14 Ways to Improve Mental Health During the World’s Biggest Psychological Experiment
What we were warned about but turned a blind eye to and did not expect in the Western world to this extent, happened: we found ourselves in the midst of a pandemic.
Social distancing, quarantine and hygienic practices are essential behavioral methods in such times to reduce spreading the new virus and mortality. But these precautionary measures, whether imposed or consciously chosen to protect ourselves and the persons at risk against the coronavirus, could be challenging for us humans as we are social beings. They can be particularly tough to those who are prone to anxiety and depression.
Still, solitude should not mean loneliness and has also its positive sides. Here is some practical advice on how to cope with the challenges we may face during quarantine or a lockdown and what we can proactively do for our mental health. In the present distress, some of these things we used to take for granted might sink into oblivion.
- Follow recommendations for protecting yourself.
- Stop following every news on the virus. Read only serious, respected media, arrange a limited time for that and stick to it.
- Stay in touch with your loved ones and friends via telephone and virtual forms of communication.
- Avoid making major life decisions as far as possible. This is not the right time for that: too much unpredictability and uncertainty for the long-term future, too many emotions might mislead you and cause problems in the future.
- Clean up your home place: cleaning up your living space has an effect of cleaning up and sorting out your mind and soul. You could certainly find a wardrobe, a box or a bookshelf you’ve always wanted to sort out or rearrange but never got around to it. Now it’s a good time to do that.
- Exercise every day. Physical health plays a major role in maintaining good mental health. Exercise releases chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that improve your mood and reduce stress and the symptoms of anxiety and depression. You may try yoga (five simple but very effective exercises that activate your whole body – and mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71jaJu0dc98) or put on some rhythmic music and dance (simple movements that are fun and very effective, too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1p1ubjp_VtA. For the fans of latin music and dance among us, there is a wonderful way to dance alone, too: try salsa suelta, a solo form of Cuban salsa. It will not only bring in motion your whole body, but boost your energy, mood and zest for life. More on salsa suelta with a great video: http://www.mivida.com.au/portfolio/salsa-suelta/. As my research shows, dance improves health and wellbeing and is an effective stress coping mechanism.
- Try some further forms of creative arts, they are powerful in stress reduction. There is lots of evidence that making art significantly lowers stress-related hormone cortisol. Art-making is being experienced as relaxing, enjoyable, helpful for learning about new aspects of self, and freeing from constraints. As Picasso said: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Besides dancing, it could be painting, drawing, playing piano or some other instrument. But also pottery, baking and knitting are very creative and relaxing activities that additionally involve tactile sensations, important in countering loneliness.
- If you have indoor plants, a balcony or a terrace, you might engage into some kind of gardening and reconcile with nature. Gardening has a positive effect on our mental health, which includes relaxation, positive feelings, staying in the present moment, coping with difficult emotions, and feeling in control. Spending some time in the sun boosts your vitamin D balance which is important for maintaining healthy bones.
- Keep a diary. Writing down your feelings and thoughts may help sort them out and calm down. You may even want to try poetry writing – you never know what hidden talents you may have.
- Try relaxation techniques like meditation, diaphragmatic breathing or progressive muscle relaxation: tightening an individual muscle group, holding it for a while and then relaxing it.
- As our mind and body are deeply interconnected, eat healthy: choose nutrition rich foods, especially those that strengthen your immune system. Food supplements like L-arginine and reishi mushroom would additionally boost your immune system.
- Get enough sleep. Good sleep is crucial for countering anxious and depressive mood and overall for good mental and physical health. Try to wake up and go to bed at more or less the same time and get at least 8 hours of sleep. Don’t look at your phone or tablet (which you are hopefully disinfecting regularly) at least an hour before going to bed, don’t read, listen or watch any news. Read a good, relaxing book instead. Make power naps in the afternoons.
- All this being said, maintain daily routine. Make a daily and try to stick to it.
- But first and foremost – try to live in the moment and enjoy whatever you do, also if it’s just doing nothing. You don’t have to achieve anything nor prove yourself. You are ok as you are.
We are living in trying times, which to a considerable degree are brought about by ourselves.
A number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19 to arise. Nobody knows when we’ll return to “normality” and what kind of “normality” the new normal will be. But all things pass and this pandemic will pass, too, even if in the long term we most probably will often deal with the outbreaks of infectious diseases. Let’s take it as an opportunity to learn out of it and reflect. We took lots of things for granted and learn to appreciate and cherish them now. In our rush for achievement, we forgot to pay attention – to these small but important things, to our environment, to those around us, to ourselves.
Try to stay mindful, fully present in the here-and-now and enjoy the silence. For this, too, will pass.
Natalia Braun, MSc Psych