Coronavirus: Expert explains how to look after your wellbeing during lockdown, if it all seems too much

woman lying on couch
If you're feeling lonely or overwhelmed, here are some easy ways to take care of yourself right now. Photo credit: Getty.

With New Zealand in lockdown, coronavirus spreading the globe and the economy taking a major hit, it's easy to feel a bit like everything is falling apart right now.

News of widespread paycuts and redundancies are circulating every day, and while we're all isolated from friends and family, many Kiwis are struggling with loneliness. 

It's made all the more difficult seeing Instagram influencers run 5km and wear a full face of makeup each day, when you might just be struggling with deciding what to eat for breakfast. 

"It's human nature to feel stressed, especially when our day-to-day lives don't look the same as they used to," says qualified dietitian and research scientist Dr Michelle Celander. 

Dr Celander, program and science director at WW (formerly Weight Watchers), says when it comes to your overall health and wellness "taking care of your mind is just as important as taking care of your body". 

"It's important to practice self-compassion and learn to think in new ways to handle these tough times."

WW dietitian Dr Michelle Celander
Dr Michelle Celander has offered some tips on looking after your wellbeing at home. Photo credit: Supplied/WW.

She's shared some coping strategies and self-care techniques to help you mind your mental health during this difficult time. She stresses, however, that if anxiety is seriously impacting your daily life (ie, you wake up not wanting to get out of bed), you should call your GP.

Expert wellbeing tips to remember during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Prioritise sleep hygiene 

The average adult needs about seven to nine hours of sleep per night. But stress and anxiety can make it difficult to clock that much, let alone get good quality rest. The thing is, poor sleep doesn't just leave you with droopy eyelids - it can contribute to mood dips and heightened anxiety. What's more, skipping sleep can mess with your insulin sensitivity in a way that increases your appetite, according to a review article in the journal Nature.

To ease stress and get good quality sleep, try to:

  • Develop a restful and relaxing bedtime ritual such as shutting your laptop and stowing your phone out of reach, turning off the news, and taking a bath or stretching
  • Get into bed at the same time every night. Not sleepy? Read a book or magazineuntil you begin to feel tired. Swiping through your phone isn't the same as turning pages since the blue light that emanates from your device may suppress melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep/wake cycles, and keep your brain on high alert 
  • Avoid excessive caffeine consumption. Typically, it takes four to six hours for your body to metabolise half of the caffeine you've consumed. So if you drink a cup of coffee at 3pm, you may still feel remnants of the buzz around 9pm
  • Opt for non-alcoholic beverages. While alcoholic beverages may initially make you sleepy, having even one drink in the evening may affect your second and most important stage of sleep, leading to sleep disruptions throughout the night.
  • Expose yourself to bright sunlight first thing in the morning. Natural sunlight supports your natural circadian rhythm, or internal clock that regulates your sleep/wake cycles. Research suggests that exposure to daylight can also improve the duration and quality of sleep
  • Get out of bed at the same time every day. Even if you didn't sleep too well the night before, maintaining a consistent wake-up time and resisting naps over 30 minutes helps your body develop and stick to a natural sleep schedule

Maintain your regular routine

When things feel unpredictable and out of control, your body may produce an abundance of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Over the course of weeks or months, a chronic surge can heighten your risk of depression, heart disease and obesity. However, sticking to a regular routine, ie eating lunch at the same time every day rather than grazing all day when you're working from home, can help you feel more in control and rein in hormonal fluctuations.

Amp up your physical activity

Exercise can help reduce stress, which is why it's smart to follow the Department of Health guidelines and get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 weekly minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity every week. Because spending 20 to 30 minutes out in nature may help lower cortisol levels, taking your exercise outside can deliver a double-whammy.

Reframe self talk

Stressors can trigger negative thoughts that reinforce pessimistic beliefs and attitudes. To reverse the effects, try taking four to five deep breaths and then reframing those thoughts to the things that you are grateful for and can control.

Avoid emotional isolation

Interacting with other people - whether it's a phone call, video chat, or text message - can ease the symptoms of stress and to help you cope. Can't fight the urge to keep to yourself? Think of others: Checking in on older relatives or vulnerable people over the phone to make sure they have everything they need can help you feel more in control. 

Side-step stress-eating

While digging into a tub of ice cream or another treat that's high in fat and sugar may temporarily distract you from stress, indulging won't stomp out the source of it. Before you reach for a handful of chips or a second serving of lunch, ask yourself: is your stomach really grumbling or are feelings fueling your appetite? If you're dealing with complicated emotions rather than actual hunger, calling a friend, going for a walk around within your neighbourhood, or doing another non-eating activity may help you feel even better than any sugar-laden pick-me-up.