Self Care: Tips for a Happier, Healthier You
Now that COVID-19 vaccinations are slowly ramping up across the country, you might be looking ahead and considering other, non-COVID-19 aspects of your well-being. Now is a good time to start — or recommit to — a self-care regimen. Bimal Ashar, M.D., a specialist in internal medicine, offers tips on safety, health and self-care you and your family can start now.
Safety for You and Your Family
Keep up the COVID-19 precautions
Though the long-term outlook for the coronavirus pandemic is improving, now is not the time to ease up on wearing your mask or maintaining physical distancing, whether you get a COVID-19 vaccine or not. Until more is known about what kind of protection the vaccines offer and how long immunity lasts, sticking to the tried-and-true coronavirus precautions — wearing a mask, physical distancing and frequent handwashing — is essential to protect yourself, your family and others.
Clean out the medicine cabinet
Dreary, rainy or cold days are perfect for cleaning and organizing, and your medicine cabinet is a good place to start. Throw out old first aid supplies, and pitch any makeup and cosmetics that are more than a year or two old, since over time they can become contaminated with bacteria and contribute to skin infections. While you’re in there, use the Food and Drug Administration guidelines to dispose of expired or unused medications properly and safely.
Getting In Gear with Fitness
Avoid low back pain
If you’re working at home, watch your back. Low back pain is a common discomfort, but it can be preventable. Investing in a good chair, a standing desk or a more ergonomic workspace can help you feel — and work — better. Avoid picking up things that are too heavy, and if you run or exercise regularly, check your workout shoes and make sure they still providing adequate cushioning.
Make exercise enjoyable
Getting more physically fit does not have to be a chore. There are hundreds of ways to get moving, and at least one could be a good fit for almost everyone. Try something new: chair yoga, dance, walking, swimming or running, until you find one that you enjoy. If you choose to go to the gym, wear your mask throughout your workout and ensure the gym is following cleaning and physical distancing guidelines. Some people find that adopting a dog provides both companionship and a healthy incentive to get out and walk.
Stretch your muscles
Most of us sit too much, and though that comfy chair is tempting, living in it can make you feel worse instead of better. Try setting a smartphone alarm and make it a point to get up from that chair or sofa every couple of hours and work through some slow, safe stretches to help circulation, concentration and comfort.
Feed Your Health with Good Nutrition
Take one step toward eating smarter
Fast food and processed snacks are all too easy to grab when you’re rushed or stressed, and your health can pay the price for extra fat, sugar and salt. A total overhaul of your diet can be overwhelming, so start small by switching out one junk food snack each day for something healthy like yogurt, fresh veggies and hummus, or a piece of fresh fruit.
Cut down on sugar
If you’re like most Americans, you eat a lot more sugar than you need, and a lot of it is hiding in foods (and drinks) where you don’t necessarily expect it. Soda sweetened by sugar or corn syrup, sports drinks, coffee beverages and canned or bottled teas are a leading cause of excess sugar in Americans’ diets: Try unsweetened varieties or water (still or sparkling) with fresh fruit slices instead.
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Mental well-being is essential
How are you doing — really?
Hanging in there, or hanging by a thread? After so many months cut off from loved ones and familiar routines during the coronavirus pandemic, your mental health may need attention. Talk to your doctor and get help right away if you are experiencing persistent signs of anxiety, sleep disorders or depression: These are not “just in your head,” but genuine health problems that can be treated successfully with the help of a doctor’s expertise. Telemedicine appointments may be available.
Practice mindfulness and reduce stress
You deserve the benefits of taking time to breathe and focus! Even without an in-person yoga class, you can discover the power of mindfulness with a good app or virtual instruction with an expert in complementary medicine. At the very least, a few daily minutes outside gives you a breath of fresh air and chance to reconnect with the natural world and feel more centered.
Are you self-medicating?
If you have noticed an uptick in your drinking (wine and beer included!) or other substance abuse during the pandemic, you’re not alone. Problematic drinking and prescription (or illicit) drug misuse are health problems, and isolation, worry and stress can make them worse. Have an honest heart-to-heart with a professional who can help you get back on a healthier track.
Beautify your space simply
You don’t need a big redecorating budget to make your home base more “you.” Indoor plants, a scented candle, a new piece of art, kids’ drawings, pictures of loved ones or a bunch of cut flowers in a colorful container can refresh your surroundings and boost your mood while you wait out the pandemic.
Other Health Concerns
Help your heart health
To maintain your best heart health, you should get your blood pressure checked and know your approximate body mass index (BMI). Ask your doctor if you are at risk for type 2 diabetes, a common metabolic problem that affects heart health. A simple blood test can reveal several factors that could put you at higher risk for heart and vascular disease — and some of these might be manageable with lifestyle changes.
Prevent skin cancer
Winter, spring, summer or fall, slather on that sunscreen, even on cloudy days, and indoors, too, if there is sunlight in the room. The majority of skin cancers are slow-growing and easy to treat, but a few can be serious. If you have a new, changing or otherwise suspicious skin lesion, have your doctor check it. Your health care provider might refer you to a dermatologist. If you are at risk for melanoma, a rare but potentially dangerous type of skin cancer.
Self-care: Start now
As we await more COVID-19 vaccinations and look for encouraging news about the coronavirus pandemic, it’s time to recommit to your health.
Resume your tests and screenings
If you’ve put off routine tests such as your regular mammogram, colonoscopy, Pap test, dermatologic exams, and other tests based on your individual risk factors, it’s a good time to get back on schedule. The right tests can help give you and your doctors early warning if your health is changing.
We are ready to see you and support your good health
Johns Hopkins Medicine is ready to care for you with stringent protective practices and added safety measures such as screening and testing for COVID-19, mask wearing, physical distancing, new processes to minimize contact, and thorough cleaning of all exam, testing and treatment rooms between patients.