The coronavirus pandemic has changed nearly every facet of our day-to-day lives—how we work, how we shop, how we socialize, how we eat, and how we exercise. But, now, we face yet another challenge: how to self-motivate as we gradually shift back to a more “normal” existence.
This return to normal will look different for each of us. “There will be a fresh layer of uncertainty and worry as we will likely second-guess many of our choices and the choices of those around us,” says nurse and health coach Tara Allen, R.N., C.P.T., F.N.S. “Emotions will run high as we teeter between excitement for the end of stay-home orders and grief for the loss of lives and security.”
The shift will certainly impact our sleeping, eating, exercise, and work habits—and many of us may feel unusually tired, restless, and even depressed. “Periods of change often bring on these feelings until we gradually adjust,” says psychologist Emily Guarnotta, Psy.D., blogger at The Mindful Mommy.
Here, experts share nine different ways to self-motivate and stay mentally and physically well as everyday life once again shifts.
1. Maintain A Schedule That Works For You
Routine helps us feel more in-control when many other aspects of life feel hectic and uncertain. Just as you had to reimagine your schedule during the peak of the pandemic, you’ll need to readjust now, too. Though finding a new schedule can be frustrating, it’s ultimately one of the best ways to self-motivate.
For example, maybe you used to work out in the evenings, but are now too tired to do so. Give yourself permission to shift your workouts to the morning or during lunchtime, suggests integrative health coach Kerri Axelrod, R.Y.T.
“The most important thing is to have a routine,” she says. “Making a new schedule that focuses on the most important things you need to do will help as things start to shift.”
2. Spend Time Outdoors
If you were unable to spend time in nature during quarantine, it’s time to explore. In fact, doing so may help you cope with some of the mental and emotional challenges this transitional period may bring, according to Axelrod.
“Getting outside and enjoying nature will help calm your nervous system and give your body and emotions space to breathe and process everything going on,” she says. Aim to spend 30 minutes a day outdoors, particularly when the sun is shining.
3. Try Diaphragmatic Breathing
Research published in Front Psychology has linked diaphragmatic breathing (a.k.a. belly breathing) to reduced stress in healthy adults.
This kind of breathing is heavier and deeper than regular breathing, which is shallow and does not always optimize the lungs’ capacity to take in air, explains Eliza Kingsford, L.P.C., licensed psychotherapist and behavior change specialist. “Humans are naturally belly-breathers,” she says.
When you practice diaphragmatic breathing (pushing your belly out as you inhale, and collapsing it as you exhale), you tap into your lungs’ true capacity. “This sends a message to the nervous system to calm down and get into ‘rest and digest’ mode,” she explains.
Kingsford suggests Practice belly breathing one-to-three times a day (even for just a minute) when you feel stressed or overwhelmed. While many of the other ways to self-motivate on this list pay off over time, this one has immediate benefits.
4. Develop A Meditation Practice
You might see meditation as just another thing to add to your long to-do list. However, it’s an excellent habit to pick up as you readjust back into ‘regular’ life.
“Meditation can help you process trauma and heal,” says health coach Ashley Matejka, C.P.T., R.Y.T. “It has the power to reduce or even reverse symptoms.”
And, at the very least, the practice helps you become more present, grounded, and focused in all aspects of your life. In fact, a single mindfulness meditation session can help reduce anxiety, according to a 2018 Experimental Biology study.
The easiest way to make meditation a habit: Incorporate it into your morning or bedtime routine. “If you have trouble sleeping, I highly recommend meditation before bed,” suggests Matejka. “Meditation evokes the relaxation response, making it easier to fall asleep.”
5. Move Your Body Every Day
Now is not the time to skip workouts, says Kingsford. In fact, staying on schedule with your exercise routine is one of the best things you can do for yourself amidst this transition. “Doing so will help you relieve stress, sleep better, think more clearly, manage negative emotions, and keep your body healthy,” she says.
That doesn’t mean you have to go back to a gym or fitness class, though. “You do not need strenuous activity to get the stress-relieving benefits of exercise,” says Kingsford. “Research shows that just a 10-minute walk can impact the stress pathways for hours after you’ve finished.”
To get the recommended 150-plus minutes of exercise per week, aim to move for at least 25 minutes per day.
6. Give Yourself A Break
Be gentle with yourself during this adjustment period; it is okay if it takes you longer to feel “normal” (physically, emotionally, and mentally) again.
“We all react and adjust to situations differently, so what works for your sister, co-worker, or partner may not be what you need,” says Axelrod. Easy as it may be to fall into the comparison trap, it’s crucial that you focus on what serves you.
7. Limit Processed Foods And Sugar
“Processed foods and sugar just make an already stressful situation worse,” says Kingsford. “They disrupt hormones responsible for regulating emotions, have an addictive quality, and cause inflammation in the body that increases physical and mental stress.”
Making healthy food choices right now will support your physical, emotional, and mental health. Stick to real, whole foods—such as whole grains, fruits, and veggies—as much as possible throughout this time, suggests Allen.
8. Connect With Your Support System
For many, quarantine brought extra time to catch up with loved ones on the phone or through FaceTime or Zoom. As we transition back towards our old schedules, finding the time to stay in touch can be difficult. However, doing so is important—especially considering the ongoing stress of the pandemic, says Guarnotta. She recommends scheduling time to connect with your support system at least three times per week.
“It is important to remain connected to your support system even when you are feeling good, since it can help you feel less lonely and prevent downward mood spirals,” she explains.
9. Schedule Self-Care
Thanks to some extra free time and an emphasis on effectively coping with the implications of the coronavirus, self-care was top of mind for many people during quarantine.
“Self-care encompasses many aspects of our lives, like working out, meditation, getting to bed at a reasonable time each evening, and even just enjoying a quiet cup of coffee each morning before the craziness of the day starts,” says doctor of nutrition Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., owner of eatrightfitness. Not only have these practices been linked to reduced stress, but they’ve also been associated with an all-around higher quality of life, according to research published in BMC Medical Education.
That’s why Adams recommends continuing with even the little things that make you feel better. Try to pencil in some “you” time every day—even if just for 15 minutes. For example, take a warm, quiet bath or write down a few things you are grateful for before bed.
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