If there has ever been a time to evaluate your health, now would be it! Staying healthy and building a strong immune system is the first line of defense that we have against the COVID-19 virus and other health-related issues. Basic hygiene – washing our hands for 20 seconds, not touching our face, and keeping our physical distance from others who might be sick – are all things that we can practice each and every day to protect ourselves. And choosing healthy foods, drinking plenty of water, and getting daily exercise are all healthy habits to build regardless of a pandemic.
We are being inundated with messages on how to stay healthy, stay safe, and protect ourselves and others – all great measures to physically protect and socially distance ourselves at this time. We believe, however, staying healthy goes beyond physical measures; and it is critical we also address our mental health.
There is a significant amount of research that shows how the mind can affect our bodies and vice versa. Taking care of our psychological wellbeing can sometimes help to prevent certain medical illnesses and can even help increase recovery time when we do get sick. Our emotions can trigger our blood chemistry, our heart rate, and can even affect the way in which our stomach and digestive tracts work, all of which affects our immune system. For example, stress has been linked to headaches and infectious illnesses such as the flu and diabetes to name a few.
We can help ourselves to stay healthy by tuning into our emotional and mental states. Here are some ways to help reduce your stress level and build up your emotional resilience, even when things seem to be spinning out of control:
If stress was Superman, then exercise would be its kryptonite. Exercise can lower cortisol, your body’s stress hormone. It can also release good chemicals in your body called endorphins which can improve your mood. Don’t worry, you don’t need to sign up for a triathlon to experience the benefits. A 15-minute brisk walk or 10 minutes of jumping jacks or some other movements that get your heart going will surely go a long way.
Finding that grande, double-shot caramel soy macchiato is giving you the jitters? Caffeine is a stimulant and can make some feel anxious. Although coffee can be healthy when taken in moderation, consider cutting your intake back if you are feeling stressed out or overwhelmed.
You don’t have to be the next Hemingway to benefit from writing things down. Keeping a journal can help relieve stress and anxiety. Take a moment to jot down your feelings and thoughts. Journaling prompts self-awareness by allowing one to clarify their emotions and better understand them. Not only are you allowing yourself time to emotionally process your feelings or thoughts, but you are improving your cognitive functioning and strengthening your immune system responses.
So easy, anyone can do it. According to several studies, chewing gum can help you relax and reduce stress levels.
Watch a funny movie, tell a good joke, or call that friend that knows just how to evoke a good belly laugh. Laughing is good for your health and can help to relieve stress.
Breathing – the one thing that you do the most and don’t give any thought to – can be one of your greatest tools to relieve stress and become healthier. Deep breathing affects your relaxation response by activating your parasympathetic nervous system. Simply stated? Deep breaths equal a slower heart rate, and a slower heart rate can make you feel calmer. Learn more on deep breathing with this video.
You only need to see how a child responds to music to understand its effects. Music can energize us and calm us. Try some classical, celtic, or other soothing tunes to help you relax.
Try a couple of different techniques and see how your body and mind respond. Find ways that you can help model healthy behaviors with your family and students. Point out what you are doing and why you are doing it. Everyone can benefit from a strong healthy mind-body connection and all of us could do with less stress in our lives.
As with most things, our children and students take cues and pick up on our subtle – and sometimes not-so-subtle – day-to-day behaviors. In this time when we’re defining a “new normal,” our behaviors toward staying healthy can help our families and students observe, learn, and understand how to take care of themselves as well!
Brisa Ayub is the Senior Global Director of Marketing at Wonder Workshop where she creates educational programs directed at bringing coding, robotics, and creative problem-solving to educators and students. She has a history of creating educational content and award-winning programs and games that have been implemented in schools across the United States and globally as the former Director of Educational Programs at Common Sense Media. Brisa earned her graduate degree in psychology and has worked with adolescents and young adults around addictive behaviors prior to the edtech space.