Boosting Your Physical and Mental Health During a Crisis

Published: May 2020

By:  Kari Utz-Wolsky, (ISSA) CFT, SPN, SSC; Crossfit level 1; Nutrition & Conditioning Specialist

We are all faced with a very challenging reality right now. As we have heard over and over, this is something none of us has ever experienced before in our lifetime. We are bombarded with messages filled with fear, warnings, and panic. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, lonely, or depressed, please know that you are not alone. I’ve spoken with many people lately; whether they are single, married, with kids, or without kids, the large majority of folks are feeling very out of control. They say that one minute they seem okay and the next they feel very depressed or angry without any particular trigger. The majority of us have a great deal of fear and uncertainty weighing heavily on our minds. So, let us try to proceed by focusing on what we CAN control.

If I told you that you need to focus on your nutrition and exercise during these difficult times, I wouldn’t be wrong. Although I won’t skip over that, it goes deeper. There are some basic things to start with to help find the energy to focus on diet and exercise in the current environment. The mental aspect of isolation, fear, and uncertainty is all-encompassing. Anytime you’re feeling less than optimal mentally or emotionally, stop yourself and take some slow deep breaths. Be kind to yourself. Find something that brings you feelings of happiness or gratitude. I’ve been known to tell clients to stand in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eyes, force a big, giant smile, and say “I love you. I’m proud of you. You are going to be ok.” Try this. I’ll wait. This is an important step, because the more positivity that you use when speaking to yourself, the more positive you will FEEL.

Once you’ve stepped away from the negativity enough to practice the tip above, find one to two simple things to do each day that bring you joy, and if at all possible, that make you laugh. Being kind to yourself and to others actually elevates your mood. Watch a funny movie, read an uplifting book, play music, play a game, or do a puzzle. Let go of lists of chores you want to get done, but don’t have the energy for. Practice these joyful activities every day.

Now you can put some attention to exercise and healthier nutrition. When it comes to exercise, anything is better than nothing. Set low expectations to start. A simple walk around the yard a few times a day counts! Find a fun exercise video online and follow it a few times a week. When you move your body and get your heart rate up, you are improving your immune system. Not only does your cardiovascular system get a boost, but you release endorphins that make you feel better mentally. In addition, your body is better able to move toxins around and flush them out, which helps fight off infections. Whether you choose walking, cycling, dancing, lifting weights, an exercise video, yoga, or Pilates, you will reap big rewards.

Now is also a good time to focus on an anti-inflammatory way of eating. Poor dietary choices cause inflammation and sluggishness, and often also cause irritability, fatigue, and decreased motivation. Although you think grabbing a bag of chips or cookies will make you feel better, I promise it’s a very short-lived moment of elation. Excess sugar intake itself causes a decrease in immune function. Instead choose plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean and clean protein sources, healthy fats, and lots of water intake. Try to include different colored vegetables at each meal. Vegetables and fruits provide your body with lots of antioxidants to help balance extra stress. Healthy protein sources such as eggs, fish, and organic meat give your body the building blocks to recover from mental and physical strain. And healthy fat feeds your brain with the nutrients it needs to stay strong. Water or herbal tea throughout the day will keep you hydrated and help your body to flush out toxins.

And finally, sleep. Now is the time to give yourself extra rest. Get to bed earlier to enable your body time to recover and time to release hormones needed to balance your body.  Slow, deep breathing can help you settle down into a restful state when you feel too wound up to sleep. Turn off the electronics at least an hour prior to going to bed. Technology stimulates the brain and fools it into thinking it is time to be awake. Make your bedroom as dark as you can to allow for a deeper sleep. Then drift off to sleep reminding yourself of things that you are grateful for.

Kari will be a guest on NITP’s ForYourBenefit Radio Program on Monday, June 1st, at 10:05 AM on Federal News Network.  During the program she will talk about how we can find strength together and about:

  • Being kind to yourself moving forward
  • Navigating around the different voices in your head
  • Finding strength and perseverance
  • Handling anxiety

CLICK HERE to listen to the live broadcast on June 1, 2020, at 10:05 AM EDT.

Kari Utz-Wolsky developed an interest in sports and fitness as a young child which led to a lifetime passion for health and fitness. Guiding this passion and her wish to share it with others, Kari has obtained certifications as a Fitness Trainer, a Performance Nutritionist, and a Specialist in Sports Conditioning from the International Sports Science Association. She is also a Crossfit Certified Level 1 Coach. She has been a Health and Fitness speaker for NITP since 2010.