Every week, we’re bringing you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we review a simple trick to defuse anxiety, the best way to build time for exercise into your day while working remotely, and some around-the-house ideas for de-stressing activities.

Shutting down the spiral

Fear has, from an evolutionary standpoint, been a great tool to help us survive as a species.

Modern man’s prefrontal cortex has added to this survival brain, allowing us to think creatively and plan for the future. This part of our brain predicts what might happen, laying out different scenarios and running simulations to see which is most likely to happen. And this is also where anxiety is born, says Judson A. Brewer, M.D., Ph.D., a psychiatrist writing for The New York Times.

Anxiety, he says, comes up when our prefrontal cortexes don’t have enough information to predict the future, as is this case now with the coronavirus. Without reliable information and certainty, it is easy for our brains to spin stories of fear and dread about our health, our jobs, etc.

Learning how to shut down anxiety before it turns into irrational behavior is an important tool in our mental health arsenal. Here’s what Brewer recommends:

  • First, don’t try to suppress or muscle your way out of anxiety. Willpower and reasoning both rely on the prefrontal cortex, which is pretty checked out during moments of anxiety.
  • Second, focus on how you are feeling anxious and what the result is. If it’s not helping you to survive in a specific situation, it’s probably moving you in the direction of impulsivity and stress that has more long-term health consequences.
  • Next, bring in the “bigger, better offer.” Replace old habitual behaviors such as worry with those that are naturally more rewarding. For example, he says, if you have a habit of touching your face and then start to spiral, once you do it worrying that you might get sick, take a deep breath. Then ask yourself a question to get your prefrontal cortex back online. “When was the last time I cleaned my hands?”
  • Once you’re back to rational thinking, you might say, “Oh right, I washed my hands an hour ago and I haven’t been outside.” So your chances of getting sick are pretty low.

The more you can concentrate on the positive effects and feelings of something like good hygiene and compare them to the negative feeling of uncertainty or getting caught in anxiety, the more your brain naturally moves toward the former because it just feels better.

You can duplicate this move back to rational thinking with almost any worry, asking yourself questions about your fear and leveraging the positive you do know to feel better.

Block out your “commute time” for exercise during remote work

If you’re struggling to adapt to a new routine in remote work, humorist Shani Silver has some useful tips for you in this Forge post.

One of the best tips for those who may find their less structured days getting away from them is to block out time for everything, including relaxing breaks, meals and exercise.

And one good way to make sure exercise fits into this schedule is to do it during your regular commute time, suggests Lisa Rowan in this Lifehacker post. No, not the amount of time it takes to walk to your desk 10 feet away but the 45 minutes to an hour you might have spent in your car or on the train headed to work.

The same holds true for the end of the day. What health-boosting practice could you fit in during your evening commute? A meditation? Stretching? Journaling?

This practice, Rowan says, helps set better boundaries between work life and home life, making you a happier remote worker.

And once you’ve knocked off work …

Here are a few ideas from Popsugar for de-stressing activities you can do at home, from meditative doodling and drawing using free online courses to restorative yoga and foam rolling exercises, as well as healthy cooking and baking. There are also ideas here for your next mood-boosting read and encouragement to have your own private dance party.

Photo credit: Jacqueline Kelly, Unsplash