We all know what Covid-19 is. That dreadful virus that is causing the worst upheaval in world systems since probably the last world war.
But what about the upheaval happening at home? The upset in our daily routines, the extra stress, the financial instability- what is it doing to you personally?
For many of us, this virus is causing us to be in a state of heightened stress and reduced self-control. Without healthy coping mechanisms, we may find ourselves packing on the pounds from stress-induced overeating.
Or perhaps all this time inside is just causing us to be bored. We find eating to be the only interesting thing happening in our day, and all too often ordering out sounds like the best way to interact with another human being that day!
Wherever you stand (or sit) there's a chance you are a little worried about yourself or someone you know who seems to be letting their health decline as a result of this virus! The Covid-15 is like that pesky freshman-15. You didn't want it, but here it is.
In this first part of my blog series "A Potential Solution to the Covid-15", I am going to be talking about healthy coping mechanisms. Not strictly a nutrition topic, I know, but one that pertains to overall health.
Coping is defined by Merriam-Webster as "to deal with and attempt to overcome problems and difficulties."
According to an article titled "Stress and Coping Mechanisms: A Historical Overview," by
Dr. Shadiya Mohamed and Saleh Baqutayan, there is a differentiation between problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping.
Simply stated, problem-focused coping tries to change the situation that is causing the stress in order to achieve a feeling of control, and can be successful if the problem is changeable.
In terms of coronavirus, this might look like moving to a new house or apartment so that your rent is more manageable, getting a new job that pays higher, finding childcare so that you can work from home more effectively, or taking on whatever solution is going to physically improve your situation and reduce stress.
"Emotion-focused coping is used to manage all forms of emotional distress including feelings of depression, anxiety, frustration, and anger." People tend to employ both types of coping when facing stressful events, but generally emotion-focused coping is used to deal with stress related to uncontrollable situations.
In regards to coronavirus, this emotion-based coping might present negatively, with people using venting, disengagement (Netflix?), denial (virus, what virus?), relationships (if I just had a significant other), and I'll add emotional eating under here.
Both types of coping can exhibit as negative, but what about some positive coping strategies you can use, specifically if you find emotional or boredom eating your "go-to" coping method.
Positive problem-focused coping mechanisms:
Get rid of some of the physical stressors in your life. This could look like not going online again when you don't need to. Zoomed out? Try skipping that optional zoom meeting online. Have a headache? Try reading a book instead of vegging out on Netflix. Chaotic house? Try cleaning.
Change the environment you are in. Take a bath, go on a staycation, rearrange your furniture, put up Christmas decorations, try working from a friend's home or a coffee shop instead of your own house.
The main point of problem-focused coping: change the circumstances you CAN in order to reduce your total stress due to circumstances you CAN'T change.
Positive emotion-focused coping mechanisms:
Seek emotional support from others or religion. People have a way of helping us deal with our problems. God has a way of helping us see that our problems really aren't that big! Whatever support system you have, lean on them to listen, talk, and pray with you.
Use positive reinforcement. When you are able to get through something stressful like another workday, reinforce that hard work with something you enjoy. Take a walk outside, cook a delicious meal, phone a friend or family member, or take up your knitting project. Whatever it is that gets you to feel relaxed.
Use humor and positivity. Laughter is really medicine! Seeing the bright side of things instead of focusing on the negative can really turn your stress on its head. Being in the right mindset can impact how you react to circumstances.
The main point of emotion-based coping is that you focus on the emotions you are feeling. You may not be able to change your circumstances, but you can change how you deal with uncomfortable feelings.
NOW, because I am a dietitian, I can't help but help insert some tips to help overcome the specific challenge of food-based coping.
Stock your pantry with the good stuff. If you don't buy junk food, you won't have it available at home, which means you won't be able to eat it when you are feeling stressed. Stock your home with tons of fruits and easily snackable vegetables, some healthy salty snacks like whole-grain crackers you can dip in hummus, and even try baking some multigrain muffins so that you have those healthy low-calories options available when you are feeling like snacking. (If you have a hard time avoiding the temptation to buy it at the store, see my other blog on Grocery Tips).
Work somewhere away from the kitchen. If you increase the work of getting to the food, then in those moments when you aren't actually hungry you may not find the drive for eating greater than the drive for staying where you are.
When you feel bored or stress, get up and get moving! Make a point to stand every hour and get a few steps in. Instead of using those steps to get you to the kitchen, try watching a youtube video, doing some stretches, or going outside for some fresh air. When you get off work, use exercise as a release for all the pent up feeling you have from sitting in front of the screen all day.
Lastly, don't judge yourself. Sometimes we get into an endless cycle of shame. We use eating to cope, we feel ashamed, we use eating to cope with that feeling of shame. Instead of judging and being hard on yourself for those times you do use food for coping, forgive and move on. Remind yourself you aren't perfect and try again next time.
Well, if you made it to the end of this article, congrats. I hope you feel more equipped to healthfully deal with some of the stress in your life.
Baqutayan, S. M. (2015). Stress and Coping Mechanisms: A Historical Overview. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences. doi:10.5901/mjss.2015.v6n2s1p479