Proper diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep are the bedrock components to good health.
But inevitably, you may find yourself looking beyond food and fitness to lift your spirits.
“We’re in the midst of a huge amount of uncertainty, so that tends to bring up fears about the future and ruminating about the past,” said Allyn Richards, PhD, a psychologist with Spectrum Health.
If you’re finding it difficult to tame your worries, Dr. Richards suggests giving these six strategies a try.
1. Be grateful
Take a moment to practice gratitude every day.
“It’s sometimes easy to forget during times of crisis and stress,” Dr. Richards said. “But feeling grateful for what we have in this moment, while expressing gratitude to others, can definitely have a positive impact on mood.”
Keep a gratitude journal, writing down three to five things every day for which you’re grateful.
“It’s a good daily practice to get into, just to have that moment to pause and reflect,” she said. “Express gratitude to other people, too. Take a moment to send a message to a friend, telling them how much you appreciate that they’ve been there for you.”
2. Practice mindfulness
Our minds are wired to feel anxiety and stress when we perceive threats, Dr. Richards said.
Mindfulness can help you keep it in check by intentionally focusing on the present.
With mindful breathing, for instance, you give yourself the necessary time and space to devote full attention to your breathing, Dr. Richards said.
She explained: Sit comfortably or lie down, eyes open or closed—whichever you prefer. Draw your attention completely to your breath. Focus on inhaling and exhaling, identifying the sensations of each breath as it enters your nose and expands your lungs. As you release, pay attention to your body’s movement.
“Wherever you notice that breathing occurring, really zoom in on that,” she said.
Lose focus? No worries.
“It’s natural for our minds to want to wander at that time,” she said. “If you notice your mind floating elsewhere, it’s OK—don’t judge it. Just take note. Gradually refocus attention back to your breath.”
A mindful focus may be applied to anything.
“Intentionally choose to do an activity mindfully,” Dr. Richards said. “Focus all your attention on what you’re experiencing in that moment, rather than just being on auto pilot and letting your mind wander.”
Doing dishes? Pay attention to your senses—smell, feel, texture.
“The idea is to bring that attention to here and now,” she said. “Get outside and take a walk—obviously, 6 feet apart from people—but as you’re walking, really pay attention to the sights. Really look at what’s around you.”
The positive effect of this can grow as you do it daily.
“It’s not something we’re typically very good at naturally,” she said. “It’s definitely a muscle that needs to be built up. Just building it a few minutes per day can help.”
3. Choose value-based actions
Take time to reflect on what’s important to you and what makes you the person you want to be. Then find ways to creatively pursue these values—even if you’re cooped up at home.
“Part of why you might enjoy your job is you really value learning new things, and that’s important to you,” Dr. Richards said. “If you’re not working and you have extra time, maybe this is a good time to challenge yourself to research a new topic, take an online course, watch a YouTube video of lectures.”
In this age of connectivity, there are more ways than ever to live out your values.
4. Connect creatively
For many, isolation itself is a catalyst for anxiety.
“When we’ve gone through difficult things as a country, a culture, what helped us get through it was all of us coming together and working toward that,” Dr. Richards said. “And right now, we’re all being told to isolate, which is hard.”
Remember you’re doing something for the common good.
Find creative ways to connect, especially though technology. Jot your virtual meetings—book clubs, workout sessions—on the calendar so you have something to look forward to all week long.
“We can’t underscore the importance of this enough,” she said. “This is just so critical. It’s an important part of managing any sort of crisis and it’s definitely a positive buffer for mental health.”
5. Seek out the good
Find reasons to laugh and stay positive.
“When we’re in this heightened state of uncertainty and stress, it’s natural for us to pay attention to all that and zoom in on all the bad and scary,” Dr. Richards said.
You can counteract that.
“Intentionally look for the good, the positive stories,” Dr. Richards said. “The people who are still doing good things for other people. Adopting pets, finding ways to support the community.”
6. Make time for laughter
Give yourself permission to have fun.
“Laughter has been shown to reduce stress and improve mood,” Dr. Richards said. “Find ways to laugh at everyday life—watch a funny movie, relive funny memories with family.”
It’s also important to recognize when you should seek help. Thoughts of self-harm and the emergence of harmful coping strategies such as substance abuse are signs of trouble.
But if you also notice your feelings impacting day-to-day life—relationships, work, health—it’s time to seek help.
“Sometimes you do need additional support. And that’s OK,” Dr. Richards said. “It’s even more important to ask for it when it’s needed right now.”