To say the COVID-19 Pandemic has been a rough one would be putting it lightly. Let’s be fair, most of the descriptors comprise strings of four letter words, come with a strong hand gesture and fall under that “warning: this film contains frequent use of strong language” subheading. All up, it’s been *insert your favourite here* – to say the least. And as a mental health doc, I hear you. We’ve talked a lot about the curve when it comes to rates of transmission, but when it comes to mental health there’s an under-reported curve occurring too. So let’s talk lock down, mental health and a few tips we can do daily to help get through.
If you’ve been feeling the brunt of lock down, you’re definitely not alone. Statistics show the majority are moving through noticeable shifts in mood, anxiety and stress, and for up to 1/3 those the struggles are significant. Disruptions in sleep, higher tension, anxiety, irritability, sadness and feeling flat or unmotivated are really common. For those staring down a second lockdown, pandemic 2.0 feels even tougher still.
It’s normal to be feeling not so normal right now, and truth is – that’s more than ok. Just as we all bleed and breathe, mental health has no dividers. But just like our physical health & fitness goals, there are practical points we can hit every day during lock down to give our mental health a head start.
This is huge right now, because the face plant our normal routines have taken has been huge too. Your brain craves predictability and progress, and it turns out this is good for mental wellbeing. Lock in consistent sleep, keep your usual morning routine, and schedule your lock down day for work, exercise, meals and social contact. For those struggling with anxiety, this can all make a big difference.
Lockdown life can be like Groundhog Day, and so boundaries are a secret weapon for mental health. Designate different areas of the home physically for different things (work vs chill time vs sleep). Mentally, create sign posts for the brain if you’re working from home so we can switch on/off better – a run, some mindfulness, or just changing clothes after ‘work mode’ can stop the day feeling like it’s one big blur.
The physical benefits of regular exercise are well known, but it’s the mental benefits we really need to hone in on here. Whether it’s stress, anxiety, mild depression or frustration, regular exercise is medically backed for your brain. Make a daily walk or workout part of every day, and know that even short or low intensity can offer benefits.
4. Switch Ups
Plans and goals prior to lock down have taken a nose dive, and this is a major trigger for mental struggles right now. Rather than cancelling plans (the temptation), getting creative and switching them up slightly can be a good way to take back some control. Social time is a key one here – switch them over online and schedule it (set an alarm) daily. Zoom movie dates on the couch or drinks night with the boys online are a great idea, and do a world of good for protecting your health of mind.
5. It’s never weak to speak
Struggling at the moment is more the rule than the exception. And mental health 101 is always acknowledging it, and talking it through. Research shows that even a brief check in with a mate or family member can significantly improve our sense of control and resilience, and improve mood, anxiety and stress. Now is a better time than ever to reach out if you feel you need help. Nipping things in the bud is key, and if you’re wondering whether you should see someone or get help that’s probably a key sign it’s time to do so.