-term health. Proper sleep, in addition to good nutrition and exercise, helps build immunity, which is crucial at this time. Following sleep hygiene ensures you have good-quality sleep: limit naps to 30 minutes, avoid alcohol and food right before going to bed, and lower the temperature in your bedroom to the 60s,” says Nina Vasan, MD, MBA, founder and executive director of Stanford Brainstorm, clinical assistant professor at Stanford School of Medicine, and chief psychiatrist at Silicon Valley Executive Psychiatry. Now is the perfect time to give your alarm a break, and let your body get the sleep it needs.Stay connected
Even with social distancing, be sure to stay virtually connected to the community. “Humans have evolved to be social creatures,” says Neha Chaudhary, MD, cofounder of Stanford Brainstorm and child and adolescent psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. “We know that isolation and loneliness can have detrimental effects on health,” she explains. “The point of social distancing is physical distancing only; people should be making an effort to stay connected with loved ones through the help of technology and other creative measures now more than ever.” So practice your best FaceTime angles and get to dialing!Establish a routine
While at home, take some time to do what you would normally do while going to work or running errands, like dressing up and working from a schedule. “While at home, be proactive about maintaining a sense of routine and planning your days. This type of structure can help mitigate anxiety and stress levels, while also keeping yourself feeling productive and fulfilled,” says Gowri Aragam, MD, cofounder of Stanford Brainstorm, clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, and psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital.Exercise daily
Staying fit has a multitude of medical benefits, including decreasing anxiety and improving overall mood. The gyms and fitness centers may be closed, but there are a variety of exercises you can do at home. “Exercising is one of the few things you can do that are proven to release feel-good chemicals in your brain that are akin to antidepressants,” says Dr. Chaudhary. “Getting that boost by moving your body for even 30 minutes per day can have significant effects on mood, and general health and well-being.”Immerse yourself in nature
You may be staying indoors to avoid people, but take some time outdoors to enjoy the beauty of nature. This ecotherapy is completely free and accessible to you at all times. “Research shows that time spent in nature lowers the stress hormone cortisol and boosts feelings of happiness and well-being. There are plenty of ways to enjoy your time outdoors while practicing social distancing—running, biking, meditating, and taking some phone meetings outside while sitting or strolling,” says Dr. Vasan.