Coronavirus outbreak: how to protect our physical and mental health

Tamara Willner
Written by

Tamara Willner

17th March 2020

Understandably, it’s a challenging and uncertain time at the moment with the outbreak of Coronavirus (Covid-19), but everything is continuing as normal here at Second Nature. The digital programme is more relevant now than ever, particularly with practising healthy habits to keep our bodies as healthy as possible.

The recent government advice regarding the outbreak of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) means that the majority of us will either be in social isolation or socially distancing ourselves from public places. Isolation of any kind can be extremely frustrating and negatively impact our mental health as well as our physical health.

The goal of this post is to support those of us who are currently well and in isolation or social distancing to remain feeling positive and healthy.

We’ve provided our top tips for social distancing or isolation, and more detailed advice around emotional eating, exercising at home, and managing anxiety. We’ve also included recipes using mostly non-perishable ingredients.

If we or anyone we have been in contact with has possible or confirmed Coronavirus, it’s important to follow the NHS and government guidelines.

Finally, although this situation is unpredictable, our mental wellbeing may benefit from focussing on any possible silver linings of spending more time at home. Perhaps that’s enjoying making home-cooked meals each day, reading books we have wanted to for a while, trying out some new recipes, or getting into the habit of exercising at home.

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Second Nature’s 5 top tips for self-isolation

If you’re well but socially distancing or isolating, follow these top tips to remain as positive and healthy as possible:

1) Keep a routine

Even though you might be out of your normal weekday routine, aim to wake up and go to bed at similar times each day, have set mealtimes, and exercise at similar times to usual. Unless you’re in quarantine, consider going for a quick walk to start your day and replicate your usual routine.

2) Stay digitally connected

Calling and messaging friends and family helps us stay positive and get some form of social interaction.

3) Prioritise self-care

Use any extra time to have a bath, cook a new recipe, meditate, practise a musical instrument, read a book, or anything you’ve wanted to do for a while!

4) Eat a healthy, balanced diet

Our physical and mental health are interlinked, so it’s important we provide our bodies with the vitamins and minerals it needs. Eating well also strengthens our immune system.

5) Keep moving

Follow our more detailed advice below on how to keep moving from our homes.

Be mindful of emotional eating

Between stress around uncertainty, working from home, and reduced social interaction, emotional eating might be particularly prevalent in the coming weeks.

Emotional eating occurs when food is used to soothe or suppress negative emotions such as isolation, anger, boredom, or stress. Often comfort or emotional eating ignore feelings of physical hunger that come from an empty stomach. The most common foods craved are usually ultra-processed, such as biscuits, crisps, chocolate, and ice cream. These foods are scientifically engineered to quickly target the pleasure receptors in our brains.

Most of us experience emotional eating at one time or another. However, when emotional eating happens frequently, and food becomes the primary coping mechanism for a stressful situation, it can affect our health and mental wellbeing.

As emotional eating can be more likely when we’re isolating ourselves, these practical steps can help us navigate away from emotional eating episodes:

1) Know your trigger

Keeping a food diary of what we eat, how much we eat, and what we’re feeling when we eat can help us identify what triggers comfort eating. For some people, it’s boredom, whereas for others it’s stress, anxiety, or sadness.

2) Find a new outlet for emotion

Once we know what triggers our emotional eating, we can find other simple activities at home to manage these without food.

The best tasks to do to take our mind off food are cognitively challenging ones. This means going for a walk, meditation, or taking a bath may not be effective ways to distract ourselves. However, something that engages your brain can be a better distractor, such as sudoku puzzles, crosswords, brain training apps, chess or scrabble, calling a friend, playing a board game, listening to a podcast.

3) Be prepared

We can prepare for when we feel compelled to emotionally eat by noting down some ‘if/then’ scenarios. For example:

If I’m bored and feel the urge to buy unhealthy snacks, then I will do a crossword puzzle for 10 minutes’
If I feel lonely and start craving crisps or chocolate, then I will call my friend for a quick chat’
If I feel anxious and overwhelmed, then I will pause and read my book for 10 minutes.’

We can also prepare our environment, by avoiding having large amounts of ultra-processed foods (e.g. crisps, biscuits, ice cream, chocolate) in the house.

Instead, buying healthier wholefoods to snack on will mean we’re less likely to overeat and they’ll keep us feeling more satisfied. Stock up on things like:

  • Unsweetened peanut butter
  • High-quality dark chocolate (85%+)
  • Frozen berries
  • Natural yoghurt
  • Plain Ryvita crackers
  • Olives
  • Mixed nuts
  • Seeds
  • Hummus
  • Carrots
  • Eggs
  • Hard cheeses

4) Take away the guilt

It’s important that we don’t harbour feelings of guilt when we do experience an episode of emotional eating. One way to do this is to avoid labelling foods as ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘treat’ or ‘syn’.

This can foster a negative relationship with food and create an ongoing cycle of comfort eating. Instead, we can class foods as foods that we enjoy every day and foods that we enjoy less often.

Keep moving at home

With gyms closing and recommendations to avoid group activities, it might be challenging to follow our usual exercise routine. However, don’t worry, there are plenty of ways you can stay active without leaving the house.

1) Try a home workout

YouTube offers a huge amount of free exercise content for beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. Many of them are only 15-30 minutes long and require no extra equipment.

2) Start ‘snacking’ on exercise

This means doing just 1-2 minutes of exercise as often as possible, whether that be press-ups, star jumps, squats, lunges, running on the spot, or going up and down the stairs a few times.

Finding the time to exercise doesn’t always mean taking long periods of time out of our day. For example, doing squats while we wait for the kettle to boil, or jogging on the spot while our food heats up in the microwave.

3) Consider a physical challenge

Many of us will be saving time in the day that we’d normally spend commuting to work or travelling to social events. This is a good opportunity to make the most of our extra free time and take on a new challenge, such as a 30-day yoga challenge.

Manage anxiety

Being bombarded with constant media about the pandemic can seem relentless and take its toll on our mental health. Especially for those of us who’re more vulnerable, live alone, or live with anxiety or depression.

For those of us who’re well, healthy, and not in social isolation, we should consider reaching out to older or more vulnerable members of our community to offer our time and support. Something as simple as picking up a prescription, doing a food shop, or even having a quick phone call to check-in can be a huge help to many people.

It’s incredibly important that we all take steps to protect and prioritise our mental wellbeing, for example:

1) Chat to friends or loved ones

Staying socially connected via digital platforms is essential for our mental health when our social contact is limited. This might be calling or FaceTiming family members, neighbours, and friends on a regular basis.

2) Meditation or deep breathing

Meditation is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety. If you’re new to meditation, try practising deep breathing with your eyes closed in a quiet room for 2 minutes each day.

3) Practise yoga

Yoga encompasses the benefits of both exercise and meditation. One of the ways meditation is so effective is through controlled breathing, which is also practised in yoga. Yoga also increases our release of serotonin – the ‘happy’ hormone.

4) Use adult colouring books

Colouring provides a cognitively stimulating mental activity, which can relieve stress and anxiety by providing our minds with a distraction.

5) Monitor media exposure

It can be overwhelming to receive constant notifications about the virus, which lead us to panic and lose control of our thoughts. It’s important to stay informed right now, but consider checking reliable sources (e.g. NHS or WHO websites) for information once each day and turning off notifications in between.

Non-perishable ingredient recipes

We should only buy what we need from supermarkets, otherwise, others won’t get access to the products that they need. We can also make use of local farm shops or farmers markets where possible. These places will have a higher chance of supplying fresh produce, and it also means you can support local businesses.

If fresh produce is limited at your supermarket, don’t panic! Remember tinned, dried, and frozen goods can be just as nutritious and will last much longer. Below are some example recipes where we can easily swap the fresh fruit or vegetables for frozen variations (e.g. frozen mixed vegetables or frozen berries). We can also swap any fresh herbs for dried versions. Consider batch cooking some of the recipes and freezing the extra portions for another time.

  1. Lentil bolognese
  2. Coconut dhal
  3. Mediterranean quinoa
  4. Very berry smoothie
  5. Thai fish cakes

For the most current advice on Coronavirus, visit the NHS and UK GOV websites.

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Write a response

Gaudence Hosegood

1 April, 2020

Emotional eating has been worse when I experienced symptoms of anxiety and stress,especially at the start of the diet when I was trying to cope with staying home due to coronavirus. But because of this diet I was on,SN mentor helped me to overcome binge just knowing someone is there to talk to.thanks


30 March, 2020

To avoid unhealthy snacking on sugary treats start with the shopping list. Don’t buy them in the first place, if possible, or determine mentally, if they are bought for other family members, that they are not for me. It really helps if you can’t easily find them, and have a glass of water instead!

Mary Forde

30 March, 2020

Very good

Janette. James

26 March, 2020



23 March, 2020

We are into 14 days of isolation ( at home in Australia) and fortunately we have a garden to tidy and a friend gave me lots of seedlings to plant. I have got out the knitting needles and using the oddments to make quirky gloves etc. Bought some material to make a dress and will continue to learn French and Spanish online . Lots of new recipes to try.


23 March, 2020

This is brilliant. Thank you


21 March, 2020

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR ALL OF THIS! I am currently of Day 8 Isolation in Madrid, Spain, and need to rethink my days! More exercising, less emotional eating and getting a routine again are all my personal goals after reading your article!!!

J from Herts

20 March, 2020

Thank you for this, such great advice. I’m really pleased to have found the 30 day yoga challenge as my regular yoga teacher has stopped her classes. Keep doing what you do!

Hilary Dolan

18 March, 2020

This is such timely advice! Thankyou.

Maria Blanchard

18 March, 2020

Thank you for understanding the stresses of emotional eating and offering coping tools. Well done!

vivianne abbs

18 March, 2020

Thankyou for showing you care it really does help. We have been in isolation since we took on two new foster children one coming with dry cough. New recipes to try will give me something to keep me busy. As didn’t get time to go shopping before isolation. We ordered a shop to be delivered but lots of replacements
I love to use pressure cooker. And soup maker. We are farming people so do get a lot of lamb. Venison and trout. Thankyou for all what you doing. First time anything has worked for me. Vivianne


18 March, 2020

I am hugely impressed and grateful for the information in your blog about coping with the Coronavirus. Thanks for the details-I’m someone who likes to know the why to do something not just the what to do and you gave a good amount of both. Thanks

Chris Hall

18 March, 2020

Thank you for this blog. My husband and I have started to self isolate and it helps to have reminders of things to do/think about.

Bob Dean

18 March, 2020

A very good article that hits the spot in so many ways. I’m in total agreement regarding avoiding the emotional snack and perhaps trying to maintain the distractions is a key. I’m lucky that I love computing and rather than read a book, will try and improve on some of the tricky apps like Photoshop Elements and CAD drawing. I mention these as they end up with pictorial masterpiece sometimes!


19 March, 2020

I have been in self-imposed isolation for 10 days now & I have found that it is important to get out for a walk every day, do some exercise in the home so as not to seize up. Also lots of heathy food to make you feel you are protecting your immune system and doing everything you can.

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