How to Cope With Anxiety
7 tips to help carry you through stressful times
Talk about a cruel irony: The new coronavirus (COVID-19) has ratcheted up stress levels, while simultaneously limiting access to many of our go-to antidotes—getting together with friends and exercising at the gym, for instance. But there’s still plenty you can do to de-stress and maintain a sense of calm. Try one (or all) of these tips.
Tip #1: Exercise indoors.
Staying active is one of the best ways to prevent and manage stress—no surprise. What is surprising: Plenty of workouts lend themselves to your living room. Tai chi, for instance. Among the exercises recommended by the American Diabetes Association Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes to help maintain balance and flexibility, tai chi combines repetitive movement with deep breathing. The best part: It requires minimal space and no equipment. These tai chi moves are a good place to start.
Or combine stretching with muscle-strengthening by following a yoga routine. A review of studies published in 2016 in Journal of Diabetes Investigation found that yoga can help people with type 2 diabetes lower blood glucose and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, while raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Sites like Do Yoga With Me and Daily Burn offer online yoga classes. Some are free; others are by subscription only, though they often include a free trial. If you’re just starting out, look for “beginner” or “gentle” classes to make sure you ease into it.
The gym may be closed, but you can still get in a strength-training session at home. If you have free weights, dumbbells, or resistance bands, you have the makings of a workout. No equipment? You can still get in some strength training using any of these household items:
- Gallon of water: In place of kettlebell
- Cans of soup or 16-ounce water bottles: Instead of free weights
- Tennis ball canisters: As a substitute for dumbbells when filled with rocks or sand
- Throw pillow: A makeshift squishy ball
If you’re looking for a little guidance now that your usual workout class has been cancelled, try an exercise video. Or turn to YouTube, which has videos for virtually every type of exercise, all available for free.
Tip #2: Try a new recipe.
A study published in 2017 in the journal Appetite suggests that positive food-related memories from childhood can help adults better manage stress. Take this opportunity to update an old family recipe. It may help you feel more connected, even though you’re apart from relatives.
Not that you have to stick to tradition. This is also the perfect time to experiment in the kitchen. Try that complicated recipe you’ve been putting off because it’s too time consuming, or get creative and see what you can you whip up using healthy ingredients.
Of course, if you plan to wing it in the kitchen, it helps to have the necessary supplies. Click here for tips on how to stock your kitchen.
For a variety of diabetes-friendly recipes and meal planning help, check out Diabetes Food Hub.
Tip #3: Take a deep breath.
Using mindfulness tools such as meditation can help anyone de-stress. For people with diabetes, it can also improve blood glucose management.
It may take a few attempts to get the hang of it, and that’s OK. Here’s how to do it:
- Find a quiet spot and sit in a comfortable position. Do a quick check of how your body feels from head to toe (mindfulness experts call this a “body scan”). Are any muscles tight? If so, try to relax them.
- Move your attention to your breathing. Slowly count to four as you breathe in and again as you breathe out. Notice how your chest expands and contracts.
- If other thoughts creep in as you’re tracking your breath—and they will—take note of them, but try not to react. Just direct your attention back to your breathing.
Tip #4: Host a virtual party.
Staying connected with friends and family is crucial, especially if you live alone. Luckily, there are lots of ways to do it virtually, thanks to videoconferencing apps such as FaceTime, Houseparty, Skype, and Zoom.
To make the most of your time together, prepare questions or discussion topics ahead of time. Give prompts such as, “What’s the funniest thing you saw online recently?” and then take turns answering. Other options: Ask guests dialing in to dress as their favorite fictional character; for smaller gatherings, organize a game night around online versions of Scattergories or Monopoly, or try one of the built-in games included on some videoconferencing apps.
Tip #5: Find comfort in the familiar.
If you feel like your days are beginning to blur together, maintaining a regular routine can help restore a sense of order. Be sure to wake up and go to bed at your usual time. If you’re working from home, shower and get dressed as if you’re still going into the office. Take a lunch break, then “clock out” at the end of the day. Keeping your everyday habits on a schedule can add structure and normalcy to your life during times of flux. Plus it’ll help you remember to take your medications and check your blood glucose as needed.
Tip #6: Laugh a little.
It may sound cliché, but it’s true: Laughter is the best medicine, even when the world doesn’t feel particularly funny. Not only can humor reduce stress and improve your mood, it also boosts your immune system. A study published in 2016 in The Gerontologist shows that laughing can help strengthen muscles when incorporated into workouts.
Take in some lighthearted fare, whether it’s a favorite TV show, movie, book, or comedy special. If you’re overwhelmed by options, revisit something—or someone—that made you laugh in the past. Call that friend who always cracks you up.
Tip #7: Get a good night’s rest.
Avoid the temptation to indulge your inner night owl. Lack of sleep takes a toll on both blood glucose management and mental health. If you’re having trouble dozing off at night, try a few of these tips:
- Plan to sleep and wake at consistent times every day.
- Open your shades as soon as you wake. The sunlight lets your body know that it’s daytime and helps keep your circadian rhythms in line.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks after 2 p.m.
- Cut out liquids 90 minutes before bed to avoid midnight bathroom visits.
- Wear special glasses, called blue blockers, when reading your smartphone or iPad at night. They shield your eyes from blue light, which can keep you awake.
- Wear socks. Warm feet help you sleep.
Sources: American Diabetes Association; Appetite, published May 1, 2017; Kathy HoganBruen PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of the District Anxiety Center in Washington, D.C.; Mayo Clinic