The last two years of pandemic have been tough for everyone. The impact of COVID-19 has led to increased stress levels in many areas – fear of serious illness and death, fear of loss of income, the negative effects of isolation during lock down and a fear that our loved ones may become ill are all common anxieties felt at this time.
Whilst the worst of COVID may be behind us – though there are no guarantees – for many of us the stresses resulting from this unprecedented era continue to effect on our day to day lives. So, with this in mind we present these useful stress-busting strategies and tips on how to improve your general mental health.
Getting A Good Night’s Sleep
It sounds basic, but it’s true!
We need sleep to physically function on a day to day basis and without it we are more prone to bouts of anxiety. On average, we spend about a third of our lives asleep. It is as important for our bodies as eating, drinking and breathing, to help maintain good physical and mental well-being. The function of sleep helps us to recover from mental and physical exertion and if appropriate levels of sleep are not attained, this can affect our health significantly. Indeed, poor sleep can be one of the first signs of distress. As a rule, it is recommended that adults get between 6-9 hours of sleep per night, and kids get 10-12 hours.
So, here are a few tips to better sleep:
- Avoid phone or tablet screen time 30 minutes before bed – the blue light blocks hormones that promote sleep
- Exercise well during the day
- Avoid heavy meals in the two hours before bed
- Practice mental health promotion with meditation
- Avoid stimulants like alcohol and coffee during the day
Want to know more? You can read about how much sleep you need and a few tips on how to achieve this, by readings this Q and A page from the respected Mayo Clinic.
Relaxing Online Games
Offsetting your stress with relaxing online games can also promote better mental health. Whether it’s on the train coming home from work or in the evening when you just want to relax in your own home and take your mind off things, these can be a powerful tool, and they are easily accessible through your mobile phone!
Candy Crush is the go-to classic for this. There are many, many spin offs and copycat versions that you can find in the App Store too. The concentration required to build sequences helps to take your mind off stress. Or, if you prefer something more intellectual, you could try Sudoku or Crosswords which can help to boost your IQ as well as providing a welcome opportunity to focus your thoughts. Even playing online slots, which can be done for free on many app or new slot sites with demo games, can help to relax you when done in moderation. And if you’re playing for cash, you might even come out with some winnings in your pocket! Of course, just make sure you play responsibly.
Eating a Balanced and Healthy Diet
A healthy diet is essential for lowering the rate of stress in the body both physically and mentally. ‘Eating a healthy diet can reduce the negative effects of stress on your body,’ said Matthew Kuchan, a senior research scientist at Abbott, a University of Illinois-based group researching Nutrition Learning and Memory.
A healthy diet cannot be overlooked, as it has many benefits, including reducing the risk of developing chronic diseases, maintaining a healthy weight and recovering from illness. Food and your gastrointestinal tract play an important role in your state of mind.
‘Stress negatively affects blood pressure and blood flow,’ Kuchan said. The nutrients from healthy foods can help improve blood flow too. When planning a healthy diet, you must provide the correct amount of nutrients and energy to sustain daily activity.
Typically it’s a good idea to avoid sugary foods, popular stimulants like alcohol and caffeine, and carb-heavy snacks. Instead, the body thrives on natural, nutrient rich meals with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. You could even consider going vegan or vegetarian and introducing more nature juices into your diet to promote better mental health.
Exercise is essential for good health. Now the new year has arrived, many people insist on becoming ‘healthy.’ There is a positive correlation between exercise and reduced rates of stress as scientists have proven for exercise to release endorphins, a hormone that makes you feel good.
There is lots of good quality information about this on the Mental Health Foundation website.
Exercise is essentially meditation in motion, where your body focuses on just that activity at that time. It is also good for mental stimulation and can reduce the level of depression and anxiety, which may cause stress levels to rise. Even something as simple as a ten-minute walk per day can contribute to lowering your stress levels, as the released endorphins in the body are 100% going to make you feel good!
Planning Fun Things
When you are not working, it is important to socialise with friends and family. This may be meeting up for a coffee, going shopping or even going to the cinema. Socialising can boost a hormone called oxytocin, which lowers anxiety levels.
In addition, spending time with others directs our energy outward, rather than inward. Increased inward energy causes more stress upon ourselves.
Removing yourself from a stressful situation and switching your mindset to something you enjoy can have major health benefits, as it is another way to perform meditation in motion. The positive energy portrayed within a group setting can help individuals to forget about their problems for a while and enjoy themselves. It’s important to do one fun thing for yourself a day, to maintain those stress levels.
So, get out of the house as much as possible, see friends, make new friends and be a social animal!
Meditation and Pilates
Our final recommendation is taking up meditation. There are plenty of books and online guides to help you get started in this area.
Meditating regularly can decrease levels of anxiety and depression and can your memory, concentration, and the longevity of brain function. And a clear head in itself can change your mood, having an impact on your mindset and actions for the day ahead.
You could also try pilates, a meditative exercising routine, in which we are reinforcing our natural movement patterns so we can continue moving efficiently for longer; we’re trying to better listen to our physical intelligence. Pilates are similar to yoga, and great for both body and mind.
Meditation focuses your attention and declutters the mind of thoughts that may be causing stress. This results in improved physical and mental well-being.
Indeed, those who promote meditation recommended that we meditate for at least five minutes per day.
These are just a few common-sense ways in which to avoid anxiety in these stressful times. Don’t worry, you may not be able to do all of them, but just making sure you sleep, eat and exercise well would be a great start.