By Callista Ottoni, PhD Student, University of British Columbia
How do WESN members maintain their physical and social health during the COVID-19 pandemic? This question was top of mind when I had the great pleasure to interview 31 WESN members in the spring and summer of 2020. Based on those interviews and published research here are 7 tips:
1. Call someone to be your activity buddy:
Research shows that being accountable helps you stay active. Recruit a friend (on the phone), with whom you will share your physical activity goals for the week. If safety protocols permit, bundle up and go on a physically distanced walk together. Or, just schedule a call to check-in on your progress. You can also consider joining a free program like Choose to Move that links you up with a coach and peers to help keep you motivated: https://www.choosetomove.ca/ WESN will run Choose to Move programs in 2021 – stay tuned!
2. Structure your day
We all know the days can blur into one. Now that many days are dark and rainy, it may be especially tough to get out of your PJs. Research suggests that simple things like getting dressed in the morning, and eating at sleeping at similar times each day can benefit our health over the longer term.
3. Help make someone else’s day brighter
WESN members spoke passionately about their love of volunteering and helping others—it sparked joy for all. With many volunteer programs on pause, they are thinking creatively about how to be of service: volunteer to call those seniors most at-risk of isolation, leave food on a neighbour’s doorstep, entertain children of friends and family via FaceTime, e-mail or write and mail a letter to an old friend. These are just a few examples of the small gestures that can make a huge difference in someone else’s day.
4. Discover a new educational courses online
One silver lining of the pandemic is that there are more educational classes available online than ever before – many of them are free! Some WESN members had tapped into Coursera—a platform developed by Stanford Professors to access 1000s of university classes, many for free! Others tuned into YouTube for stretching, exercise, and relaxation classes. Enter a key phrase into YouTube’s search bar, such as, “free online exercise programs for seniors.” Read the results, and pick one that looks right for you.
5. Start a new hobby or resume an old one
WEN members have diverse interests. I heard how Photography, opera singing, baking, playing musical instruments, and even practicing the splits were some of your hobbies. Participants explained how a regularly practiced creative outlet helped them find purpose and added pleasure to their day. To maximize fun, many enjoyed the process rather than worrying about the perfect outcome.
6. Relax your breath.
This may seem simple, but stressful circumstances can lead to shortened breath — this affects your whole body. Being mindful of our breath can relax our nervous system and increase calm. Participants talked about how 5 minutes of mediation or journaling in the morning helped get their day on the right track.
1. Find a comfortable seated position
2. Put one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen
3. Take a few slow breathes in and out. Feel both your chest and belly expand.
4. If you don’t feel dizzy (in which case stop immediately and resume normal breathing), trying breathing in while counting to 4 in your head, then breathe out while counting to 4 in your head.
7. Stay Connected with your Friends and Family
Aside from keeping active, research shows that keeping socially connected is vital for our wellbeing. Keeping physical distance from others does not mean you must be disconnected. Make a list of people that you love connecting with regularly- or someone who you would like to catch-up with- and give them a call! If you have a regular coffee date with a friend, keep it up by sharing a cup of joe over the phone or via video chat. Have you ever been to a virtual dinner date? Cook the same meal as a friend or family member simultaneously, and enjoy it together virtually. If you are struggling and feel lonely, know WESN has peer support services available. Don’t hesitate to reach out: call or email 604-669-7339, [email protected].
Remember, people care, and we are all in this together.