Taking steps to care for your mind and body during tough times may help you feel stronger in the face of challenges. Some of these actions include avoiding foods that exacerbate stress, getting enough exercise, practicing meditation or a similar “mind and body” relaxation practice, and making sure you get plenty of sleep.
1. Eat Well
A healthy diet can help you remain lucid and energized during rough times. Avoid foods that can trigger feelings of depression, anxiety and stress, like refined sugar, caffeine, processed foods, alcohol and unhealthy fats. Instead, fill your plate with nutrient-rich whole foods like lean proteins (like grilled chicken and fish), low-sodium broths, beans, fruits, vegetables, berries, nuts and seeds.
Keep in mind that hunger cravings can be triggered by other things than physical need, like boredom or emotions. Before reaching for food, try to evaluate what you’re really feeling, such as “am I hungry?” or “is this just a craving?”
If your emotions are getting the better of you, it may be helpful to see a mental health professional who can teach you skills to manage stress and negative emotional responses, especially those that trigger eating on impulse. You can also learn to eat slowly and mindfully. This allows you to stop and consider if you are truly hungry or just eating because you’re bored or stressed, and it can help you feel fuller after meals.
Stock your kitchen with healthy options for snacking, such as berries, bananas, apples, low-sodium crackers, whole grain bread and nonfat yogurt. And don’t forget to drink water! A glass of water can quickly quench your thirst and help you resist cravings. To make mealtimes easier, invest in a slow cooker and try cooking one or two meals at a time to save on prep time. You can also prepare your meals ahead of time and store them in the freezer for easy access. It’s also a good idea to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, especially when you’re active.
During tough times, exercise can help you feel better physically and mentally. It’s a great way to relieve stress, which can cause a lot of physical symptoms, like tense muscles, a tight chest, headache, or even stomachaches (leading to more worry).
The key is to focus on the sensations in your body as you move through your workout. Exercises that engage both the arms and legs are best for this, so try walking (especially on sand), running, swimming, or weight training. Other exercises have been shown to relieve PTSD and trauma, including yoga, martial arts, tai chi, and dance.
Even when you don’t have time for a full-on workout, a few movements can help. A simple change in body position, like reaching up overhead or putting your hands in the air to stretch, can reset your nervous system. It’s a quick break for mind and body, and it doesn’t cost anything.
Getting enough sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your mental health. When you get enough sleep, it’s easier to handle stress, focus on problems, and think positively. Sleep also helps keep your appetite under control. If you don’t get enough sleep, your eating habits can suffer and you may gain weight.
Shift work schedules and life on a ship can make it difficult to get the amount of sleep you need. A misaligned sleep/wake pattern and lack of rest can lead to a variety of health problems including fatigue, depression, obesity, and heart disease.
Try to stay on a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends and days off from work. A regular bed time routine will help to signal your brain that it’s time for sleep. If you’re struggling to fall asleep, try a warm bath or listening to soothing music before turning in for the night. Avoid using electronics like phones and televisions at least an hour before bedtime because they emit blue light that can interfere with your sleep cycle.
Your family and living companions can play a big part in helping you to sleep well. Encourage them to follow your sleep schedule and respect your “do not disturb” hours so that they can help you to feel rested in the morning. Ask them to turn off the TV, put away the phone, and use white noise to minimize disturbing sounds such as vacuuming or dishwashing. Keep a “do not disturb” sign on your door to let people know that you’re sleeping and not to come knocking. You can also try putting on earplugs and using a sound machine to help mask outside noises if necessary. The website bettertools.io has articles listing other wellness tips you can follow.
4. Take Care of Yourself
Take care of yourself, especially your emotional and mental health. It’s common to feel a bit overwhelmed by these times of change and strife. It’s also normal to have negative thoughts, such as “I’m not good enough” or “this is never going to end.” If these feelings are extreme or persistent, please seek a trusted friend or counselor for support and guidance.
During difficult times, it’s important to find ways to reduce your stress levels both at home and work. This may be as simple as taking a few extra steps to breathe deeply when you’re feeling stressed, or as elaborate as implementing a mindfulness practice like meditation or yoga. Try to get some exercise daily (even if it’s just 30 minutes), and limit your exposure to things that drain your energy, such as news or social media.
If you’re having difficulty sleeping, consider trying a few relaxation techniques. Deep breathing, mindfulness, yoga or qi gong can help to calm the mind and body. It’s also helpful to avoid people who feed negative emotions, such as blaming you for your challenges or magnifying them to make you feel even worse.
Lastly, remember to focus on the things that are working well in your life. Try to think of one thing each day you are thankful for, or journal your feelings. You may find that refocusing your thoughts and finding a way to connect with others are some of the most effective self-care strategies you can employ during tough times. If you’re having thoughts of harming yourself or others, reach out to a professional helper immediately. They can provide support and keep you safe. They will also teach you how to access resources in your community to prevent or manage these thoughts.
5. Stay Connected
In a time of crisis, it’s essential to find ways to keep yourself emotionally connected with others. This means focusing on those who care about you, prioritizing face-to-face relationships (or video chats when travel or lockdown prevent it), and taking steps to stay in contact with people even when it’s not possible to meet.
A lack of emotional connection can be a sign of mental health issues, so it’s important to speak with a healthcare provider or therapist about what you’re experiencing. There are a number of factors that might be contributing to this, such as negative social experiences or an overreliance on social media.
As you work to strengthen the connections you have, remember that it’s okay to let yourself feel all of your emotions. It’s often counterproductive to try and push away unpleasant feelings, as doing so will only fuel your stress and delay the healing process. Instead, seek out a therapist or trusted friend to talk about your feelings and find healthy outlets for expression.
Lastly, limit your exposure to the news and other media sources that can be upsetting. This can help prevent the negative effects of anxiety and depression related to being overexposed to information that can trigger distressing emotions.
Keeping your mind and body strong through tough times requires self-care, but it’s also important to connect with others for support. Make an effort to be more present with friends and family, avoid relying on social media for communication, and spend your’me time’ in healthy ways like exercising, having a bath, or practicing mindfulness. It’s a balance that will help you get through these challenging times and thrive once they end.