Dr. Dara Bushman is a psychologist and author who appears on numerous media outlets sharing expertise on COVID counseling, trauma, and wellness. She lives in Asheville, NC. This is a contributor-submitted Voices piece. Want to join the conversation? We invite you to write for us. Learn how to share your voice here.
Dear everyone that does or does not like exercise,
Are you too tired to exercise? Not sure how to navigate through this pandemic? Feel like you can’t keep your shiFt together? Or are you doing well, feeling strong and would love some validation of why you keeping up with your exercise regimen is so critical to fight off COVID and feel mentally strong?
Check out this week’s Truth with Dr. Dara’s Covid Chronicles question...
Dear Dr. Dara,
What can I recommend to my clients to prevent COVID and how can they stay mentally positive during this time?
Bea Metz, Fitness Coach
As an experienced fitness coach with immense wisdom and knowledge, I believe you will be happy with my suggestions….Move, move, move and move more. (Hear the Madagascar song: I like to move it move it, I like to move it move it!!!) I am referring to activity, exercise, playing with your kids, physical exertion, jumping around wearing spandex like Jane Fonda, counting jumping jacks with Dolphin shorts on like Richard Simmons, W.A.L.K.I.N.G., or anything that adjusts and re-positions your limbs in some capacity. (Madagascar chorus playing: Move it!!)
I am not a medical doctor. I am a psychologist and I advocate for wellness and mental fitness. Until there is an immunization, nothing can keep anyone from getting COVID-19! If there was a “cure” I would not have experienced COVID-19 hell! But, there sure are some ways to avoid it. First and foremost, #maskitup people! In addition, let’s do whatever we can to strengthen ourselves so our bodies can physically and mentally defend against illness, ick, and bad mo-jo!
Movement is the modern-day cure to everything just as Windex was in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding! I will spare you the complete list of the benefits of exercise... it builds up your immune system, strengthens your cardiovascular system, lowers your risk of disease, and kicks up your endorphins to maintain sanity! Physical movement, A.K.A. exercise, can be anything that gets your heart rate up: yoga, running, jump roping, walking, playing with your kids, lifting weights, sexercise, dancing, pilates...whatever! For the sake of being professional and scholarly, check this article. This is one of many I pulled up to empirically validate how exercise protects from COVID and lessens the intensity of complications. If it was not for my physical and emotional strength, I am not sure how detrimental and severe the illness and complications I had from COVID would have been.
Wait, what is it you say? I can’t go to exercise classes. I don’t have money to join a gym. I am too stressed to start a program now. I am not in good enough shape to exercise. I don’t have time between working and homeschooling. I am tired. I have to lose weight first....Come on, you have to give me better EXCUSES than that. Those are lame! LOL. Now is the time, the perfect time to move it, move it! It doesn’t have to be a grand or a huge commitment. You just need to do a bit more than what you have been doing. If you didn’t exercise before the pandemic, who cares? Now is the best time to create your new health regimen. You get a blank slate to decide how you want your mojo and what you want into the next segment post-pandemic. Yes, I am serious!!
This leads me to answer not just how you keep from getting COVID, but how to survive a pandemic and stay positive. You guessed right if you knew I would say EXERCISE and EXERCISE again! Even if you are soooo sick from COVID-19. The only way to get out of it, is to move out of it. Carefully, slowly, cautiously, smartly. You don’t have to jump around after being really sick or emotionally paralyzed by the trauma and stress of COVID, but you do have to get some fresh air and stretch your body. If you don’t use it, you lose it! You don’t want your heart muscles to deflate and shrivel up into a wad of bubble gum like substance? You don’t want your core being to dry up, dehydrate with lifelessness and lose its ability to function? When the beast of COVID told me to rest, I stayed up. I did the opposite of what it wanted me to do. Yes, I was miserable and could barely move. But, not moving only stiffened me up and weakened my soul from the inside as my organs would potentially harden and rot (ok, a little dramatic, but is it really?). Some days I stood up the entire day to let the blood flow and let COVID know who was boss, who was dominant, and who was running the show – ME! WE HAVE TO APPLY THIS TO THOSE EXERCISE-MOVEMENT DEMONS that tell us to wait, say we are not good enough or say we can’t or shouldn’t! When it tells you to start tomorrow, start right this minute. Right then start shaking your body and moving around. Shake it off! Remember when Forrest Gump said, “Stupid is what stupid does!”? Well positive is what positive does. If you do positive actions (despite how you feel), like move, then you feel and stay positive.
Like I said last week in a blog, my emoji for the pandemic is a magnifying glass. It has made everything in our lives bigger, bolder, and problematic. Let’s face it though, if there was not a pandemic we would find another reason or crisis to not exercise or be fine with atrophying our inner being. I don’t need a crystal ball or to be psychic to know that if you are not doing crapola now, you won’t do craploa in the future. I am not being Dr. Poopypants, I am being realistic. So, NOW, now, now is the time to take a hop forward, a baby step, slide over, lean in, make a bridge, dance a step ball change, or do 1% more than you were doing before. If you want to know what your health will look like in 60-90 days, or your activity level, or what your coping techniques will be, take a good, long, hard look in the mirror at what they look like right now, today!
With or without being infected with COVID-19, here is the numero uno survival technique for a pandemic or any life changing circumstance or event. Red carpet roll out please, drum roll…
Freedom Rings: Three rings intertwined, overlapped, and overshadowing like the Olympic Rings. Ring one is the past. Ring two is the present. Ring three is the future.
This is how it goes. When I meet with athletes we clarify the concept of practicing like you compete and competing like you practice. You can’t show up at a competition and expect miracles if you didn’t do the work. You also can’t expect that you won’t make errors when competing if you made them in practice. You have to carry the same work ethic, routines, and mentality into practice as you do for competition. Are you getting the picture? So, whether it is competition, a pandemic, a new job, moving, having a child, starting a new relationship, or any life shiFting or changing event, in order to survive you have to bring what you did before into the event. Then, take out parts that you implemented during the event that you like and install them into your life. Like when you do healthy things on vacation-– going to bed early, walking and resting.
As you return to regular life and back to work, carry those things over and incorporate them into your everyday life!! My biggest rules during the pandemic 1) Get dressed and brush your hair everyday and 2) Get fresh air daily. Consider it part of your physical conditioning. Get used to being consistent and setting your goals/rules to something you can maintain and follow through with. Sick or well, change your underwear and your lounge wear! You wore clothes before the pandemic and will most certainly wear them out of the house again! Sixty to 90 days from now I see you dressed and ready for life, not looking like you just rolled out of bed. Pandemic or not, we have to train like champions. Add on a small physical activity along with a must-do like getting dressed. This ain’t a dress rehearsal!! If you want to be healthy, active, and exercise in a couple months, NOW, now now, move it move it move it! Do something. Anything! Walk to the mailbox, sit outside, do 10 push ups on the wall, sit down and stand up out of a chair 10 times (Did you know as people age the first physical ability we lose is to get out of a chair, which is why so many elderly people fall off the toilet! Just saying.), dance, sweep the floor with an attitude, park farther away from your destination, take the stairs, take your things to your second floor individually without stockpiling it for the next trip up, march in place, OPEN YOUR WINDOW AND GET FRESH AIR AND STAND OUTSIDE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!
In conclusion, move your way to health to fight off COVID, move your way to deal with the pandemic, move your way to get healthy from COVID, and move your way to move ahead of the pandemic. See yourself healthy, do healthy. Godspeed.
Your no bull-shiFt, COVID SURVIVOR, advice giving, Mental Fitness RANTING, Mom, Psychologist, friend and wife, Dr. Dara