Bedbound? 33 Gentle Ways to Boost Your Wellbeing From Bed

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 6 March 2023
  • 15 minute read
Bedbound? 33 Gentle Ways to Boost Your Wellbeing From Bed | The Health Sessions

This article contains some affiliate links to resources you may find helpful, at no extra costs to you. All opinions are my own. 

Think you can’t do anything but lie in bed and wait to feel better? Think again.

Even when you’re (partly) bedbound, there are still things you can do to support your health and wellbeing.

Almost all wellness programs and workout plans assume you may not be optimally fit, but at least you can function somewhat normally. They are designed to help you get from being a couch potato to running 5K and to make healthier meals. But what if you’re so sick you can barely make it to the couch, let alone stand in the kitchen for 30 minutes to cook dinner, healthy or not?

That’s where these 33 gentle ways to support your wellbeing from bed come in. Obviously none of the simple actions below will magically make you better again. And despite my best intentions, not all tips will be doable for every body and every situation. But these accessible tips can support your overall wellbeing and give you a sense of empowerment during a time when you can feel so helpless.

Here’s how you can still calm your nervous system, relax your muscles, improve circulation, boost your mood and create the right circumstances for healing when you’re stuck in bed.

1. Let the light in. Open your curtains first thing in the morning to expose yourself to natural daylight. Catching the early morning light triggers a cascade of reactions in your body and brain that signal it’s time to get ready for the day. This in turn helps to fine-tune your internal body clocks that manage your appetite, sleep-wake schedule and the timing of hormone releases. That’s how letting daylight in, especially before noon, subtly boosts your energy and mental alertness during the day and promotes better sleep at night.

2. Practice deep belly breathing. Breathing exercises are one of the simplest ways to relax your body and mind, and feel revitalized at the same time. But laying curled up in bed and being in pain can tighten your chest muscles and promote shallow breathing. Deep belly breathing, on the other hand, relaxes your muscles and lowers levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Especially the 4-7-8 breathing technique pioneered by dr. Andrew Weil is a powerful method to release tension from your body and fall asleep faster.

3. Gently stretch your body every hour. While lying in bed, reach your arms overhead and stretch your legs to let go off tightness and support good circulation. Rotate your ankles, shoulders and wrists regularly. You could even do supine spinal twists or seated forward bends if you’re up for it.

4. Repeat a helpful mantra in your mind, to calm your racing thoughts, to take your mind off your worries or to stay hopeful on tough days. Depending on your mood and needs, you could tell yourself you’re safe and supported, that you have faith in your body’s healing abilities or that you will get where you need to be in your own time and way.

5. Put a pot of tea or water bottle by your bedside. Over half of your body consists of fluids, so it’s important to drink enough throughout the day to stay hydrated for your body to be able to function well. For extra healing power, have infused water with fruits, herbs and spices or get yourself some high-quality green tea, calming chamomile or a herbal infusion of your choice.

Bedbound? 33 Gentle Ways to Boost Your Wellbeing From Bed | The Health Sessions
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk via pexels.com

6. Look at something green. That might sounds strange, but studies show that, on average, hospital patients who could see leafy trees from their windows healed faster and required less pain medication than the patients looking at brick walls. What’s more, even pictures of natural landscapes can reduce anxiety and pain. So treat yourself to flowers, put a low-maintenance plant in your bedroom and hang a beautiful poster of the woods or tropical art print where you can easily see it.

7. Mind your mental diet. The information you consume has a bigger impact on your wellbeing than you might think, and being bedbound is not the best time for getting sucked into heated Twitter discussions, Instagram envy or doom scrolling the news. Instead, be mindful about how much and what kind of input you want to take in, and learn how you can nourish your mind in more helpful ways.

8. Sip on soup. There’s a reason why chicken soup is the traditional get-well dish: soups are hydrating, easy to ingest and you can take in lots of health-boosting nutrients in a tasty way. Bone broths are also rich in bone-strengthening minerals and glucosamine, as well as collagen to support good gut health. You could keep a large batch of soup in your freezer for sick days or buy good-quality (bone) broth to sip on.

9. Do a body scan. Many of us hold unnecessary tension in our body. A body scan is a helpful mindfulness tool to detect exactly where you experience tightness and how to let go. By slowly moving your attention from your toes to your head, you can sense how each part of your body feels, and whether you need to unclench your jaw, lower your shoulders or gently shake your arms and legs. Follow these instructions on how to do a mindful body scan so you relax your body and mind without moving a muscle.

10. Give yourself a gentle massage. Even a simple foot rub or massaging your calves can improve your blood and lymph circulation, making it easier to transport oxygen and health-boosting nutrients to every cell in your body, as well as to get rid off waste products, toxins and bacteria. You could use a small self-massage tool that naturally fits into your palm for deep tissue stimulation, get a foam roller to massage your legs or try a wooden massage roller rope for those hard to reach parts like your back and neck.

Bedbound? 33 Gentle Ways to Boost Your Wellbeing From Bed | The Health Sessions
Photo by Karolina Grabowska via pexels.com

11. Listen to your favorite songs. Music does more than lift your spirits – it can distract you from pain, reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, lower your blood pressure, improve your sleep and strengthen your coping skills. So make a playlist with soothing songs, motivational music or positive lyrics to boost your mood and your health.

12. Stop and smell the roses – literally. Essential oils are a fun and accessible way to support your wellbeing – even when you’re bedbound. Depending on your wants, needs and health, you could diffuse lavender oil for calm, add a drop of peppermint oil to improve respiration or rub roll-on lemon oil on your wrists to boost your alertness and immunity.

13. Lie down in a restorative pose. As comfy as it can be, curling up in bed or twisting your neck to catch a glimpse of the TV does not necessarily activate your body’s natural relaxation response. Instead, try a more restorative pose to rest in. You could adopt a (supported) child’s pose, relax in reclining bound angle pose or simply lay down in savasana – whatever feel best for you.

14. Take a high-quality supplement. Chances are, when you’re so sick that you have to spend many hours in bed each day, you’re not getting all the vitamins and minerals you need. Maybe you can’t get outside regularly enough to get adequate amounts of vitamin D though safe sun exposure, maybe you’ve lost your appetite and don’t get all your nutrients in, or your body has trouble absorbing the vitamins that do come in. Always check with your doctor and/or pharmacist which multivitamins or supplements would be helpful – and not harmful! – for you specifically.

15. Visualize a relaxing scenarioResearch shows that visualization helps to lower stress, let go of tension in your muscles, and promote a good night’s sleep. You can picture calming scenarios like walking in the woods to deeply relax your body in mind,  imagine yourself achieving important (health) goals to boost your motivation and mental health, or you can do a specific visualization for pain relief. If you struggle to create a vivid picture in your mind, let the science-backed Flowly app take you through beautiful Virtual Realities designed to calm your nervous system, ease your pain and reduce anxiety.

Flowly: your app for pain and anxiety
16. Take your resting outdoors. Do you have an outdoor area? On days you feel well enough, you could set up a daybed outside to get some fresh air, natural daylight, safe sunshine, a wider view to combat eye strain and perhaps even be in green surroundings. The change of scenery will probably do your mental health good too.

17. Seek positive distractions. Keeping your mind entertained when you’re sick is not a luxury. Enjoyable activities can help you cope with chronic pain and reduce stress, while keeping busy also provides a sense of meaning. What’s more, expressing your emotions through writing, painting or dancing can be therapeutic. So while your body rests, listen to interesting podcasts, weave a simple bracelet, make a sudoku,  journal or get creative with a botanical sticker book. (Tip: if you can sit upright, having a cushioned laptop table makes it much easier to write, color and play games in bed.)

18. Practice alternate nostril breathing. It may sound usual, but breathing in through one nostril and breathing out through the other is an ancient yogic practice that’s said to calm your nervous system and balance the left and right hemisphere of your brain. This article shows you how you can practice alternate nostril breathing anytime you could use some deep relaxation.

19. Give your skin some TLC. (Natural) body butters, lotions and oils hydrate and nourish your skin – the largest organ of your body. Plus, rubbing any kind of skincare on again stimulates your blood and lymph flow. Some herbal salves and essential oils also carry relaxing or revitalizing compounds, while relief balms contain ingredients that’ll soothe your pain.

20. Do a guided meditation. There’s a reason why every expert always encourages you to practice meditation – science shows over and over that meditation lowers your stress and anxiety levels, improves sleep, helps to control pain, supports your emotional health and boosts cognitive functions like memory and focus. And the best thing is, you can do it anywhere anytime, no tools necessary. However, when you’re really sick, it can be hard to focus. That’s when renowned meditation apps like Headspace or Calm come in handy, to provide guided sessions of different types of meditation for different occasions. You can start with just a few minutes of guided meditation, to hopefully calm your racing mind or wind down at night.

Bedbound? 33 Gentle Ways to Boost Your Wellbeing From Bed | The Health Sessions
Photo by cottonbro studio via pexels.com

21. Sing. It doesn’t matter if you sing off-key, any singing session releases feel-good chemicals and relieves stress. What’s more, singing, humming and chanting all stimulate your vagus nerve and increase your heart rate variability – two important indicators of how well your body is able to relax after experiencing stress. So if you’re looking to raise your vibration, sing or hum along with these 101 happiness-boosting songs – or your own favorite tunes of course!

22. Have a green smoothie. If you or your housemate can handle 10 minutes of prep and clean up, green smoothies are a great way to get extra vegetables and ‘superfoods’ in. Just blend your liquid of choice with low-glycemic fruits and a cup of leafy greens, cauliflower, carrots of beets into a creamy smoothie. You could even add some fresh herbs, fragrant spices, chia seeds, raw cacao, matcha or maca for more health-boosting ingredients. If you want to up your protein intake, you can also make a healthy milkshake with Greek yogurt, nut butters or hemp seeds.

23. Try yoga in bed. When being bedbound stops you from moving your body regularly, doing very gentle yoga poses in bed can help you to release tension from your body, regain some flexibility and rebuild muscle strength. Lying down, you could do reclined twists and Happy Baby pose, or sit up for Cat/Cow pose and a seated side stretch. You can also follow along with the accessible bed yoga routine from Sleepy Santosha for ‘stuck sick in bed’ days.

“I’m not lying down, I’m in savasana.”

24. (Re)fill your coping box. We can all use a little extra support to help us deal with pain, anxiety, loneliness and other difficult feelings, right? Having a coping box with comforting items that you can turn on (really) bad days can calm you down,  cheer you up or ease physical pain. A coping box can be a shoe box or basket with tangible items, but even a list with self-care ideas or a quiet corner to retreat to works. Collect feel-good books, mementos of happy memories, a stress ball or prayer beads, and art supplies to express yourself when you can’t find the right words. Make a playlist of soothing or uplifting songs, put in motivational quotes and spiritual texts, or pack calming items like chamomile tea, magnesium spray and a cherry pit pillow. Because we often forget how to best take care of ourselves when we need good coping strategies the most.

25. Open the window. Did you know that indoor air is actually more polluted than outdoor air? A stagnant indoor environment allows pollutants, toxic particles and moist to build up. So make sure you open your windows for 15 minutes every day, preferably on opposite sides of the house for good air circulation. If safely possible, also keep air grates or vent windows open day and night for ventilation.

26. Experiment with natural pain relief. There’s nothing wrong with taking painkillers, but some people do experience side-effects or breakthrough pain. If that’s you, see if drug-free methods can ease the aching. Heat pads will relax aching muscles and joints, while cooling gear can be helpful with migraines. You could also apply topical relief balms or try mental techniques to cope with chronic pain.

27. Laugh. I know, there is nothing funny about being sick in bed. And you probably don’t have much to laugh about right now. But laughter does release endorphins that boost your mood and raise your ability to ignore pain. Having a sense of humor also lightens your load and helps you deal with distressing emotions. And in the groundbreaking classic ‘Anatomy of an Illness’, Norman Cousins describes how he put himself on a daily diet of funny movies to boost his body’s ability to heal from a crippling disease. So *if you’re up for it*, listen to a humorous audiobook, watch a comedy show or check out the cartoons in the newspaper to put a smile on your face.

28. Train your brain. All too often, physical illnesses also affect your cognitive abilities to think clearly, memorize facts, find the right words and concentrate for extended periods of time. Thankfully, being bedbound doesn’t necessarily stop you from training your brain – although pain, fatigue and cognitive problems definitely do make it harder. And you don’t have to do boring exercises for your mental workout; according to Harvard Health any mentally stimulating activity helps to build your brain. You could do crosswords, make a giant jigsaw puzzle, memorize your favorite poem or play one song on the piano or guitar. Rebuild your concentration and problem-solving abilities with a solo-player smart game, exercise your language skills with the Duolingo app or pick up reading again with these illness-proof tips. If you often struggle with brain fog and sensory overload, click the links for accessible strategies to ease, manage or prevent these problems.

29. Nourish yourself with recovery-boosting meals. Chances are, you need a little help from housemates or friends for this tip. But still, there are nutrient-rich meals containing all the building blocks your body needs to recover that are easy to make when you’re sick. For example, baked potatoes and foil packet recipes require little prep, no standing over the stove and virtually no clean-up. You can put you Crockpot to work for comforting slow cooker recipes or let your oven do the cooking with sheet pan dinners. Check out these 25 recovery-boosting recipes for more inspiration.

30. Practice genuine gratitude. Ok, you probably do not feel especially grateful when you’re bedbound, but hear me out. Writing down 3 things you’re thankful for each day proves to be the most effective practice to boost your long-term happiness. Thankfully, there are still sincere ways you can practice gratitude despite your health problems. You could zoom out mentally and be thankful for your place in the world and in history. Be mindful and pay attention to what is going well in your life, for example by engaging your senses and savoring that cappuccino and sunshine on your face. Do things that evoke awe, like looking at the stars at night or listening to music that gives you goosebumps. Think back about all the challenges you’ve overcome so far. Again, you don’t have to practice gratitude when you don’t feel like it, but noticing the small good things in life can make it easier to deal with the big bad ones.

Bedbound? 33 Gentle Ways to Boost Your Wellbeing From Bed | The Health Sessions
Pin and save these tips for bad bed days.

31. Take a mental escape. Got cabin fever from being stuck in bed all day long? Go on an armchair journey with travel memoirs or get lost in the mythical worlds of Tolkien, C.S.Lewis or Lewis Carroll. You could also admire the wonders of nature with blissful documentaries or travel through time with historical fiction for some healthy escapism.

32. Reach out to loved ones. Being bedbound can feel incredibly lonely. There probably aren’t many people around, and you don’t feel up for socializing any way when you’re having a full-blown migraine attack or IBD cramps. Still, when you do feel well enough for a chat, give your best friend or  sibling a short call. Send a text, write a postcard or leave a kind comment on social media, whatever feels right for you. If you have relatives or friends in your life who really understand your limitations, perhaps they could come over to keep you company for a little. We all need to feel connected, and strong relationships can even support your immune system and help you recover.

33Create a simple bedtime ritual. Got trouble falling asleep at night after laying in bed all day long? See if doing a relaxing nighttime routine like changing into (different) PJ’s, spraying pillow mist, putting on soft music or drinking chamomile tea can help signal to your brain it’s time to prepare for a good night’s sleep.

“Rest is not idle, is not wasteful. Sometimes rest is the most productive thing you can do for body and soul.” – Erica Layne

What you can or cannot do to support your health and happiness from bed depends of course on your specific health and living situation. But hopefully, these 33 tips have given you back some sense of control and empowerment – that even though you will not get fully healed overnight, there are things you can do to relax your body and mind, boost your circulation, lift your spirits and support your recovery.

In what gentle ways do you like to boost your wellbeing when you’re bedbound? 

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