The world around us has changed significantly in recent months with many of us spending a large amount of time at home and away from our usual routines. This change has had a real impact on the way we perceive the world around us and many of us are now feeling low, anxious or concerned about finances, health and the future. As individuals we will all react differently to this change, however it's important to remember that it's okay to feel these things.
With so many things out of our control at the moment, a great way for us to help look after our mental health is to focus on what can control. Below are 8 practical ways to look after your mental health.
1 - Keep active
Regular exercise is scientifically proven to improve not just your physical health and fitness, but your mental wellbeing too. It can boost your self-esteem, help you concentrate, sleep and feel better.
Since the pandemic began there have been a huge number of people providing free exercise classes online or via apps. However, exercise doesn't just mean doing sport or going to the gym. Walks in the park, gardening or housework can also keep you active.
Did you know? The Couch to 5K app is a free NHS app to help you get off the sofa and get running to stay healthy.
2 - Stay connected with others
Maintaining healthy relationships with people is important for your mental wellbeing. With the ever-increasing use of technology such as text, WhatsApp and instant messenger, many of us no longer make phone calls or spend the time talking to our friends and relatives. Taking the time to connect with our friends and relatives during this time will enable you to share your experiences and form emotional support networks.
A positive from this pandemic is the increased use of platforms such as Zoom, Houseparty and Skype which allow you to talk to & see someone who is miles away.
3 - Have routine in your day
For many of us the structure of our daily routine has gone. I've heard some say this is a good outcome of lockdown, where they feel free from their normal routine and daily restrictions. It can be easy to think that staying up late watching TV and then lying in the next morning, followed by a day of doing nothing would be relaxing, however it can also result in feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed and out of control.
Whether you're working from home or not, try to get up and get ready in the same way as normal, keep to the same hours you normally would, and stick to the same sleeping schedule. Developing a daily routine creates structure in our lives, breaks bad habits, builds self-confidence, reduces stress and helps us to cope with change.
4 - Eat and drink well
Advice suggests that as well as affecting our physical health, what we eat may also affect the way we feel, and improving your diet may help to improve your mood, give you more energy and help you think clearly. Top tips:
- Eat breakfast.
- Instead of eating a large lunch & dinner, try eating smaller portions spaced out more regularly throughout the day.
- Avoid food which makes your blood sugar rise and fall rapidly such as sweets, biscuits, sugary drinks and alcohol.
- Reduce your caffeine intake.
- Stay hydrated, drinking between 6-8 glasses of fluid each day. Tea, coffee, juices and smoothies all count towards your intake but be aware that they may contain caffeine or sugar. Water is best!
- Eat your 5-a-day. Fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or juiced are fine.
5 - Display acts of kindness
In response to the coronavirus outbreak, the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 was 'kindness'. According to a study completed in 2020 by the Mental Health foundation, kindness is linked to increased feelings of happiness, wellbeing and life satisfaction.
- Saying "thank you" is a small gesture but could really brighten someone's day.
- Call a friend or relative and ask how they are. I refer you to point 2 - speaking is much better than text. Most importantly, really listen to their answer.
- Give an honest compliment.
- Volunteer in your local community.
6 - Don't stay glued to the news
The amount of information and news we have about the coronavirus outbreak online is vast. If you find that the news is causing you stress, then to support positive mental health it is important to find a balance. Don't avoid all news - it's important to keep educating yourself, but limit your news intake and make sure you fact-check information from the news, social media or other people. Trustworthy sources include gov.uk or the NHS website.
7 - Do something for yourself
Feeling worried or anxious may stop us from doing the things we used to enjoy. Setting goals and focussing on your hobby or learning new skills can be a great way to meet people, build your self-esteem and feel a sense of achievement.
8 - Seek help
None of us are superhuman and when we're feeling overwhelmed, the best solution is often to talk to someone rather than to internalise your feelings. If you're struggling to cope, then turn to a trusted friend or family member to talk, but if this isn't possible there are a large number of other services there to help:
- Your GP is there to help you with your mental health as well as your physical health.
- Every Mind Matters provides tips and advice developed by experts and approved by the NHS. Complete a short free quiz to help create your own Mind Plan with personalised tips and advice.
- The NHS provides a number of mental health helplines, whether you're concerned about yourself or a loved one.
- The mental health charity Mind provide step-by-step advice on how to seek help for a mental health problem.