During pandemic, staying mentally fit is just as important as physical fitness. Here’s five tips to stay sharp and reduce stress.

Editor's note: This is Part 11 of USA TODAY's Working Out From Home (#WOFH) series. Sign up for Good Sports, our weekly newsletter that will bring you more home workout tips and the stories of the good throughout the world of sports:

Staying physically fit during the coronavirus crisis is a challenge, not just for elite athletes but for average folks as well. We hope to help with that in our Working Out From Home (#WOFH) series of daily workout tips.

But there’s a mental side of fitness, too. That’s especially true of children who likely aren’t accustomed to being cooped up at home for the extended period this global pandemic has necessitated.

Dr. Larry Lauer, a mental skills specialist who works with the U.S. Tennis Association’s development program, says keeping your mind sharp and positively focused is especially important when it’s difficult to get out and do things.

“Certainly a lot of people are feeling the inherent stress of this time,” he says. “It’s easy to think, ‘What’s going to happen in the future with my job or my family?' or if you’re an athlete, ‘Am I going to lose all the progress I’ve made?’ There are a lot of things that can stress you out right now.”

Though Lauer usually works with athletes, he offers advice for a few steps anyone can take to reduce the stresses and stay mentally healthy.

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Clear your mind in the morning

"Working in player development, a lot of sports psychologists emphasize this, whether you call it meditation or mindfulness exercises. It’s just creating this feeling of putting your mind at ease," Lauer says. 

"There are simple ways to do it, and everybody’s going to do it a little bit differently. Some might want to dive right into a meditation, and some might want to get active right away – going for a walk or just stretching. Some might want to just do some breathing exercises when they wake up. Take deep breaths for two minutes, and visualize what you want your day to look like. Then spend some time thinking about what you’re grateful for. That way you can prime yourself and be clear on your purpose for the day."

Keep to a schedule 

"I think having a schedule creates some normalcy. But you do need to be intentional about it, setting a schedule that keeps you moving forward toward your goal," Lauer says. "Then as you move from one thing to the next during the day, it can help to just take a breath and think about why you’re doing it for 30 seconds. That can be a conduit back to what you did in the morning.

Dr. Larry Lauer, who works with the USTA's developmental program, says it's important to stay mentally sharp during stressful times. (Photo: David A. Ramos)

"The people I work with are high-performance athletes. These are very goal-driven  people. I’ve been impressed with our group and how they’ve adapted their goals to what is a new normal for them with tours and tournaments canceled. Often this can mean helping others, whether it’s related to their own work or not. That helps their own endeavors."

Do some physical activity

"Everybody’s trying to figure out what they can do at home," he says. "Our Net Generation program has been providing non-stop information on how to play tennis at home. You can come up with your own ideas as well. I’ve heard some parents are bringing a ball in the house and just having the kids volley off the wall just to retain the feel. Then just try to get a little better every day. My kids like to put on skates and do a lap around our little cul-de-sac. They’ve started to say, ‘Hey, let’s see if we can beat our time from yesterday.’"

Try something new

A lot of people are using this as an opportunity to take up new hobbies or projects. I’ve heard a couple of my players are learning to play the guitar, and one is learning Spanish.

Set aside family time  

"Being there for your family, I think, really starts with managing the television and the social media," Lauer says. "I’m not saying you should put your head in the sand and not pay attention to what’s going on – maybe check a few sites you trust to get information – but that can really be a tug-of-war for your focus when you’re trying to keep a positive mindset. It’s important to be reassuring for your kids. ‘Yes, people are getting sick, but you’re safe here. You’re with family.’

"It can also be hard if you’re not used to working at home. That’s something my staff is struggling with, too. When your work comes home with you, it’s easy to let your work bleed through the rest of your day. You just have to say at 5 or 6 or whenever, I’m done with that. This is family time. Have a regular board-game night or a movie night and enjoy the time.

"In a lot of ways, our society has become individualized. As unfortunate as this pandemic is, there might be a silver lining if we can make the most of this time to keep learning and stay engaged."

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