How to Be Kind To Your Body During Coronavirus

Kick off your quarantine workout with a new move: compassion

You probably already know exercise is proven to reduce stress, improve mental health, and help you sleep well. So why is it that despite the many known benefits, working out right now feels... just plain hard? 

The answer is complicated. While some of us have a sudden influx of time on our hands, the COVID-19 outbreak has forced many to take on the role of caretaker or homeschool teacher virtually overnight. With the economy in its current state, we’re either working overtime or spending hours on the job hunt.

And amid it all, we’re taxed with the mental labor of sanitizing everything that enters our home, remembering to wear masks when we go out, and trying not to touch our faces in between. All of this is to say: We are in crisis. 

This is an unprecedented moment and it’s important to remember that our mental, emotional, and physical selves are connected. It’s only natural that pandemic-induced stress affects your motivation to pick up a pair of dumbbells or tune in to that live yoga class.

But don’t throw in the proverbial gym towel just yet. Instead of criticizing yourself for your inability to break a sweat like you did pre-pandemic, here’s how to be kind to yourself in these trying times.

Take a Break

The shock of nationwide stay-at-home orders is finally wearing off, and we’re left wondering just how long this is going to last. If you’re among those who are still running themselves ragged trying to keep up old exercise routines, it may be prudent to take some time off to rest, recuperate, and recalibrate your mental and physical health.

Programming time off from intense exercise is useful for any athlete, but it's especially savvy during a global crisis—it enables your muscular and nervous systems to fully recover and prepare for what’s to come.

There’s no prescribed length time that’s best. Anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks can give your body the time out it needs to recharge.

Rethink Expectations

Now that you’ve taken a much-needed rest, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. How you adjust your routine depends on several factors:

Time and Energy

Before the pandemic, you may have had a workout regimen that ran like clockwork. Now, you’re facing a distracting work-from-home environment, additional childcare duties, or a stressful job search, leaving you with less time and a fraction of the energy you used to have. Be realistic about what you can do right now, and look for ways to fit in a workout that feels reasonable. 

Space

Your favorite gyms and yoga studios are closed. Now what? First, assess the space you’ve got at home. If you live in a house with a garage and backyard, you may be able to recreate some gym workouts in isolation.

But if you rent a small studio apartment or your roommate has set up their new home office in a common space, you might have to get a bit more creative. Be realistic about your situation—a living room yoga flow or bodyweight workout might be easier to accomplish than speed and agility drills. 

Equipment

Unless you’re one of the lucky few with a garage gym at your disposal, you’ve probably already realized your typical workout probably isn’t going to be feasible at home. But with a little creativity and a shift in mindset, it’s still possible to make great progress.

You can do a lot with a simple mat and a pair of dumbbells—or even a couple of heavy items from your kitchen pantry. Make a list of the equipment you have available, then create (or work with a trainer to design) a program that helps you reach your goals at home.

Set Small Goals

Speaking of goals, it’s important to be realistic during this time. While you might not be able to crank out a personal-best deadlift from your bedroom, you can keep those same muscles strong and active in other ways. Here’s how to make the little things count right now.

Get Up and Move

If you’re new to working from home, it can be easy to lose track of time. After all, you don’t have meetings to run to, coworkers to grab coffee with, or a traditional lunch break that gets you outside for a stroll. Instead, it’s up to you to recreate those small movements at home.

Set regular reminders that force you out of your chair (or off your couch) to stand up, stretch, foam roll, or do some calisthenics. Just do a few jumping jacks or turn on your favorite song and shake it out for a minute.

It may seem like a small adjustment, but you’ll return to your work feeling rejuvenated and less sluggish.

Go for a (Socially-Distanced) Walk

While just about everything else in life may feel turned upside-down, going for a walk remains one of the “normal” ways you can still stay active during the pandemic.

Of course, it’s important to take precautions while walking—stay six feet from people who aren’t a part of your household, and wear a mask if you live in a densely-populated area. A quick stroll each morning or evening is an easy way to schedule movement (and a mental health boost) into your day.

Shorten Your Workout

A 90-minute online class might seem like an insurmountable task right now. But a quick 10-minute routine with some pushups and stretching? That’s probably more doable. It’s not the amount of time you spend working out that matters, anyway—it’s the effort you put in during those minutes.

Any movement is better than no movement, so forget about the hours you used to spend in the gym and start small instead. A 30-minute workout is still a great way to get moving and work toward your goals. 

Kick the Guilt

Thanks to social distancing and shelter-in-place orders, we’re spending a lot more time at home—and for many of us, that means a disruption in normal eating, sleeping, and activity patterns. Perhaps you’re taking more trips to the refrigerator, or maybe you’ve lost your appetite altogether. You might be sleeping more, and you may not always feel up for the workout you’d planned. During stressful times, all of these responses are normal.

Rather than focusing on the weight you’ve gained or the calories you didn’t burn, center your attention on the gratitude you feel for your health. Tell yourself, “This situation is scary, but it’s temporary, and I’m handling it the best I can. I am grateful to be healthy at home.”

Reframing criticism as an acknowledgment of trauma will help keep food and exercise guilt at bay.

That said, If you’re experiencing a concerning decline in mental health, seek support from a professional. Many licensed therapists and mental health professionals offer online therapy to help you through this stressful time.

Listen to Your Body

You may have planned a run this morning, but then read the news and aren’t feeling so great anymore. Or perhaps you had a stressful workday at home and a FaceTime call with your family sounds more appealing than a kettlebell circuit. In times of crisis—especially during a health crisis—it’s important to tune in to your body’s needs and adapt plans accordingly.

Of course, if you feel physically ill, it’s best to connect with your doctor, who can address your symptoms and prescribe a course of treatment to get you back to your normal self.

Know This Isn’t Forever

Whether you’re a weightlifter who’s worried about losing gains or a runner who can’t safely hit the trails anymore, it’s important to contextualize this situation and acknowledge that it’s not permanent.

The actions we’re forced to take now are a makeshift solution, and one day we will all be able to return to our normal routines. Until then, give yourself a little grace and focus on the small things you can do to stay active. 

A Word From Verywell 

It’s important to stay in tune with your mental and emotional health during times of high stress and uncertainty. You may find that a few proactive measures will help you to feel much better, but if you don’t feel like your strategies are working, reach out to a professional. Talking to someone could be the key to helping you manage your distress during this pandemic.

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