Coronavirus: Must-Know Info

A 10-Point Self-Care Plan for Boosting Resilience as the COVID-19 Pandemic Continues

Faced with COVID-19’s ongoing assault, we all need to bolster self-care practices that help enhance our resilience. Here’s how.

Medically Reviewed
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Creating a successful self-care routine starts with finding a few resolutions you can follow to set yourself up for success.

Even Amit Sood, MD, one of the leading experts in combatting chronic stress and building resilience, realized he had to up his well-being routine in the face of the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Sood, executive director of the Global Center for Resiliency and Well-Being, creator of Resilient Option, and a founding member of Everyday Health’s Wellness Advisory Board, has a toolkit filled with evidence-based options. The challenge, he says, was determining which ones to choose.

“I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with too many self-care resolutions,” Sood says. Make too many or too lofty goals and they’ll be harder to stick with. He wanted to set himself up to succeed, not fail.

Sood stuck with evidence-based options for his COVID-19 self-care plan, but he made a point to combine familiar practices with more novel ones. “Trying new things can be energizing as you experiment with what works for you,” he says.

He also determined from the outset to tailor his new routines to align with social distancing guidelines.

What follows are the 10 practices Sood selected.

Consider which ones you might be able to incorporate into your everyday routine to build resilience and enhance your health and well-being. Let these self-care practices inspire you to learn about other evidence-based strategies you might be able to add to your resilience toolkit.

And remember, fundamental to your toolkit is the willingness to reach out at any time for professional help, Sood says. These times are especially difficult ones for many people on many fronts. Therapists, counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists are all trained to help. Many providers are offering telemedicine visits online or via phone.

— Everyday Health Editors


Embrace Biophilia by Connecting With Nature

1. Leverage Biophilia

Biophilia refers to the very human desire to interact with nature and the natural world. It’s part of our DNA — connecting on even a basic level with plants, pets, and other living creatures, natural materials, or the outdoors helps us calm stress, better focus, and lift mood. There’s lots of research documenting this effect. Gardening, for example, has been shown to have mental health benefits, according to a March 2017 review in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports. Walking in nature or even looking out a window on a little bit of greenery can lift your mood.

RELATED: Spending This Much Time in Nature Each Week Boosts Well-Being

Ron ("RD") Chin, a trained feng shui architect and certified interior designer, notes that biophilia aligns with feng shui, the traditional Chinese concept linking people’s destiny to their environment. Chin, who is also an Everyday Health Wellness Advisory Board member, says that like biophilic design, the practice of feng shui (translated as “wind and water”) “underscores how we are at one with nature while harnessing the positive energies of our surroundings.”

How to Do It

  • Step outside. Or just look out a window at greenery or the sky.
  • Add indoor plants if you have the space and budget.
  • Fill your home with natural textures, colors, fabrics, floor or wall covering patterns, artwork, or other objects made of natural materials — or that in some way embody designs found in nature (such as shells, flowers, leaves, and waves).
  • Use an app that offers scenes of rain gently falling on leaves, colorful flowers dancing among green grasses, or undulating umbrellas of jellyfish floating in the water.
  • More ambitious? Adopt or help care for a pet.

Zoom In, Zoom Out: Shifting to Short- or Long-Term Perspective as Needed

2. Zoom In & Out as needed

Your attention instinctively tends to go to the place of greatest stress in your life. If your attention stays focused on the stress for a long time, it can suppress your immunity and predispose you to infection (thanks to the body’s physiological response to chronic stress). The good news is that you can intentionally shift your attention away from stressors, at least for brief periods, by practicing “ZiZo”: Zoom in on the present moment (what’s in front of you) or zoom out to think long-term (big picture) — depending on the stress you want to shift away from. Imagine a camera lens zooming in and out to practice the technique.

How to Do It

Zoom in when you feel overwhelmed by the past or anxious about the future. To do it:

  • Zero in on your surroundings. Register what you see, smell, taste, touch, and hear.
  • Shift your focus to a simple task you need to accomplish today or can finish now.
  • Read a good book, enjoy a fun video, or chat with someone who helps you feel worthy.

Zoom out when the present moment feels difficult, upsetting, or uncomfortable. To do it:

  • Ask yourself whether this will matter in five years.
  • Plan your next vacation or a trip that you always wanted to take.
  • Think about something exciting that you might do next week.

RELATED: 9 Ways Psychologists Plan to Stay Happy and Healthy This Winter of COVID-19


Engage Your Creativity

3. Engage Creativity

We all have a creative side that we’ve expressed in an activity, pastime, or hobby that lifts our spirits. Writing poetry, painting, carpentry, inventing recipes, putting together a Lego set, making music, and knitting are all creative endeavors that may challenge us and also allow us to completely concentrate, which can be satisfying and relaxing. Creative activities offer ways to express emotions. They also allow us to zoom in on something in front of us and ignore for a time the stressors in the larger world.

A collaborative creative activity offers the extra benefit of an uplifting connection and quality time with someone who means a lot to you.

How to Do It

  • Revisit a project that gave you joy and jump back into it.
  • Investigate a new hobby; pick something that aligns with your interests. Check out Adults and Crafts, for example, a subscription kit that sends DIY crafts every month.
  • See whether family members or friends are interested in the same creative activity. (I ended up writing Gigglers, a children’s joke book, with my 9-year-old, and developing a social and emotional learning program, HappiGenius, with my 16-year-old.)

RELATED: 5 Ways to Use Art to Change Your Mindset


Hunt for Ways to Appreciate What You Already Have

4. Hunt for Gratitude

Clinical studies have found that people who regularly write down what they’re grateful for report better well-being, physical health, and increased optimism about the future than people who don’t routinely practice gratitude every day. My twist on showing gratitude these days is earnestly hunting for it.

RELATED: How Maintaining a Gratitude Journal for 1 Month Made Me Happier

Find people and things to appreciate; find reasons to be grateful throughout each day. Be grateful for the mail and the person who delivers it, the feel of a favorite sweater, a refreshing glass of water or warming cup of tea, or the sight of someone you love. Waking up with gratitude and then searching for the small blessings in life makes me feel wealthy and ready for a challenging day.

How to Do It

  • Spend the first few minutes of your day envisioning and being thankful for five people in your life. Send each one silent gratitude. If you see some of these people in the morning or evening, show your gratitude by paying kind attention to them.
  • Try gratitude journaling; periodically review your growing gratitude list.
  • At some point, tell family and friends about your gratitude practice and that they are in your thoughts every day.

RELATED: Darlene Mininni, PhD: Q&A About Gratitude, Mindfulness, Reframing


Seek Inspiration in the Lives of Others

5. Think Inspiration

Resilient people share at least three characteristics:

  • A sense of purpose built on a commitment to serving others or a greater cause
  • A hopeful view of the future and a belief that their efforts and intentions matter
  • An ability to reframe situations so even failures become opportunities for growth

Thinking about people we admire for their resilience — famous individuals or those closer to home, such as a family member, neighbor, or coworker — learning from their lives, and allowing them to inspire us can help us build our own resilience. The trick is to understand that while these are exceptional people, the qualities of resilience that they’ve displayed are qualities that you can develop, too.

How to Do It

  • Ask yourself: Who comes to mind when you think about resilient people?
  • Ask yourself: Why do you consider them resilient?
  • Explore the life stories of the people who came to mind and find inspiration and motivation in those stories.
  • Participate in a free program I recently started for this purpose — 2021: Your Year of Healing — that celebrates a different resilient person every two weeks.

RELATED: Top 25 Movies and TV Shows Examining Resilience


Heal a Connection

6. Heal a Connection

Interesting research, including a national longitudinal study of U.S. adults published in April 2014 in Social Science & Medicine, shows that adversarial relationships can seriously harm our immune system. Remaining angry with others — which often involves being angry with ourselves, as well — over prolonged periods can chronically stress us out, which in turn suppresses the immune system and can lead to damaging inflammation. By contrast, these same studies point to affiliative relationships helping our immune system.

So, I consider forgiveness a form of self-care; it’s a way of reasserting some control over a situation by recognizing human weakness. Practicing forgiveness makes me recognize that we are all fallible and vulnerable, and also grants me the gift of peace and freedom from a stressor I don’t need in my life.

How to Do It

  • Think about whether you have any relationships you are struggling with.
  • Acknowledge that, in the face of suffering and misfortune, mistakes, and miscommunications, it isn’t easy for people to be kind to each other.
  • Optimize your expectations of others. Recognize that during these times, every person is dealing with excessive stress.
  • If at all possible, forgive that person. Tell yourself that you’re doing it for your own health, which is true.

RELATED: Amit Sood, MD: Q&A About Finding Resilience to Chronic Stress Through Neuroscience


Take Deep Breaths

7. Take Deep Breaths

Taking five slow, deep breaths several times a day has long been part of my wellness routine for one simple reason: Deep breathing works. It signals the parasympathetic nervous system — which is responsible for activities when the body is at rest — that all is safe and well and we should stay calm. It also strengthens the lungs.

What I find interesting is that there are many different types of breathing: pursed-lip, diaphragm, alternate nostril, intermittent breath retention, 3-3-6 (breathe in for a slow count of three, hold for a count of three, exhale for a slow count of six), and more. You can try them out and see which you prefer.

RELATED: The Importance of Taking a Good, Deep Breath Right Now

How to Do It

RELATED: Five Ways to Practice Breath-Focused Meditation


Limit Your Worry Time

8. Limit Your Worry Time

Over millennia, we humans have developed dangerously wandering minds. And no wonder. Studies by many researchers, including my colleague David T. Jones, MD, at Mayo Clinic, show that the resting brain is alive with activity as we struggle to address dozens of undone tasks and unresolved issues — the “what ifs” and “might be.” It’s a perfect recipe for stress, which fuels the wandering mind, which increases your stress levels, which … you get the picture. Your attention is likely wandering 50 to 80 percent of the time.

With COVID-19 opening its own file cabinet of tasks and issues in my mind, I decided to try an established technique for reducing anxiety: designated worry time. Intentionally focusing on worries 15 to 20 minutes at the same time each day allows me to free my mind of worrying the rest of the day. During worry time, I can devote all my energy to distinguishing legitimate concerns (about which I can actually do something) from concerns I should discard because they’re not worth my time or because I have no control over them. And I can use my concentrated energy to brainstorm creative answers. Scheduling your worries and being rational about them will help you focus on what’s important and actionable.

How to Do It

  • Schedule 15 to 20 minutes of worry time whenever makes sense for you, preferably early in the day. Don't schedule it right before you go to bed.
  • Until then, park your worries in a kind of holding pen; don’t think about them until the designated period.
  • Be strategic. Acknowledge your worries and write them down. Distinguish between the realistic and unrealistic, and then between solvable and unsolvable. Focus on those you can solve or help solve. Accept that the others are beyond your control. Decide, too, which issues are worth your attention.
  • Brainstorm solutions to one worry at a time, writing down your desired outcomes and alternative solutions, how they can be implemented, and how they might actually play out. Don’t panic or become frustrated if you don’t finish; you’ll have time tomorrow, and the days after that.

RELATED: How to Cope With Anxiety and Depression


Optimize Your Immune Resilience

9. Optimize Your Immune System

The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted two immune system vulnerabilities: a weak immune system that can’t fight the virus and an overly aggressive immune system can create excessive inflammation, which harms your body. So, how do you develop a resilient immune system that is both strong and gentle?

I’ve immediately focused on three ways in which we can all boost the immune system to fight the virus while decreasing the immune system’s propensity to cause inflammation throughout the body. They are:

  • Ingest sufficient amounts of micronutrients, which are the vitamins and minerals the immune cells need to stay health and fend off invaders.
  • Get enough sleep; that’s when the immune system heals itself. We have good data showing that lack of sleep is itself inflammatory and suppresses immunity.
  • Remain physically active throughout the day, and not just for 30 minutes in an exercise class or on a machine. Stretch, walk, and move in any way you can to ensure agility.

RELATED: The Ultimate Expert-Approved Diet Plan for a Happier, Less-Stressed You

How to Do It

  • Check if you are getting enough vitamins and minerals every day by eating nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables and going outside in the sunshine (to soak up that all-important vitamin D). If you think you may be falling short, ask your doctor if taking some type of supplement might be a good idea.
  • Be honest about whether you are short on sleep and commit to practicing good sleep hygiene moving forward.
  • Ask whether you’re treating your body to the movement it needs to remain agile. I’m now standing during Zoom meetings and walking around the room when on the phone.

RELATED: 7 Best Supplements That May Help Reduce Stress — and 1 to Avoid


Practice Positivity

10. Practice Positivity

Your constantly stressed brain needs respite every so often to be effective at handling life’s challenges. With the pandemic raging, we can’t say or believe that everything’s fine. But we can celebrate small milestones and little joys in life. Calming your mind in this way and intentionally engaging with the present moment are all acts of self-compassion. They dilute the stress, helping your brain heal and remain creative in navigating through these difficult times.

How to Do It

  • Savor quality time (even virtually) with friends and loved ones.
  • Practice generosity and admire generosity in others.
  • Connect with someone who feels lonely.
  • Enjoy mindfully listening to others.
  • Celebrate small milestones in a project.
  • Find and give yourself reasons to smile and laugh.
  • Be the reason someone smiles today.

Pick one or more of these ideas above that resonate with you. Look ahead: How do you want to remember this winter? Will it be a time you remember as a period of fear and stress or as a time when you took charge of your well-being and changed for the better? I welcome you to join with me in choosing to change poison into medicine and convert this disruption into transformation.

RELATED: The Many Ways You Can Practice Self-Care Right Now