On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness news for all Oklahomans.

Finding a Post-COVID Routine

All of the changes we’ve been through over the past year can feel destabilizing. Our routine during most of 2020 looked very different than it did in 2019. Many of us switched to working from home. We schooled our kids at home, often at the same time. Our homes became the ultimate multi-tasking spaces, by necessity. We devised ways to exercise without a gym, dine without going inside restaurants, stay connected with one another via Zoom or FaceTime instead of gathering in person and we did all of these new things it without traveling for pleasure or work. 

To say it’s been a weird, hard time is an understatement. People learned to pass the time at home baking bread, binge-watching shows and trying to stay calm. Some days COVID-19-driven anxiety or depression got the best of us, and other days we felt fine. Nearly 600,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, more than 8,300 here in Oklahoma. 

As more people get vaccinated and pandemic restrictions lift, it seems it’s time to find yet another new normal, with its own routine. How we do that is up to us, and it can feel challenging. It’s good to remember that things may change again and that change is just part of life. How we deal with it is largely within our control, even if what is happening may not be.

There are a few parts of your routine that should remain consistent during most situations. Let’s think of them as a framework onto which we can add other things. The more diligent you are about keeping healthful habits, the more power it will have to calm and center you. 

Control what you can.

Veteran war and disaster correspondent Judith Matloff recently shared her tips for surviving a new normal in an article for Columbia University, where she teaches crisis reporting. Her career has involved, for example, being trapped in a hotel during a civil war in Angola. The first tip she offers is to accept that whatever the situation is or is not, we must consider it to be the new normal, for as long as it lasts. We (still) don’t know exactly what will happen in the next few months, so there’s no sense in speculating about it. Work with what you know. Set a schedule for getting up, meals and going to bed. “Resilience thrives with proper nutrition and rest,” she says. “Build in time to exercise…Consider what anchors and relaxes you—meditating, music, yoga or gardening. Watch funny movies.”  

Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.

Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night.  Sleep is crucial to your physical and mental health. Your body repairs itself during sleep. Inadequate sleep is also one of the strongest risk factors for obesity, stroke, prediabetes, and heart disease. Cognitive ability decreases when we don’t sleep enough.

Set up a routine within a routine at bedtime and in the morning.

A before-bed routine might include some self-care like a bath, face mask, or maybe applying a lavender scented lotion. The scent of lavender is used in aromatherapy practices to promote calm and improve sleep. Reading a good book before bed also improves sleep quality, lowers stress levels and is good for mental health and creativity. Perhaps you’d enjoy adding a gratitude practice or prayer before you sleep.

In the morning, before you get out of bed, stretch from head to toe and offer yourself an affirmation. It could be as simple as “I am grateful for this day.” Love coffee? Enjoy a cup at a leisurely pace each morning. If you have time for a morning walk or jog, all the better. Maybe you walk or jog on Tuesdays and Thursdays and take an online (or in-person) yoga class one or two other mornings.   

Eat well.

A healthy diet, like good sleep, can ward off disease, improve your physical and mental health and better equip you to deal with life’s ups and downs. Eating nutritious, unprocessed foods is an easy guideline. Start with lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, grains, beans and legumes and limited fat, sodium and sugar. An easy-to-follow eating plan, the Mediterranean Diet is a well-documented, healthy, simple eating plan. George W. Madden, M.D.,  a cardiologist with INTEGRIS Health Cardiovascular Physicians in Oklahoma City, describes it this way: “Really, it’s cutting red meat, eating fish for a meal once a week, eating a meal that is made up of mostly beans once a week, cooking with olive oil and snacking on nuts. It’s simple and inexpensive.” 

Hydrate.

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: drink plenty of water. But how much? How often? Bottled or tap? Are eight glasses a day a good goal or is that a made-up thing? Water is good for you – and important for every part of your body. Every system in our bodies need it. Here’s a piece we shared in March that will help you hydrate.

Exercise.

Besides being a great mood booster, whether you exercise is something you can control. If you’re transitioning back to your office, a brisk (or mellow) walk around the block on your lunch break can be a great way to release any anxiety. If the kids are going back to in-person learning, walk them to school if you can. A dose of fresh air and sunshine might be just the ticket to a better day.

If you’re comfortable going back to the gym, do it. Harvard.edu reports that regular aerobic exercise can help reduce anxiety by making your brain’s fight or flight system less reactive. Exercise like cycling or gym-based aerobic, resistance, flexibility and balance exercises can also reduce depressive symptoms. An exercise routine builds self-confidence and helps us feel that we’re in control.   

Make adapting part of your routine.

Things change. They just do. Granted most changes are not as all-encompassing as what we’ve seen this past year but change truly is the only constant. We expect our lives to change when we hit certain milestones. At 16, we learn to drive. We graduate from high school, then college or maybe we enter the work force. We form romantic partnerships, buy homes, advance in our careers, perhaps start families. These are the changes or phases we tend to expect. 

Changes we don’t expect are more jarring because, well, we don’t expect them. While we can’t see the future, which means we can’t predict exactly what may happen next, we can remind ourselves that when changes occur, we are ready and able to adapt. After all, we’ve got a strong routine in place.

 

For more lifestyle content and tips to live a healthier life, visit the INTEGRIS Health For You blog.

 

Subscribe to the INTEGRIS Health On Your Health blog

Subscribe for regular emails full of useful and interesting Oklahoma-centric health and wellness info, from the doctors and health experts at INTEGRIS Health.

Why It's Important to Allow Yourself to Rest

Understanding COVID-19’s Impact on Children

Healthy Carbs to Add to Your Diet