Originally published April 1, 2020 in the Rutgers Daily Targum.
By Joanne Chung
As the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues, questions have arisen on how people can maintain their mental and physical health during social distancing and self-isolation. Remaining active and productive is key for self-care, Rutgers University experts said.
It may seem like a great time to embrace a “couch potato” lifestyle, but following the motto “Do more, feel better” has been shown to reduce feelings of depression, said licensed clinical psychologist and instructor at Rutgers School of Public Health Elissa Kozlov, according to a Rutgers Today article.
“It’s very hard to get a mood boost if you’re not doing anything that would bring you pleasure or joy or a sense of purpose,” Kozlov said. “While watching TV can be a great distraction, it’s probably not a great plan to watch TV all day every day — most people report feeling pretty lousy after they do this. So you want to find ways to pursue high-value activities — whatever that may mean for you. At the end of the activity, ask yourself, ‘Do I feel better or worse? Do I feel a sense of accomplishment?’”
Kozlov said people should not sleep in or stay in bed but should get dressed daily, stay busy and stick to a schedule. Brandon Alderman, associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health, said people should schedule time for physical activity, which enhances people’s sense of accomplishment and self-esteem.
“Physical activity is not only good for physical health, but (also) improves various aspects of mental health including stress, anxiety and depression,” Alderman said. “Therefore, as we think about our own self-care during these uncertain times, it is critical that we incorporate physical activity into our daily routines.”
There is also evidence that physical activity can help bolster our immune system, which may be critically important during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
Alderman said a walk before and after working hours is a great way to separate work from home life. He said people should break up periods of sitting 90 to 120 minutes with short bouts of physical activity that they enjoy, such as exercise, gardening or household chores.
“If regular gym-goers feel confined or unmotivated, it is a fantastic time to recreate some of your favorite workouts using various objects at home or just through bodyweight workouts, which can be quite demanding,” Alderman said. “There are a number of online websites and apps that are dedicated to exercise and fitness and that are currently offering either a free membership or short-term trial membership. Now would be a great time to try out these opportunities.”
Kozlov said that alongside physical activity, people can stay active by engaging in hobbies, volunteering safely with organizations such as Area Agency on Aging that provide services to elderly people living in their homes, speaking to passing pedestrians at least 6 feet away from the front steps and meditating using mobile applications such as Mindfulness Coach.
Kozlov and Alderman said people can engage with others by doing activities together virtually. People can work out together online to increase motivation and personal connection, Alderman said. They can also arrange movie dates through Netflix or happy hours, dinner dates and book clubs, Kozlov said.
Methods of social engagement for those who lack access to technology include letters, care packages, pictures and scrapbooks, Kozlov said. People should find ways to send mood boosts to those who lack access, she said.
“Everyone’s routine is broken and everyone has a major stressor to cope with now, and I think we will see a lot of mental health problems as a result,” Kozlov said. “But we can be proactive and try to prevent a flare-up of psychological symptoms by being very thoughtful and intentional about how we are going to stay healthy, connected, calm and engaged during this difficult time.”