The Coronavirus: Weight Gain, Anxiety, and What to Do About It

With its 24/7 media coverage, most certainly you have experienced some stress due to the virus. This is more the case for many who entered these times with pre-existing depression and anxiety.  Even for many who may have welcomed their confinement as sort of a “stay-cation”, for several reasons this has gotten old fast.  What can we do to get our lives back while under quarantine?  There are myriad articles of great advice on this topic, but I wanted to share some of my own. 

1. Begin Your Day with Prayer and Gratitude, & Start Church-Going Again

When you first wake up, think of something you’re grateful before you get out of bed. Especially during fall and spring pollen seasons, I have figured out that rolling over face down and stretching by bringing my knees to my chest not only shakes off the sleep faster but also reminds me of being in a prayer posture, which in turn activates my thoughts of doing my morning prayer. But it doesn’t have to be at that exact moment. Writing God a gratitude letter at any time can positively impact your emotional health, and simultaneously pushes the negativity out of your brain.  

Many churches are now starting to open up.  However, you may feel tempted to continue to sleep in on Sundays. But by getting back into the swing of your spiritual life, this may help you break the cycle of the new “blues” brought on by confinement.  If your state still doesn’t allow church attendance, the majority of religions are doing some sort of telecasting of their services.   

2. Gain Control by Making Habits, Routines, and Rituals

During these times of stress, many crave the sense of control they had that their life-routines previously provided. Perhaps we can’t fully recover this, but we can make a reasonable effort.

After your morning prayer, consider converting the making of your bed every morning into a ritual.  I don’t think any studies have been done on the benefit of making your bed, but many will back me up on this.

I really like how Anne-Laure Le Cunff distinguishes habits, routines, and rituals.  She shows that though similar, of the three, rituals require the most thought and effort.  Still, each has a degree of being automatic. She states that compared to habits or routines, rituals are “viewed as more meaningful practices which have a real sense of purpose”.  For example, for countless people, preparing meals is clearly a ritual.  The more purposeful the ritual, the more enjoyable it can become.  On the other hand, for many, making our beds is not even a habit, but completely drudgery. However, by transforming this into a ritual, it’s can become the first thing you do that day that will allow you to take complete control of in a purposeful way.  

So as an example of a ritual, an advanced set of habits or routines, you can play some music, put a little bounce or dance into each corner of the bed, hum or sing a tune, recite some goals you want to achieve during the day out loud, or start your prayers right then instead, but all repeated on a daily basis.  Actually, your morning prayers and thoughts of gratitude can become part of that ritual, or vice versa, depending on how you look at it.  All those extras can help convert what was a drudgery into a welcome ritual.  It might feel really fake at first, but after six weeks or so it will become a meaningful part of your life. Don’t limit starting new rituals to making the bed.  Cooking, doing a hobby, laundry, yard work… the choices are limitless.  

Understandably, you can’t turn every part of your life into a series of rituals, but you still can take a look at your day and see where your schedule could use some help by the use of more simple habits or routines.  Always forgetting about your teeth? A new routine could be brushing your teeth after you turn the news on every 7 AM right before your shower. Need more fruit in your diet? An example of a less complex habit to form could be to have an apple at 2:00 pm.  Cues like that can be a great help.

At first the novelty of your new habit/routine/ritual filled schedule may feel fun.  Later some may resent any form of “control”, be it self-imposed, especially if you realize your day could be completely free otherwise.  But once they really set your sense of loss of control will dwindle.  

Some other good habits/routines/rituals you might want to form come straight from the CDC: “Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.”  I’ll go over some of these as well.

3. Sleep Tight

Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep. Because of the virus, the use of sleeping pills has increased by around 25%. Poor sleep is a huge factor in weight gain.  In addition, sleep has been shown to boost T-cell production, in turn, boosting your immune system to respond to threats.  Conversely studies confirm that poor sleep (< 6 hours per night) made participants more than 4 times more likely to acquire viral sicknesses.

Likewise, poor sleep can induce weight gain, while a good sleep can improve insulin resistance, increase your resting metabolism, decrease your caloric intake

The LIFE study showed that for people who lost 10 lbs by dieting, getting eight hours of sleep a night reduced stress levels and doubled the chance of slimming down compared to those who slept < 6 hours.  The authors concluded that stress could also lead to higher intakes of energy-dense foods as an addictive “coping behavior”, and that lack of sleep could affect hormones associated with feelings of fullness or hunger.

Here are some great tips on getting better sleep.

4. Seize the Day: Fight the Virus and Lose Weight By Staying Hydrated

A large part of the human population may be chronically under-hydrated, especially the elderly. Our ability to defend ourselves against any bacterial or viral attack depends tremendously on the strength of our immune system. One trick to help your immune system is simple: stay hydrated.  A Japanese study showed that several indicators of immune function were suppressed due to dehydration.  

To list a few of the reasons, our immune cells need fluids to help deliver nutrients, and oxygen from our blood, and in turn deliver these good fighter cells where they need to go to fight the pathogens.  Good fluid intake helps the nutrients get absorbed better from the intestine.  Water helps wash away toxins that potentially could harm our immune system.  Better water intake may improve our sleep by increasing melatonin and can improve depression by increasing serotonin.  

But did you know that increasing your water intake can actually help you lose weight too?  This has been shown to be effective for the elderly as well as females.

It has been hypothesized that as our cells become more dehydrated, our cells use less fat and use more sugar in our metabolism as our fuel source, leading to more fat storage.  In fact, in the chronically dehydrated state our fat cells are encouraged to make even more triglycerides instead. In addition, dehydration may lead to more insulin resistance, leading to metabolic syndrome.  If you’d like to learn more about using the power of water in your diet, click here to get my book.

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