Creating Normalcy in an Abnormal Time
There is nothing routine about the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. With quarantines, stay-at-home orders, school closures, and cancellations, life is in upheaval and people of all ages are feeling the stress. So, what can you do to stay mentally and physically healthy during these challenging times? Here are some tips to help you create normalcy in your life and optimize your health:
- Keep a regular schedule
Under regular circumstances, a schedule is a helpful tool to keep you on track. However, in a time of pandemic, maintaining a regular routine for yourself and your family members – especially those with neurologic conditions – is essential. It can help to normalize your life, keep you healthy, and lower your stress.
Dr. Deborah Boland, a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, Movement Disorder Specialist, and owner of Be Mobile Neurology, says that sticking to patterns that remind you of your normal life can be comforting and calming. Try to set specific times every day to eat three nutritious meals, to work, to exercise, and even to relax. If you have children, make sure to include both academic time and play time in the schedule. In addition, keep activities in your daily routine that promote discipline, such as washing dishes or making the bed.
- Maintain a healthy diet
A healthy diet can strengthen your immune systems, helping to protect you from the coronavirus as well as other health issues. While it’s easy to turn to junk food in times of stress, try to maintain a balanced diet. Instead, try to eat foods that are rich in nutrients like leafy green vegetables, fruits, lean meats, fish (especially those high in Omega-3 fatty acids like salmon), whole grains, dairy, legumes, nuts, and seeds. If fresh foods aren’t available, frozen and canned options are great alternatives. Try to limit intake of soda, processed foods, and saturated fats, whenever possible.
Dr. Boland emphasizes that it is essential for you to stay hydrated, drinking a minimum of 48 to 64 ounces of water a day. But, make sure to get those fluids in at least four hours before bedtime!
- Maintain good sleep hygiene
Getting adequate sleep every night makes a huge difference in your brain health and helps you more effectively managing stress. When you are well-rested, you are better able to function.
Your daily routine should include a consistent bedtime, with the goal of six to eight hours of sleep a night. Dr. Boland recommends that you also eliminate caffeinated drinks late in the day, avoid afternoon naps, and limit screen time one hour before bed.
- Exercise at home
Regular exercise improves mental health, cognitive function, and memory, while reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. In addition, physical activity promotes a healthier immune system. While the COVD-19 crisis presents challenges through gym closures and class cancellations, there are many ways for you to get moving at home.
Dr. Boland recommends that you include a set time in your daily routine for exercise. Some ideas include taking a brisk walk in your neighborhood, being mindful to maintain social distancing practice, participating in an online exercise class, or even playing active games with your family. Here are some online exercise programs to check out:
- Parkinson Foundation’s PD Health @ Home – Fitness Fridays
- Neuro Challenge Foundation’s Virtual Dancing Through Parkinson’s
- Davis Finney Foundation’s Exercise Essentials video
If you are spending a lot of time in a sedentary position, such as watching television, Dr. Boland says that it is important to stand up regularly. You could do a lap around the room or an active chore like folding laundry during every commercial break!
- Stay cognitively active
Dr. Boland also believes that it is just as important to exercise your brain as it is to exercise your body. The brain is a muscle and it needs regular workouts to stay in shape. Daily orientation is an easy brain activity that you can do anywhere and that will help improve your cognitive function. Several times a day, simply talk about the time of day, date, and season, referring to clocks, calendars, and your surroundings.
Reading for pleasure (fact or fiction) can stimulate your mind and help protect thinking skills. You should also read about current events every day to stay up-to-date, but limit exposure to news that will cause you additional stress.
Games are another way to keep your mind active while you’re staying at home. Try playing one-way brain games, such as Sudoku, crossword puzzles, word puzzle searches, and one-person computer games like Solitaire. Play two-way brain games, such as Scrabble, dominoes, and cards, at home with your family or online against friends.
- Practice mediation and mindfulness
One of the best ways to manage stress during this pandemic is by practicing mindfulness, which can help you to calm anxiety and build coping skills. Including mindfulness techniques into your everyday routine is very beneficial to your overall health. In fact, research has shown that practicing yoga for just 12 minutes a day has significant brain boosting effects. Dr. Boland says that there are a variety of simple ways to be mindful every day, such as focusing on the sight, sound, smell, taste, and feel of the activities in your daily routine. The important factor for any of these activities is that you are paying attention to every part of the experience without judgement.
- Continue your medical care
Especially if you have a neurologic condition, it’s important to maintain medical care. Dr. Boland offers telemedicine appointments to her patients, making it easy to continue care while staying safe from exposure to disease. Patients only need access to a tablet or computer with Internet connection to be seen by Dr. Boland.
During a televisit, your physician has the ability to perform a basic neurologic exam, just as they would for an in-person visit, while ensuring that you remain in a safe, healthy environment. A typical telemedicine appointment could include a medical interview, a discussion of treatment options, or observation of your cognitive status, movements, and mobility, including walking.
- Make meaningful social connections
In addition to providing greater access to your doctor, Dr. Boland believes that technology can be effective in keeping us connected during this time of social distancing. Social interaction plays a major role in your overall health and well-being, but especially in your brain health. She recommends that you make a concerted effort to keep connected to friends and family on an individual day-to-day basis, using platforms such as social media and video calling.
With stay-at-home orders in place, feelings of isolation are a threat to your health. Dr. Boland says that the elderly, people with neurologic disorders, and other at-risk populations are especially vulnerable at this time. For people with dementia, there will be added challenges for caregivers, since their loved ones could be easily confused or forget to take precautions against illness. It is very important that each family considers the risk of social interaction versus the negative effects of isolation, such as loneliness.
Nonprofit organizations, like Parkinson & Movement Disorder Alliance and Neuro Challenge Foundation for Parkinson’s, have online support groups and other resources to help you and your caregivers stay connected to the community.
Dr. Boland recommends these resources to help during the pandemic:
- Parkinson & Movement Disorder Alliance Online Program Resource
- Neuro Challenge Foundation for Parkinson’s Online Program Calendar
- Parkinson’s Foundation PD Health @ Home
- Alzheimer’s Association Tips for Dementia Care
- Dystonia Medical Research Foundation Dystonia and COVID-19
- International Essential Tremor Foundation Webinars
- American Academy of Neurology – Brain and Life Magazine
- Centers for Disease Control
If you have a neurological disorder or would like more information on the steps to take to stay healthy during this pandemic, please call Be Mobile Neurology at (813) 981-4403 or visit us online. Telemedicine appointments are available.