By Karen Eisenbraun, CHNC
The coronavirus pandemic has forced many of us into unprecedented circumstances: confined to our homes, we are working from home while also managing our children’s educations, attempting to maintain previous levels of productivity while simultaneously managing our anxiety over the virus, and worrying about loss of income and about our family members who are most vulnerable.
It’s a lot to handle all at once, and it’s perfectly understandable if you find yourself gravitating toward comfort foods and Netflix binges. However, making an effort to maintain some healthy habits—or establish new ones—during these difficult times can pay off in big ways.
Eating a healthy diet is essential for strengthening your immune system, and exercise is great for stress relief. Try implementing some of these quarantine activities that will benefit the entire family’s health—both physical and mental.
Cooking for kids can be challenging enough, even when we’re not sheltering in place. And having to eat more meals at home means even more cooking.
Put together a meal plan that everyone can help with so the entire burden of planning and preparing meals doesn’t fall on one person. Get the family together and solicit meal requests. Focus on dishes that are easy to prepare, like one-pot meals or sheet-pan dinners. If you have an Instant Pot or a slow cooker, put a few favorite soups or stews in rotation. Then, on your next grocery outing or delivery order, buy only what you need for your menu plan.
Make mealtime a family event and give everyone a job. Depending on your kids’ ages, have them help chop veggies or prepare ingredients for a stew. Assign someone to set the table and someone to load the dishwasher. If you’re used to being a family where everyone eats at different times or grabs something on the go, use this opportunity to reconnect with one another and instill a sense of team spirit.
Being inside for days on end can make anyone feel like they need to blow off some steam. Moreover, your kids may have lots of energy to burn. Make a point of getting some exercise every day. If you can, take a walk around the neighborhood—just make sure to avoid other people and follow social distancing guidelines.
Have a yard? Schedule a family game of catch, kickball, or soccer. Play yard darts or jump rope, or have a hula-hoop contest. Anything that gets you up off the couch and moving!
If you don’t have an outdoor space, or the weather isn’t cooperating, try a family yoga video or make an indoor obstacle course. YouTube is a great source for family-friendly exercise videos. Or, find a video fitness game that you can all play together.
Now is a great time to teach your kids some mindfulness techniques that will serve them well into adulthood. Practicing mindfulness can help reduce stress and anxiety, and it even offers a number of physical benefits. Mindfulness can help lower blood pressure, improve sleep, and relieve gastrointestinal issues. Taking a few minutes every day to practice mindfulness can help the entire family cope with the stress of cancelled events, an uncertain future, and social isolation. It can also help with attention and focus, and improve social skills in children and adolescents.
Pick a time each day—maybe in the morning before you dive into the day’s activities—to sit quietly together for a few minutes. Instruct everyone to breathe deeply while focusing on their breath.
If you have young children, create some fun mindfulness activities for them. For example, ask everyone to imagine they are holding a cup of hot chocolate or tea. Have them inhale deeply through the nose as if they are inhaling the scent of the hot drink, then exhale slowly. Next, ask them to pretend to sip their drink and savor the flavor. Repeat several times.
You can also incorporate movement and posture into your mindfulness activities. For example, ask everyone to strike a superhero pose: feet wider than hip width, with hands on the hips. Power posing may help with self-esteem and confidence. Have your kids hold the pose for 30 seconds and ask them how they feel. See if you can work up to a full two minutes.
Your kids may be feeling confused or scared during this time. Let them know their feelings are valid, and create a safe space for sharing those feelings. Offer reassurance to help them cope, and explain the facts honestly in a way that children can understand.
Finally, model good self-care for your children. They will pick up on how you respond to the situation, so try to stay calm. If more than one caretaker is in the home, make sure everyone gets a break and some time to themselves when needed. Get enough sleep and reach out to family and friends for support. Show your children how we can all work together to support one another and help them build a strong sense of community during these uncertain times.
Karen Eisenbraun is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant. She holds an English degree from Knox College and has written extensively about topics related to holistic health, clinical nutrition, and weight management.