Let’s face it: the global coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on each and every one of us. With more time indoors, additional stress, and no access to many of our usual go-to outlets for letting off steam, we could all use some new inspo for creative ways to change up our self-care routines. Plus, “Earth Day” is just around the corner—which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary by promoting action on climate change—so why not consider treating Mother Earth just as well as we’re about to treat ourselves?
Here are some of the top ways experts say we can eco-proof and virus-proof (or at least virus-prevent!) our self-care routines for optimum mind, body, soul, and environment.
It might feel especially overwhelming to try to make big changes to our diet and exercise routines at the moment, and that’s OK. But eating less animal foods and reducing single-use plastic are two things you can do right now to help heal both your body and the planet, says health and wellness expert and occupational therapist, Dr. Camille Dieterle: “You don’t have to go all the way all the time on these—reducing either or both a few times per week makes a big difference.”
That’s where “Meatless Mondays” comes into play. What started as a nonprofit initiative of The Monday Campaigns in collaboration with the Center for a Livable Future (CLF) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has become a global movement to start each week with a commitment to “healthy, environmentally-friendly, meat-free meals.”
Why Monday? It turns out Johns Hopkins has data that proves we’re most likely to think of it as a day for a “fresh start” or a chance to “get my act together” and set a positive intention for the week ahead.
Try a sustainable or eco-conscious meal delivery service, like Paleta or Sakara Life, which both offer 100% plant-based options (Sakara’s meal programs are exclusively vegan) if you want to go all-in. Paleta’s farm-to-table service also offers a “Meatless Monday” option, and its wellness team notes that foods rich in vitamin C, D, and omega-3 fatty acids like citrus, chia seeds, green veggies, and salmon are great for immunity-boosting benefits, while onion, garlic, and mushrooms are strong antivirals and great for boosting immunity, as well. Both companies are focused on sustainability in their production, delivery, and packaging, too. Win-win.
Speaking of plants, a simple houseplant (or desk plant) can provide extra oxygen, clean your air naturally, and boost your mood. There are a number of options to choose from depending on the amount of sunlight you have in your space and your desired benefit. An aloe vera plant, for example, is hearty enough for even the most forgetful waterer if you have a sunny window for it (with bonus properties in the juice from its fleshy leaves, which can be used as topical relief for burns or scrapes), while lavender or geraniums offer peace of mind and seem to help promote feelings of relaxation.
Another option is English Ivy, which NASA scientists say is one of the “best air cleaning plants” available. This pretty, flowy plant will even filter out toxins found in salon products, such as trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, benzene, and xylene if you’ve recently become a DIY hair colorist (haven’t we all at this point?). And for the sleep-deprived, a chic snake plant with a little mist can provide additional oxygen at night to help you catch some much-needed zzz’s.
We know that a good night’s sleep starts long before we go to bed and has numerous health benefits, from improving memory, to maintaining a healthy weight, and importantly, preventing disease. After the challenges of the day, the body yearns for comfort, habits, and rituals to destress.
Plus, as many of us adjust to proper WFH gear, finding the right balance between comfy, functional, and sustainable is key. Thankfully, options abound. Dagsmejan, for example, is an innovative textile company from Switzerland with the mission to improve the quality of sleep and thus the quality of life by means of innovative, functional sleepwear inspired by functional sportswear. The company’s founders say they worked with sleep experts to “truly understand how our temperature and movement impact our sleep quality,” and all production steps meet OEKO-TEX sustainability standards.
According to a recent report by the global fashion search platform, Lyst, eco-conscious activewear is one of the biggest trends we can expect to see more of in 2020—and for good reason. Searches for “sustainable activewear” are at an all-time high, up 151% compared to the previous year, which confirms our shared interest in doing what’s best for the planet in all that we do, comfy clothes included. Standouts include leggings from Girlfriend Collective, which are crafted from 25 water bottles and come in a number of fun colors, or for the more cozy-inclined, the classic eco-fleece sweatpants from Alternative Apparel (made from recycled cotton).
Regardless of our apparel, though, it’s vital that we take time each day to actually *turn off*, says Dr. Patricia Grabarek, co-founder of Workr Beeing and an expert on workplace wellness: “it’s really important to have that recovery period to be able to take care of yourself and step away from work in order for you to come back and do your best.” To do so, try to separate your workspace from your home space as much as possible, Grabarek says, even if it means carving out a small corner in the living room, and be sure to turn off your email notifications after the workday is over. “Recovery must include disconnecting from technology that has to do with work,” she adds.
Grabarek and Dieterle both note research that suggests recovery and improved mood can sometimes be best achieved by learning a new skill or starting a new activity. Consider taking an online French lesson or perhaps cooking or baking a new recipe. “It can be incredibly satisfying to make something with your hands,” Dieterle adds.
These activities can be helpful for productivity during your next workday, too, even if you can only do them once a week. “You get really energized, and it helps you feel more motivated and less exhausted,” Grabarek says.
Research also shows that a regular gratitude practice can “lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep,” according to Dr. Robert A. Emmons, a leading scientific expert on the science of gratitude at UC Davis. Gratitude also “reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide.” Best of all, results can happen pretty quickly: studies show that perceived stress was reduced by 28% in just two weeks with a daily gratitude journal practice.
Unsure how to get started? “Start with one task for a short amount of time,” Dieterle suggests. “For example, if someone is trying to journal or meditate each morning, choose the physical location where you will do this activity and commit to a very short amount of time, say, five minutes per day. Even if a lot of great journaling or meditating does not happen, continue to show up to that location at the designated time.” (Bonus eco-points for trying these recycled journals.)
Or, she suggests, simply start with making your bed soon after getting up. “No matter what happens throughout the day, at least you have done that, and your space looks and feels much much better throughout the day.”