Maintaining our health and wellbeing has never been more important as we try to resume normalcy in a post-pandemic world. Not only has physical health been under the spotlight for the past 20 months, but mental health has also become an important topic as our families, friends and the communities in which we live undergo various forms of restriction and change as we navigate unprecedented times.
We can all agree the last two years have been challenging, with our mental and emotional wellbeing being tested like never before. So how do we get on top of our mental health?
Unplug and take a step back from it all
We are exposed to a huge amount of information daily. From the less than uplifting World News to popular culture promoting unrealistic expectations on the sorts of lives we should be living (the rich and famous seemingly the gold standard). It all takes its toll on our emotional and mental health and if we’re not careful may result in feelings of depression, insecurity and dissatisfaction.
Turn off your TV. Unhook from the lure of social media. Stop following the news for a while. Unsubscribe from 80% of the emails in your inbox. Dedicate one to three days a week (more if you can) to be free of all forms of media and allow yourself (and your nervous system) to be cocooned by nurturing self-care practices instead of being bombarded by consumerism, celebrities and doom and gloom. There are other ways to stay informed in a more passive, non-emotive kind of way (reading articles over watching the news for example). Fill your time instead with puzzles, reading, mindful colouring, or commit to a gardening, art or craft project. Unless you feel uplifted from your time watching the news or scrolling on social media, consider permanently reducing your exposure. Your time is precious, treat it accordingly.
Learn to be happy with what you have.
Practise gratitude daily. Consciously make a mental note of all the things you are grateful for. Even little things such as the food you eat, the roof over your head, the sunrise, the pretty flower you passed on the way to work, your friends, family, your pets. It might be your job or your neighbour, perhaps you have a special talent or are involved in a hobby that lights you up. Whatever it is, try to list at least 3 things you are grateful for every morning.
Get into nature
Spending time in nature plays a critical role in our mental well-being. Research by the Mental Health Foundation (UK) has demonstrated “spending time outdoors has been one of the key factors enabling people to cope with the stress of the Covid-19 pandemic.” According to a survey by Mental Health Foundation, nearly 45% of people in the UK founding visiting green spaces such as parks and nature trails helped them to cope.*
The term ‘Shinrin-Yoku’ translates to forest bathing and is a formal therapy developed from Government-backed research conducted in Japan. The research focused on the measurable health benefits gained by strolling in a forest and is now a therapy recommended by doctors as a way to beat a range of ailments. Spending time in dense greenery has been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure as well as stress levels. Forest Bathing has even been shown to have cardiac and pulmonary benefits. Essentially the principle is, once immersed in a green setting, to slow down, switch on your senses, become mindful of your surroundings and develop a connectedness to nature.
Get sun on your skin
According to the Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Association, the sun is another ally when it comes to boosting our mood and nurturing our mental health. While we all know too much of the sun’s rays can be harmful, the right balance can have many mood-lifting benefits.
“Sunlight and darkness trigger the release of hormones in your brain. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. This is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused. At night, darker lighting cues trigger the brain to make another hormone called melatonin. This hormone is responsible for helping a person feel sleepy and go to sleep. Without enough sunlight exposure, a person’s serotonin levels can dip low. Low levels of serotonin are associated with a higher risk of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depression that is triggered by changing seasons.” **
Exposure to sunlight is also the most efficient way to naturally absorb vitamin D into your body. Vitamin D is critical to our health and wellbeing for many reasons, including immune health. With the weather heating up and restrictions easing, now is a great time to get outdoors and soak up some sun (sensibly).
Move your body, still your mind
Meditation and yoga and other gentle forms of exercise are some of the best mood-boosting options to decrease anxiety and lift one’s spirits as they use simple techniques to bring awareness to your body and mind and can give you the tools to help regain a sense of control over destructive thoughts. Plus it’s a great way to meet people and feels great.
Connection is key
Hanging out with people or pets you care about will always lift your spirits and help you to put things into perspective. Talking about your stress with family and friends can be helpful to sort through your thoughts and help you to come up with solutions to address whatever it is that is causing you anxiety. If travelling to visit family and friends is still a little tricky due to restrictions, a phone call or a zoom catch up is a few buttons away.
Your mental health begins with you. Make conscious changes today to support your emotional and mental wellbeing. If depression does affect you more than occasionally, seek help. There are several wonderful support organisations around such as Beyond Blue and Lifeline, or try speaking to a counsellor for ongoing support.
Alison Gallagher is a freelance writer, resourcefulness expert and small business owner. She has been featured in various publications including Stellar Magazine, Australian Health and Fitness Magazine, and Cleo Magazine. Alison is particularly passionate about sharing practical tips on how to live simply, sustainably and seasonally.