During April, the nation recognizes National Minority Health Month. The COVID-19 crisis has renewed the urgency of staying as healthy as possible while simultaneously making it a little more challenging.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health released guidelines, suggestions, and encouragement for anyone looking to stay as active and healthy as possible during this pandemic. While much of the nation is under a stay-at-home order or advisory to protect the public health, routine daily activities are necessarily curbed. What we once took for granted—basics like getting out for exercise or grocery shopping (or really just about anything)—is difficult.

Nurses can’t avoid the challenges this pandemic is bringing to their physical and emotional health. The overwhelming stress about safety for their patients, themselves, and their families is taking a toll while they are working, often with less staff, what feels like endless, blurred hours. The American Nurses Association has COVID-19 nurse-specific resources and guidelines to help nurses through this time.

Even if nurses aren’t working directly with COVID-19 patients, they feel the ripple effects on the industry. Taking steps to stay as healthy as possible right now might just take a little imagination and change. Once you find some different approaches, you can share what you’ve learned with your patients.

Here are some recommendations to keep you and your family healthy right now.

Just Move

Keeping up with an exercise routine or even just making sure you’re getting any exercise is hard right now. Many gyms, casual fitness classes, and yoga studios have closed for the time being in keeping with social-distancing guidelines. That double whammy means a loss of important social contact and a loss of a routine that many people depend on to stay fit and to stay motivated. Getting outside to walk or run (with a mask if you expect to be near others) will keep you moving and help you maintain a level of fitness. Inside, you can walk up and down stairs if you have them (a tough workout if you do it for a while!) or try some of the free fitness videos that are streaming online. Use your own body weight to keep muscle tone—sets of squats, pushups, and lunges are excellent for strength. You can even do bicep curls with cans of food or milk jugs if you don’t have weights.

Focus Your Eating

We are in a stressful, scary, and unprecedented pandemic, and many of us are going to fall into eating habits that are less than healthy. Don’t judge yourself for the bag of chips you ate or the pint of ice cream that went down so easy. Some people veer too far the other way and don’t take in enough calories when they are worried. Today is a new day. Be gentle with yourself and try to think ahead when you grocery shop. If you’re trying to limit your trips, think of food that has longer storage so you won’t need to make so many trips . Frozen veggies are excellent swaps for fresh, and so are some canned veggies. Frozen fruit can be heated for a comforting treat, baked into a bread, used in smoothies, or just defrosted and used to top cereal. Healthy grains (quinoa, brown rice, barley, oats) store for a long time and make an excellent and easy-to-build-from base for meals and snacks.

 Quiet Your Brain

Reducing your stress is going to be the biggest challenge for many nurses during National Minority Health Month and for many months to come. This isn’t the time to tackle a self-improvement plan or to learn how to meditate like a pro. But it’s an excellent time to recognize that you need extra TLC. There are many apps (Calm, InSight Timer) that offer some free guided meditations. Some sessions are as short as a minute, but many fall into the 10-minute range. Other apps bring soothing nature sounds. Small, simple activities like lighting a favorite candle, reading a few easy pages of a book or a magazine, coloring with your kids, doing a puzzle, playing with your dog, calling a friend or loved one, or binge-watching a favorite series can help bring your focus to the present and may ease the ever-present worry for a while.

Staying healthy right now probably looks different from your previous routines, but that doesn’t mean it’s ineffective. Whatever you can do right now to get through this time is going to be worth it.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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