Tips to stay healthy mentally and physically

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Two Western Oregon University health professionals have suggestions on how you can stay healthy both mentally and physically, especially with many people having concerns about the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Craig Wimmer, assistant director of Wellness Education, and Jennifer King, a family nurse practitioner and medical services director, both work at the Student Health and Counseling Center (SHCC).

WOU recently announced it will offer remote course delivery for spring term to combat the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). While the university is working to help students navigate this new learning environment, it’s only natural for people to feel anxious or stressed, both which can be quite harmful to a person’s mental and physical health.

A woman who works at the Student Health and Counseling Center
A family nurse practitioner, Jennifer King is the medical services director at Western Oregon University’s Student Health and Counseling Center (SHCC).

King said emotional and physical stress activate the same inflammatory response, which opens the door for “the let-down effect,” where people develop an illness or experience a flare-up of a chronic condition. “This can happen after the concentrated period of stress has dissipated,” King said. “I see so many students after breaks and finals that are sick or were sick potentially due to this phenomenon.”

Wimmer and King both recommend people have a plan to help them navigate through stressful times.

“Start with taking care of yourself,” Wimmer said. “If you are healthy and rested, you will be able to concentrate and focus on what you need to do better than if you are exhausted.”

Here are some tips to stay healthy:

Nourish your body

It’s common for stress to lead to poor eating behaviors. Before you consume a bag of potato chips, a few donuts, a chocolate bar and Mountain Dew for breakfast, pause for a moment and reconsider healthier alternatives.

King recommends eating well-balanced meals of fruits, vegetables, protein and high-quality carbohydrates. Drink plenty of water, and avoid drinking too much caffeine and alcohol, she said, especially close to bedtime.

“Too much caffeine can contribute to increased anxiety,” King said.

Sleep

Wimmer said most people know that their brain operates best with a good night’s sleep.

Healthy sleep habits include sticking to a schedule by going to bed and getting up at the same time each day. He recommends people avoid watching television shows or checking social media accounts before bedtime. Instead, read a book, listen to music or partake in other relaxing activities.

A stack of books next to a plate of fruit
Health professionals recommend the importance healthy eating habits, including fruits and vegetables.

Connecting responsibly with peers and family

It’s important to keep in contact with your friends and family members, especially during this time of social distancing. It’s also worth noting it’s essential to follow the advice of health experts by avoiding groups of more than 10 people and keeping at least 6 feet away from others.

Technology makes it possible for you to have group chats or videos or even play a game on a social media site. Other ideas include meeting a friend for a walk or bike ride or starting a virtual book club. Find healthy ways to encourage people in your life.

“Nurturing social interactions even through a phone call, given the current concerns, can be a welcome reminder that you are not alone during stressful periods,” King said.

Stress relieving tips

King said it’s important for people to acknowledge that they are feeling stressed.

She said it’s helpful for people to feel calm so they can make better decisions.

“I recommend deep breathing exercises, a meditation or yoga practice, going for walks and spending time in nature,” she said.

Wimmer and King recommend people take breaks from their work or studies to refresh their mind and energy.

“When you are having a stressful period, have a plan that calls for breaks so that you’re not revved up 24/7,” she said.

Take timeouts from the news or social media, if you are feeling anxious. Instead, devote time to reading, listening to music, cooking or artwork.

Find your study corner

To prepare to take online classes online beginning spring term, Wimmer recommends students designate a place in their home that’s quiet for them to concentrate on their work.

Stick to the facts

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of misinformation circling about COVID-19. Here are a few reliable sources of information:

Click WOU to stay informed of what’s happening at the university.

If you need the services of the Student Health and Counseling Center (SHCC), please call 503-838-8313 before visiting.

Here are a few resources recommended by SHCC:

SAMHSA: Taking Care of Your Behavioral Health

CDC: Manage Anxiety & Stress

NAMI: Managing Stress

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