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Some Wellness Tips for the COVID-19 Pandemic

Steven Wengel, M.D.

Assistant Vice Chancellor for Campus Wellness

UNO & UNMC

June 18, 2020

In these times of uncertainty and stress, it is helpful to focus on things we can do for our emotional health. While there is a lot in our world that is outside of our control, there is a lot we can do to control our own mental environment. I suggest you consider the “4 R’s”:

  • Relationships
  • Routines
  • Relaxation
  • Reflection

Relationships

In our current environment, our normal ways of connecting in person with people at work and at home have changed. But we can still stay connected by phone, text messaging, social media, and video conferencing. Don’t forget about traditional letter-writing – a time-tested way of staying in touch as well. I would ask for you to especially connect up with older adults who may be at more risk for isolation – those who are homebound or live in assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. They need our attention now more than ever.

Routines

It’s easy to get out of our normal self-care routines, like exercise, healthy eating, and adequate sleep. I’d encourage all of us to make these a priority. There are many online exercise programs now, if you can’t do your normal routine because the gym is closed. Eating 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables per day can improve your health and may enhance immune function. Lastly, sleep is always important and often overlooked as a way to stay healthy. Getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep is recommended for most adults, but many Americans voluntarily give up some of their sleep time. This can lead to increased anxiety symptoms, according to recent research. So do your best to get those ZZZ’s!

Relaxation

There are many ways to relax. Listening to music, reading poetry or novels, and watching movies are popular, of course. In addition to these great ideas, I also encourage all of us to consider a simple form of meditation that can reduce our stress levels.  This was developed by the Benson-Henry Institute of Mind Body Medicine at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital and has been taught to thousands of people over the last 40 years. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Get into a comfortable sitting position.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Breathe slightly slower and deeper than you ordinarily would.
  4. As you exhale, say the word, “One” silently, inside your head. Try to make the saying of “One” as long as the breath you are exhaling.
  5. Continue for about 10 minutes. Don’t set a timer – just look at the time when you start, and open your eyes periodically to see how long you’ve been doing this.
  6. Keep a passive attitude – don’t try to force it. Know that distracting thoughts will come; that’s perfectly normal. When they do, just say, “Oh, well” and remind yourself to go back to focusing on your breath and saying “One.”
  7. It will take you a week or two to get the hang of this, but if you keep practicing, it will get easier and easier to invoke a relaxed state of mind, that will last well after you have finished a session.

Considerable scientific research has demonstrated the amazing benefits of regular meditation. In addition to reducing anxiety, improving sleep, and helping you focus your attention, there is exciting evidence that it may reduce the usual age-related atrophy or shrinkage of the brain. So find a comfortable chair and start today!

Reflection

Our last “R” gives us a chance to get a little perspective. It’s easy to lose perspective when we are stressed. Taking time to reflect on what’s important to you can really improve your outlook. One way to do this is to keep a gratitude journal. To do this, set aside a few minutes once or twice a week to write down three things that you are grateful for that happened since you last wrote in your journal. It’s best to look for three new things each time you do this. Research has shown that by regularly taking stock of the positives in your life, you will, over time, become more optimistic and see those positives that are all around us.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful. I am always happy to hear of your successes, and also available to answer questions. My email is swengel@unmc.edu so don’t hesitate to contact me!