Understandably, many people are feeling both mentally and physically drained after a year of lockdown. If you’re still stuck at home and feeling the strain, here are five ways you can boost your mental and physical health.
After a long year, the light at the end of the tunnel is finally visible, but we’re not there quite yet. The pandemic is still creating challenges for many and the number of people looking for help with anxiety and depression is rising at a worrying rate.
While professional help is always recommended in such cases, there are a few tools you can deploy to help recharge your physical and mental health, and cope with the challenges of being stuck at home.
1. Meet yourself where you’re at
Some days are going to be harder than others. This is true whether you’re working from home with your kids or you’re a pro athlete locked in a team bubble.
So what can you do? Give yourself some grace and adjust your goals when necessary. “On days when you’re up for it, it’s easy. You can push the ceiling,” says Angelo Noto, an EXOS performance specialist in London.
If you’re feeling that weight, consider connecting with others. “Picking up the phone, writing a letter, interacting with people — even if it’s an electronic interaction — is better than nothing,” says Chris Bertram, Ph.D., director of applied neuroscience at EXOS. “Looking after the fundamentals of mental and physical health can also help buffer you against the impact of loneliness and isolation.”
2. Prep for tough days
Make tough days a little easier with some prep work. “Whatever space you have available to you, dedicate an area to your workout. If that’s where your gym equipment lives, it’s there waiting first thing in the morning,” says Angelo. “Set yourself up for success by limiting as many barriers as possible to the actual step of doing something.”
And block that time in your day. “Ultimately, creating and following a daily schedule is very important for athletes stuck at home, or with restricted access to normal training facilities,” says Jaimie Lafler, an EXOS performance specialist in Texas. “Athletes are used to a very regimented schedule created by their teams. Putting one in place while away from their organization can restore a kind of balance and direction.”
You can also work with your body by tapping into your circadian rhythms. Chris recommends going outside within two hours of waking up to expose your brain to that bright morning light. That triggers a release of cortisol, which will help you feel awake and alert. Then go out again at sunset to switch on your melatonin to prepare for sleep.
“We can’t just decide to sleep better,” says Chris. “But what we can do is get our biology lined up, so it gives us a better opportunity to find sleep when we need it and get that energy and wakefulness that comes on the other side of it.”
3. Tap into your support system
Teamwork makes the dream work. Sounds cheesy, but it’s so true. Connecting with others right now might require more effort, but it doesn’t have to be hard. “Don’t try and go solo,” says Angelo. “Leverage friends, housemates, or co-workers to stay accountable. It works both ways; be the role model you’re looking for.”
Your support system doesn’t have to just be other people. It includes any resources available to you. “For our pro athletes, it was really cool to see the equipment their teams sent to help them train at home,” says Jaimie. There has also been a rise in the popularity of digital training services that allow athletes to connect with a coach virtually to maintain quality training. Your job might have similar resources that you can take advantage of with your co-workers.
4. Move any way you can
Your training probably saw some changes this year, no matter your level. Thinking outside the box, or the gym, has been the name of the game. “Athletes often sought a ‘get it in where you can fit it in’ experience — hopping around to various facilities and coaches who were open and available, whether this meant training outdoors or working out in a coach’s garage gym,” says Jaimie.
For those at home, Angelo recommends strategically placing sticky notes throughout your space with challenges to do some basic movements like squats or pushups, or healthy reminders where you keep your snacks to pick an apple over a cookie. “These little movements add up over the day and introduce a bit of fun,” he says. “It doesn’t have to look like your traditional gym session to still stimulate your body. And that’s far better than sitting still at a desk. Use whatever you have, be creative.” Even better: Go outside for a walk, hike, or bike ride. It will give your mood even more of a boost.
5. Build breakout sessions into your day
Trying to grind all day is a quick recipe for burnout. “If you’re spending seven hours sitting at your desk, are you actually doing four hours of work and three hours of procrastination because you’re losing focus and zoning out?” asks Angelo. “Instead, periodize your day so each block of time has a goal or purpose to help you stay on track. Sometimes that means getting away from the desk so you can rethink, reframe, and come back to execute with purpose.”
And it doesn’t have to be a huge stretch of time. “Even five minutes of breathwork immediately signals to your brain to bring on a state of rest and relaxation that your parasympathetic system delivers,” says Chris. “If you can do that strategically and intentionally throughout your day, you’ll be better able to manage your energy, alertness, and focus.”