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- Written by Joe Jackson
These current, unprecedented times have had huge impacts – in business, on our personal lives, and on our overall health and well-being. In fact, most of us will be struggling with fears for our own - and our loved ones' - health, job security and general wellbeing. Understandably, this has taken a considerable toll on everyone’s mental health. In the UK alone more than two-thirds of adults (69%) report feeling somewhat or very worried about the effect COVID-19 is having on their life, with 56% of those feeling stressed or anxious. (1)
As the crisis continues, the figures are likely to grow. Therefore, taking care of yourself has never been more important. It is crucial that we continue to armour ourselves with the tools needed to cope with these unprecedented times.
Here are some of our top tips to keep your mental health in check:
You have likely heard of the benefits of meditation as it continues to grow in popularity, but there are still many who are yet to experience the benefits that it brings! Meditation allows us to get a deeper insight into our minds and to carefully separate ourselves from the thoughts and feelings we are having to become more present and calm.
The positive benefits associated with meditation and mental health have been documented extensively. A recent study conducted amongst students reported that following five 20-minute sessions of meditation reduced the amount of cortisol released in response to stress, and also improved their scores in anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue. (2) If we can replicate this a few times a week we can go a long way to relieving some of the stress and anxiety we have built up during this time, and any uncertain times.
Shopping for food has become quite difficult, and rather dreaded as curfews and masks are enforced around parts of Australia and the world. Whilst many restaurants are shutting down or limited in capacity, this can breed a serious desire for comfort eating. At this time, we can be forgiven for comfort eating somewhat, however, constantly eating unhealthily can leave us feeling devoid of energy - instead becoming quite lazy and generally sluggish. Not to mention suddenly limiting the foods that have a high nutritional content. We should really be aiming for a diet that is rich in vegetables, protein and unsaturated fats.
A recent study found that a Mediterranean-style diet (a diet high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil.) supplemented with fish oil led to a reduction in depression among those who took part. These findings were consistent even 6 months after the study!(2)
Something to note - avoiding the temptation to drink to excess at this time is really crucial, as alcohol is a depressant and can heighten feelings you may be having.
Many are still weary of returning to the gym, even if they have opened up in various locations. We all know the positive impact of exercise, including improving our mental health and lowering stress, so we should all be trying our hardest to maintain a healthy exercise routine. If this time has taught us anything, it is the importance of being within nature! Being amongst nature offers a perfect solution in alleviating stress whilst simultaneously giving the body an opportunity to move.
The importance of nature for our mental health was detailed in a Japanese study. This study found that in comparison to urban living, being amongst nature for just 30 minutes a day dropped levels of stress, lowered pulse rate, and lowered blood pressure. (5)
Having positive and healthy relationships are paramount to helping us cope with our day to day lives. Surrounding ourselves with toxic relationships is likely to be detrimental to our mental health, and add to the stress that we may already be facing.
Multiple studies have linked good relationships with longevity and general wellbeing. One of the most prominent was the Harvard Study of Adult Development. This lengthy and intricate study, looking at the lives of hundreds of people over the course of 80+ years only reiterates how imperative human connection is for happiness. (6)
Make sure to reach out to your friends and family when you are struggling. We are all in this together!
If you have tried all of the above and are still really struggling, it is time to seek help from an expert. There are many specialists who have shifted their services to the online space and they are professionals for a reason!
Although it may be daunting, gaining this support in a time as challenging as the present could be exactly what you need.
2) 1]Bazian (2007). Does meditation reduce stress?. [online] nhs.uk. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/news/lifestyle-and-exercise/does-meditation-reduce-stress/ [Accessed 10 Nov. 2019].
3) Parletta, N., Zarnowiecki, D., Cho, J., Wilson, A., Bogomolova, S., Villani, A., Itsiopoulos, C., Niyonsenga, T., Blunden, S., Meyer, B., Segal, L., Baune, B. and O’Dea, K. (2017). A Mediterranean-style dietary intervention supplemented with fish oil improves diet quality and mental health in people with depression: A randomized controlled trial (HELFIMED). Nutritional Neuroscience, pp.1-14.
4) Jackson, E. (2019). STRESS RELIEF: The Role of Exercise in Stress Management. [online] ACSMs Health and Fitness Journal. Available at: https://journals.lww.com/acsm-healthfitness/fulltext/2013/05000/STRESS_RELIEF__The_Role_of_Exercise_in_Stress.6.aspx [Accessed 23 March 2020].
5) Park, B., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T. and Miyazaki, Y. (2019). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. [online] Pub Med. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19568835 [Accessed 20 Nov. 2019].
6) Waldinger, R. (2015). What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness. [online] Ted.com. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/robert_waldinger_what_makes_a_good_life_lessons_from_the_longest_study_on_happiness?language=en#t-252418 [Accessed 16 Oct. 2019].6)
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