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5 top tips to take care of your mental health during lockdown

Be kind to yourself this Mental Health Awareness Week and follow our 5 top tips to take care of your mental health during lockdown.

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, a time to encourage discussion and raise awareness around mental health, something that is particularly important at the moment. During this Coronavirus epidemic, many people will be facing significant challenges which will no doubt have an impact on their mental health. Financial concerns, health worries and the safety of loved ones will all be a source of stress and anxiety for many.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, feelings of loneliness have more than doubled during lockdown, with almost a quarter of adults feeling lonely. It seems young people are the most affected, with nearly half (44 percent) of people aged 18-24 suffering from loneliness during self-isolation (1). 

Another recent study suggests current anxiety and depression scores are higher than usual (and more so in women than men) (2), and an international survey conducted in the UK showed that 1 in 2 people felt down, depressed, or hopeless about the future due to the Coronavirus (3). 

It may not seem like a priority to focus on your wellbeing in a time like this, but we all must take some time to practice self-care to ensure we come out of lockdown not only in good physical health but also feeling mentally well too.

Here are five things we can all do to take care of our mental health during Coronavirus lockdown:
 
1. Try to get outside each day

It may not be easy during self-isolation, but spending time outside has numerous benefits for our mental health. According to the mental health charity Mind, spending time outdoors in nature can improve our mood, reduce stress and anger as well as boost our confidence and self-esteem.

It is also important to spend time in the sun to ensure we are getting enough vitamin D. This 'sunshine vitamin' is not only crucial for our physical health, but also our mental wellbeing, as Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to mental health illnesses, including depression (4). Try to spend around 15-20 minutes in the sun each day, or slightly longer if you have darker skin. We should all also be taking a vitamin D supplement of 10micrograms per day to keep our levels topped up. These can be found in most pharmacies as well as online. 

Finally, exercise is known to release endorphins into the body, improving mood, so a daily walk, jog, or cycle will have a host of benefits for both our mental and physical health. 

It may be stressful trying to get outside while also avoiding people, so try to experiment with leaving the house at different times of day to work out when it is the least busy. Finding the right time to get outdoors will help you enjoy it without worrying about coming into contact with others.

2. Stick to a routine

For the 1 in 5 British people now furloughed, or those out of work entirely, being left with endless hours in the day can seem daunting, and it's easy for all structure to go out the window. However, sticking to a routine each day can help us to feel more in control of the world around us, keep our minds occupied so we are less likely to feel worried or anxious, help us cope with change, as well as support good sleeping patterns.

According to psychologists, every time we have to make a decision, we are adding some stress to our lives, and the more choices we have to make, the less self-control we have. Our brains can only take so much decision making before getting worn out! Creating a routine takes a lot of the decision-making out of the day and gives our minds a rest. 

Putting in place a plan of how you’d like to spend your day will help you to feel more in control. Write a daily list, including times for when you wake up, meals and snacks, exercise, fun activities, and bedtime. This plan will help fill up your day to ensure you don't feel bored or unmotivated.

If you are working from home, make sure you still give yourself breaks. It’s easy to slip into eating lunch at your desk and working late into the evening, but knowing when to switch off is essential for productivity as well as stress levels. Factor in a few tea or coffee breaks throughout the day and take time away from your desk to eat lunch, have a stretch, or go for a walk.

3. Stay connected with family and friends

Social connection is one of the most important things we as humans need for our mental health and happiness, and scientists have even linked it to living longer. The ongoing Harvard Study of Adult Development is the world's longest study of adult life, and its key finding is that good relationships are key to living a long and happy life (5). Not only this but being physically close to others in the form of physical touch (hugging, hand-holding) is also essential for our wellbeing (6), something many people lack during this time.

It is hardly surprising, then, that many of us will be struggling with loneliness and isolation at the moment as we aren't able to spend time with our loved ones like we are used to doing. Luckily, there are some great tools you can use to stay connected to friends and family, such as Zoom, Houseparty, and Skype. While it may not be quite the same as seeing friends and family in person, regular calls and video chats will help you to feel less alone in this challenging period.

Regular quiz nights, dinner parties, or even karaoke are just some of the fun activities you could be planning with your friends and family. Try and keep some dates scheduled in the diary to make sure you are having regular contact with people, and this should help you to feel more connected.

4. Switch off from social media (at least for some time)

It’s easy during self-isolation to spend hours scrolling through our phones looking at Instagram or Facebook, but that probably isn’t the best idea. Several studies have suggested social media negatively affects our mental health, from causing issues with self-esteem (7) to increasing anxiety and depression. Not only that, but it can also disrupt sleep and increase loneliness.

Regularly viewing other people's lockdown activities could also lead us to compare ourselves with others (how many posts have you seen from people claiming to be on a 'quarantine health kick'?). Comparing ourselves to what we see online can result in feelings of insecurity. 

While social media can be a fantastic way to connect with family and friends during this period, we should also try to take time each day away from these sites. Reading a book, playing a board game, or trying out a new recipe in the kitchen are all great ways to pass the time that doesn't involve a screen. You can also download apps to your phone that will track how much time you spend on social media and remind you when you should switch off. These tools can be a useful way to help make you more aware of just how long you’re spending on your phone each day.

5. Maintain healthy sleeping habits

Sleep is one of the most important functions our bodies need for both physical and mental health. It allows the body to repair itself and our brains to process all the information taken in during the day. Lack of sleep can affect our psychological state and mental health, and studies have associated sleep problems with multiple mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and ADHD (8).

Ensuring we get enough sleep and keeping a regular sleeping pattern will be hugely beneficial during lockdown. Setting a daily alarm for both waking up and going to sleep will help you stick to a routine - you should be aiming for at least 8 hours each night. If you struggle to sleep, try incorporating a 'wind-down' routine into your evening. Switching off your phone or computer a couple of hours before bed, having a hot bath, and making yourself a warm drink could all help you to feel more relaxed and ready for sleep.

If you are struggling with your mental health or need some support, Mind charity has a helpline you can call on 0300 123 3393, which is open 9 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays).


References 

(1) https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/news/almost-quarter-adults-living-under-lockdown-uk-have-felt-loneliness

(2) https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.24.20078550v1

(3) https://open-evidence.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/20-05-10-COVID19-Open-Evidence-1-wave-EN.pdf

(4) https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-019-0308-5

(5) https://www.adultdevelopmentstudy.org/datacollection


(6) https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-03627-7

(7) https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/cyber.2016.0259

(8) https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/sleep-and-: mental-health