Tips for Staying Healthy and Happy at Home

young woman meditatingThe coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is upon us and has virtually upended the way we live, work, and interact with one another. Home is now a mandatory shelter for all of us, and the challenge is to find new ways to stay active, engaged and mentally healthy.

“These are unprecedented times,” explains Dr. Melvina Patel, a primary care doctor at NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Queens. “Fear and anxiety about catching COVID-19 can be overwhelming and cause high levels of stress — that in turn can affect your physical health.” Worries and fears about family, health, isolation and avoiding exposure can result in changes in sleeping or eating patterns, declining physical or mental health, and an increase in alcohol and drug usage in order to cope.

“There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely,” continues Dr. Patel. “We, as human beings, are hard-wired for social interaction. But isolation is the order of the day, and while being alone can be daunting, there are things you can do to stay emotionally and physically engaged.”

Technology to the rescue

Now more than ever, people have taken to social media and virtual meeting sites to help stay connected to each other. “While it’s not the same as actually being in the same physical space, the face-to-face interaction can help bridge the social distance gap and the loneliness it can bring,” Dr. Patel notes.

You can simply have a phone call, or see family or friends through video technology on your phone, tablet or computer. Enjoy a conversation while you are (virtually) having dinner together. Cook something special, dim the lights and put on music to set the mood. Be creative by starting a book club, reading trivia questions to friends, or watching the same movie and then discussing your favorite parts. Many organizations, celebrities, and businesses are thinking out-of-the-box to offer streaming performances, Zoom parties, art and nature tours, online education, religious services, fitness classes, and more, many for free. Search online for one you like.

Get moving and eat healthy

We all know the importance of getting regular physical exercise, but during this time when most gyms are closed, it’s important to get moving in other ways — whether exercising in your home or stepping out into the fresh air for some walking, hiking or biking. Search online for free exercise videos or apps and just try one to see if you like it!

“Studies have shown that physical activity and exercise can help boost the immune function, which helps protect you from contracting illness, including COVID-19,” says Dr. Patel. “Even short bouts of exercise outdoors or at home can enhance the body’s ability to fight off harmful germs, reducing stress levels, boosting mood and sense of well-being.”

Also, it is important to eat healthy. Avoid too many sweets and over processed foods; they may temporarily make you feel happy, but later contribute to a negative impact on mood and weight gain. If available, eat some fruits and vegetables, even canned or frozen. However, if canned, read the label to learn the amount of sugar and sodium included and choose those with the lowest amounts.

Stay on schedule

During these uncertain times, it helps to stick to patterns that remind us of our normal lives. “There is a comfort in routine and sticking as closely as possible to it can add a measure of stability to your life,” advises Dr. Patel.  Go to bed and wake at the same time each day. Try dressing and getting ready as you would for work. Schedule your workday, as well as any plans to exercise or connect with friends and family. Reach out to friends and pick a date and time to talk, just like you would an in-person get together. Write down small attainable goals and check them off to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Music, meditation and laughter

Take the opportunity to do things that bring you joy and comfort. Whether that is listening to music, meditating or cooking, set aside time for it. If you don’t have a hobby, try something new, read an online magazine or listen to a podcast.  “As important, take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories. Hearing repeatedly about the outbreak can just add to extra anxiety and worry,” reminds Dr. Patel.

Laughter is often referred to as medicine. Reminisce and laugh with family and friends over past memories. Watch a funny movie, online clip or standup comedy. Smile at the little things, be grateful for your successes as well as your effort to continue living a happy life at home.

Melvina Patel, M.D., is a primary care physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Queens. Dr. Patel earned her medical degree from Ross University School of Medicine in the West Indies. She completed her internal medicine residency at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens and served as a hospitalist and primary care attending before joining the medical group. She has been in practice for more than eight years.