Supporting your Mental Health during Covid Crisis
Humans are masters at adapting to changing environments and circumstances, but that doesn’t mean that we find it easy. We have all had to adjust to this ‘new normal’. Whether becoming masters at keeping our distance when out and about, or face timing our elderly relatives and subjecting ourselves to half an hour staring up their nostrils. There is so much about this situation that is out of our control. Feeling out of control can increase feelings of anxiety. So this blog is about things that we can all do to ensure that we are taking care of our mental health the best way we can. Noticing what we have control over, and taking steps to do so can help adjust the balance in our lives somewhat. As we get used to this way of life it is easy to get stuck in a rut and it may become harder to look after our mental wellbeing the longer this situation continues.
Each week I’ll suggest a few things that you can try to put in place. For things to work well it would help if you can keep track of your progress. Maybe mark on your calendar days when you’ve managed to do some of the suggestions. Hopefully you’ll notice a pattern that the more things you manage to do, the more your mood improves. But it’s important to be forgiving of yourself on days where you don’t manage to do anything. That is ok. Just draw a line under it and start again tomorrow. Just aim for progress, not perfection.
I am a couch potato by nature; maybe it’s the Irish in me. I love nothing better than lying on the couch, glass of wine in one hand, bar of chocolate in another with a Netflix box set for company. For the first few weeks of lockdown that is all I did. However, as the lbs. piled on, the novelty wore off. I was feeling exhausted a lot of the time, and fed up. In an effort to boost my mood I started doing online workouts on YouTube. The difference in my mood and motivation levels was noticeable from day one . I still have to force myself to do an exercise class but I find if I do it first thing in the morning straight after I get up I can get it over and done with before my brain wakes up and comes up with lots of reasons not to do it. I then start the day off on a good track, which means I’m more likely to make better choices about what I eat. Also with better energy levels I’m relying on sugar hits much less which is better for my mood.
If you’re new to exercise, you don’t need to start anything strenuous. Try to get in a walk around the block once a day. Use this time to walk mindfully if you can, notice your surroundings and the feeling of your body as you move. Our bodies want to move, they are designed to move, and will be happier if they can do this regularly. In addition to releasing endorphins to enhance mood, regular exercise will strengthen your immune system and help to promote sleep.
The NHS provides some good advice on exercise; their couch to 5k program is especially popular if you feel that you might want to try running.
YouTube has a lot of workout videos. I’m currently using The Body Project, which provides a free 2 week workout program.
Get Enough Sleep
Get enough sleep – how much sleep we need varies. Adults typically should get around 8 hours, teenagers need between 8-10. It is normal for a teenagers sleep pattern to move to later in the evening, so sending them to bed at 10 pm may not work. What I would suggest is that they try to get to bed at the same time every evening before midnight. An hour before bed they should come off screens. Phones emit a blue light that actually prevents the sleep hormone from being released, keeping the brain alert. A good routine each night will also help prepare the brain that it is time to wind down. If you find it very hard to get to sleep, experts advise getting up out of bed for a while and going to do something like making a camomile/ non-caffeine tea. When you start to feel tired return to bed. It’s important to break the cycle of tossing and turning for hours in bed at night. Try to keep your bed as a place that you associate with sleeping.
Lack of quality sleep is linked to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Researches are unsure of whether the lack of sleep is a cause of the disorders, or a consequence. It is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. One thing is for sure though, or resilience and ability to cope with adverse situations is depleted when we have not had a good nights sleep the night before.
During this pandemic it is very easy for us to lose track of routine, and perhaps start going to bed extremely late and get up late. This won’t do our biological mechanisms any good. Try to get up at the same time every day and go to bed at the same time, it will help stabilise your mood and enable your body to adapt to sleeping.
You can download a sleep diary here to help you keep track