It seems like every few minutes there’s another alarming headline about coronavirus. Perhaps, worries about the virus have you constantly reaching for hand sanitizer and steering clear of anyone you hear coughing or sneezing in public.
While it makes sense to follow precautions recommended by the CDC and other trusted organizations, did you know that there are some other potent ways to stay healthy? I’m talking about taking steps to boost your mental health.
Normally, I discuss these steps in the context of improving your marriage. But the same strategies that benefit your relationship will also boost your physical health. And in stressful times like these, we could all use a boost! The mind-body connection is powerful. Here are four mental practices that will enhance your physical wellness.
Chances are you were pretty stressed out even before this global crisis. If coronavirus has you even more anxious than usual, it might be time to put some limits on your news and social media consumption. When you do seek information, turn to sources that are reliably accurate and that take a calm and measured tone instead of a sensationalistic one.
You can also bolster your immune system by making sure you are getting enough sleep and eating healthful foods, especially those that feed the gut bacteria that protect your body. Meditation, yoga and qigong can help turn the volume down on your body’s stress response.
2. Make a Point to Connect
Just like stress, loneliness is bad for your immune system. And it’s an epidemic in its own right. Almost half of all Americans report feeling lonely and left out.
As coronavirus spreads, we hear a lot about keeping up our
physical distance from others. Universities are canceling classes. Companies
are telling employees to work at home. And members of vulnerable groups are
being urged to self-isolate.
At the same time, though, we should be making an extra effort not
to be emotionally distant. Get in touch with people you don’t see
regularly. If virus precautions have changed your routines, don’t let important
people fall off of your radar.
When you are stressed and sad, share your feelings with someone you trust instead of just soldiering on. Even spending time with your pet helps. We are all social beings who need a rich network of relationships.
3. Keep a Positive Mindset
Decide right now that you are in good health and that you are going to stay that way. Constantly call to mind mental images of yourself as strong and healthy. Positive emotions and visualization improve physical wellbeing in a very real way.
Regularly remind yourself of everything that you are grateful for. Gratitude is a powerful weapon against the negativity bias in our brains. We do a good job of remembering dangers and threats, but we have to intentionally focus on and savor positive things in order for them to register.
These four tips will help you bolster your health amid the anxiety about coronavirus. And, as a bonus “side effect,” they will also improve your marriage and other relationships. Please care for yourself well, both during this challenging time and well beyond.
I’m a big fan of psychiatrist Daniel Siegel. You may remember a past blog post where I shared some of Siegel’s advice about what to do when you “flip your lid.”
Today, I want to talk about another strategy from Siegel. You may have heard of his Connect and Redirect method in the context of parenting. But the ideas behind it can strengthen your marriage (or any other relationship, for that matter).
The key thing to remember about Connect and Redirect is that any interaction will be more fruitful and satisfying if you take a moment to establish emotional connection before launching into what you need.
In our marriages, though, we often forget this step. Because we’re all so busy, it seems easier just to “cut to the chase.” We also tend to take those we’re closest to for granted and be much more abrupt and less tactful with them than we are with other people.
But taking that extra moment to build connection pays off. It helps your spouse get into the mental space where he can truly hear what you’re saying and engage with you.
Make Connection a Habit
Establishing connection doesn’t take long and it’s not complicated. Loving touch and positive eye contact go a long way. So does acknowledging what’s going on with your husband before you bring up the topic you want to discuss. You don’t have to reserve this communication technique for big, important discussions. It’s just as handy when you’re dealing with the routine concerns of family life.
Compare these two interactions:
Your husband arrives home clearly still stressed from work or his commute. You shout from the kitchen, “The cable’s out again – what are we going to do about this?”
Your husband arrives home looking stressed. You greet him with a quick hug and kiss and ask what’s up. He says traffic was much heavier than usual during his drive home. “Ugh! Frustrating!” you commiserate. “When you’ve had a chance to unwind a little, I want to talk to you about maybe changing cable providers.”
In the second interaction, you’re letting your husband know that he’s cared for and that he doesn’t have to put his defenses up. You’re making it easier for the two of you to work together for a solution to the cable issue.
As I said earlier, sometimes we have to be deliberate in giving our spouses the same consideration we automatically show our friends. If you know this area is a trouble spot for you, you may want to remind yourself to frame things with your husband the same way you would if you were talking with a friend. If, for example, you needed to reschedule your weekend trip with a friend, you’d probably take a minute to check in on her life and see if it’s a good time to talk before you told her about the change in plans. But you might be tempted to skip those “niceties” with your husband.
Remember, though, that we all need reminders that the people we care about care about us in return. When we get them, we show up more fully and give more generously. The time you invest in nurturing that feeling of connection is well worth it.
Here’s what I want you to do: Think about what’s really important to you in life, and then make a list of those priorities.
Next, take a few days to track how you actually spend your time. It’s important to get some real data here, not just your estimates on where you think your time goes. Try to be as accurate as you can. (If you like tech tools, try a time-tracking app.) Make sure that you’re noting how much time you spend on your key relationships: your husband, your family, your friends.
The third step is to compare your priorities list with the information from your time-tracking. Are they in alignment? What’s taking up more of your time than you expected? And what’s getting less attention?
Your results might surprise you — you spend that many hours on Facebook? — and inspire you to rethink how you use your time.
As you do, pay special attention to your relationships. Marriage, family and friends likely ranked high on your priorities list, but you might have discovered that you’re shortchanging them.
Giving more time to your relationships is the most powerful way to improve your life. That’s not just self-help happy talk! The impact of our relationships is shown by science.
Take a few minutes to watch this TED Talk by Robert Waldinger, the latest leader of a 75-year study on what makes for a good life. Waldinger says in his talk:
What are the lessons that come from the tens of thousands of pagesof information that we’ve generatedon these lives?Well, the lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder.The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this:Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.
Based on that study’s findings, when you devote time to strengthening your relationships, you can expect the payoff to be greater physical and mental health. The researchers in Waldinger’s study even successfully predicted how long subjects would live based on the quality of their relationships at age 50!
Your marriage is especially important:
It turns out that being in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80s is protective, that the people who are in relationships where they really feel they can count on the other person in times of need, those people’s memories stay sharper longer.
Think about how you can best use the time available to you to nurture your relationships, especially your marriage. You may even want to continue tracking your time and noting how a greater focus on relationships affects your happiness. Even if you add just a few minutes of quality time with your husband each day, it can make a big difference.