Editor’s Note: This article is part of our ongoing series about how to support wellness at work during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most of us are working from home these days, which makes it easy not only to lose track of time — and even of the day of the week — but also to lose track of our personal wellness goals.
As a long-time dancer and fitness educator, it has always been my philosophy not to make too many inflexible demands in approaching fitness. I have always wanted to help individuals achieve their personal best, with the understanding that no single exercise or diet suits every person. Because I feel that everyone should be treated as an individual in this journey, I believe it’s important to spend the time to figure out what your own objectives are, and what really works for your style.
Start by taking a small step to determine what it is you need to help you feel better. Commit to carving out at least 30 minutes per day to do something positive for yourself. The first small step could be taking five or 10 minutes to jot down some ideas on how you might spend the 30 minutes. Many studies have shown that taking time for yourself and focusing on your personal wellness can improve your happiness and empathy, your workplace productivity, your relationships and your overall health.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do everything on your list every day. Aim for variety. Exercise on Monday, read on Tuesday, schedule a video chat Wednesday and so on.
If you can’t spare the 30 minutes, try two 15-minute breaks instead. Schedule these times on your work calendar to increase the chances that you follow through on your plan. Choose a time that works best for you and commit to it. Maybe the early morning works best for you, before the family wakes up, or in the evening, once the rest of the family is asleep. Here are some important areas where you can devote your 30 minutes to yourself. And yes, naps are included!
Virtual fitness classes are more accessible than ever right now. Take advantage of live streaming workouts, such as yoga, dance, strength training and more. If fitness classes aren’t your thing, put on your headphones and listen to your favorite podcast while walking around the block or taking your dog out. You can also set an hourly alarm during work hours, to make sure that you stand up, grab some water or stretch regularly throughout the day.
It’s not an obvious thing, yet most of us don’t use the full capacity of our lungs. Simple breathing techniques, however, have been shown to have a beneficial effect on the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your “fight or flight” response. When this response is activated by anxiety or stress, deep breathing can help our brain calm down. If you have a smartphone or smartwatch, download a breathing or meditation app. Focus on your breath, or alternatively, find a guided meditation if you have a hard time concentrating.
3. MAKE A HEALTHY MEAL
Find a healthy recipe online, and teach yourself something new. This is also a great way to spend time with your family while doing something positive for yourself. Cooking helps you to slow down and to focus on something outside of your head. It teaches you to be patient, and lets you express your creativity. It will also give you a sense of accomplishment and improve your self-esteem, especially if you cook something healthy for your family.
Plan healthy snacks ahead of time, so that you have something readily available to curb your cravings, rather than reaching for the chips or cookies.
Use this time to get through a couple of chapters of that book you’ve been dying to read. If you’re not a big reader, podcasts are great, too. Try to keep the topics light, positive or humorous. You want to feel better after your 30 minutes, not worse!
5. HAVE FUN
Do you love working on a good jigsaw puzzle, or drawing or playing an instrument? Do something that makes you happy, whether the activity is by yourself or with your family.
6. CALL SOMEONE
Whether you live in a full house or on your own, make sure you are still socially connecting with others. Numerous studies have shown that social connection helps to lower stress, which can have negative effects on your heart and gut function, and on your insulin regulation. Try calling a long-distance relative or a friend you haven’t seen in years, or schedule a game night on a video platform to reconnect with friends and loved ones. Remember that the quality of your relationships matter. For example, connecting with a lot of friends on Facebook may not be as satisfying as real intimacy with a close friend or partner, which has been shown to improve your mood and boost your immune system.
7. POWER NAP
If you aren’t getting enough sleep at night, a nap can boost your energy, lower your stress and improve your mood. The length of time you spend, however, can influence the benefits you will experience. For example, a 20-minute nap will enhance your motor skills and attention, while a longer sleep in which you enter the REM (rapid eye movement) stage will allow your brain to make new connections and can help you to solve creative problems. Try to let go of the guilt of stepping away from work, your kids or your partner, and give yourself permission to lie down and close your eyes. Trust that your co-workers and family will appreciate you more if you are more refreshed and creative.
MIX IT UP!
Maybe only one of these activities (or none of them) realistically works for you. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do everything on your list every day. Aim for variety. Exercise on Monday, read on Tuesday, schedule a video chat Wednesday and so on. There is no right or wrong way to make time for yourself. Just make sure you are making the effort, because you will reap the benefits of a happier, healthier life. With the July 4 weekend coming up, this might be the perfect time to get started.
Virtual classes are free for members of TONE FITNESS in Chicago’s Willis Tower and $7 for a drop-in class for nonmembers. The schedule can be viewed by clicking the “Classes” tab. Weekly wellness webinars are also free to the public. All classes and webinars are just 30 minutes long, so your 30 minutes a day is covered. TONE Fitness offers over 15 classes per week, including restorative yoga, strength training, Pilates, dance and more.
Lindsey Vaughn is the general manager of TONE Fitness.