Raise your hand if you have banned the word “unprecedented.”
Although the word described our circumstances this spring, we would all opt for fewer coronavirus-sized challenges. But stressful seasons--physical, emotional, or both--happen. How do we prepare ourselves to face them?
San Jacinto College instructors share some ideas. If you’re looking to manage stress better or build your immune system, start here.
Fitness: Aim for realistic
Let’s begin with physical fitness.
The benefits of exercise? It reduces stress and depression symptoms and builds the immune system.
“Some studies suggest physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways,” said Trenton Denton, physical education professor for the personal trainer program. “This may reduce chances of getting sick.”
Not a gym-goer? Start with a daily walk. Build to 30-60 minutes a day of moderate-intensity exercise.
Denton shares this adaptable rotation:
- Monday: Cycling
- Tuesday: Strength training
- Wednesday: Kickboxing
- Thursday: Walking/jogging
- Friday: Strength training
- Saturday: Karate
- Sunday: Recovery/flexibility
Try alternating aerobics, resistance/skills training, and flexibility. Choose doable rather than rigid goals.
“Discipline is the key to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” Denton said. “Focus on the benefits of exercise and set and achieve realistic goals.”
Diet: Plan to win
Working hand in hand with exercise is a healthy diet. Nutritious food fuels your body and mind.
Plan ahead to avoid unhealthy food traps.
“Let’s face it: we eat whatever is the fastest solution once we reach lunch and we’re hungry,” Andrea Huerta, culinary arts program director, said.
Focus on moderate portions of…
- Whole grains
- Lean proteins
- Good fats (nuts, coconut oil, etc.)
Fill your fridge and pantry with healthy options and leave chips and cookies at the store. Huerta recommends cutting up fruit and vegetables as soon as you bring them home.
She also cooks in bulk--freezable foods only--and freezes for easy meals later.
“An easy favorite of mine is charro beans cooked in a crockpot on low overnight,” she said. “I use dried beans, and in the morning, I divide into portions for the freezer.”
Immune system: Listen to body
Help your body take care of itself. Lindsey Douglas, medical laboratory technology program clinical coordinator, shares how to avoid infection and recognize when your immune system is playing defense.
Improve your immunity with self-care:
- Get adequate rest
- Drink plenty of water
- Pursue stress-reducing activities
- Take probiotics to support good bacteria in the gut
- Take vitamin C and zinc to suppress viral replication
To avoid infecting yourself or others, protect your skin, nose, and mouth from pathogen entry. Hand washing is more effective than hand sanitizer, Douglas said.
Listen to your body. Feeling unwell? Experiencing inflammation and fever? These are the immune system’s natural responses as it fights infection.
“Often the feeling of malaise is the beginning of an immune reaction,” Douglas said. “Provide your body with extra rest, stay hydrated, and hopefully your immune system will successfully fight off invaders.”
Mental health: Choose joy, accept reality
Cayman Tirado, mental health services program director, calls it like it is: “Who doesn’t feel stressed?”
Rather than avoiding stress, she suggests managing overwhelming emotions. Tackle your thoughts head-on since thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are connected.
Practice mindfulness to grow the space between the trigger and your reaction. For this, Tirado recommends short mindfulness videos on YouTube.
“We can choose a helpful thought that moves us toward wellness or a non-helpful thought that moves us away from wellness,” she said. “Also, taking a moment to process the emotion we’re feeling rather than acting from the emotion can make a huge difference.”
Finally, take a cue from dialectical behavioral therapy and focus on “radical acceptance”: allowing and accepting what is.
“It’s OK to feel scared or worried. Rather than push those feelings away, acknowledge what you feel,” Tirado said. “Then ask yourself what you need right now to best manage those feelings. Do I need to call a friend or my therapist or go for a walk outside?”
Challenging seasons will end
“It won’t stay this way forever. It will get better.” Someone once shared that encouragement when Tirado was dealing with a challenging season.
Stressed? Overwhelmed? Exercise, eat healthy food, get rest, practice mindfulness, and reach out to others. Pretty soon, these habits will become a lifestyle.
“Maintaining good health happens by checking in with yourself and addressing your needs in a proactive, healthy way,” Tirado said.