The prospect of another lockdown in the midst of winter may seem almost too much to bear. At times like this, nurturing yourself is more important than ever. Not only is this vital for optimising health and wellbeing, it will also help support the normal functioning of your immune system. Doing this without access to the usual support facilities such as gyms and social gatherings is a challenge – but there is plenty you can do from home to support your physical and mental health. Read on for 10 top tips to get you going.
Working from home, finding ourselves out of work, or being off on leave or furloughed can rapidly descend into loss of routine, which can in turn wreak havoc on our hormones, mood, energy levels and quality of sleep. Lack of routine can sometimes lead to additional stress, anxiety and loss of focus.
Create a weekly planner, setting aside blocks of time for different activities eg work / jobs around the house / exercise / mealtimes / relaxation & fun. Set your alarm for the mornings and aim to get up and retire at the same times each day. Make sure you keep your meals regular and always aim for a two hour gap between your final meal and going to bed.
If you’re feeling anxious, lost, or helpless during this time, having a sense of purpose can be incredibly empowering, taking the focus off yourself and your personal worries. Purpose doesn’t have to be related to a job or career. Purpose can be achieved in many ways, no matter how seemingly insigificant – it all matters. Make it a daily thing, start small, and build up from there. Perhaps you could check in on a friend or colleague, do some food shopping for any neighbours who may be shielding, or get involved in a local coronavirus volunteering programme (see the UK Government Website for local volunteering opportunities). You could also consider taking up / doing more of something creative that brings you a sense of accomplishment, such as writing, drawing, cooking, or gardening. Anything that brings you a sense of purpose is something worth doing every day.
The word ‘joy’ is often misinterpreted as something connected to happiness. But happiness tends to depends on external circumstances, whereas joy is a conscious choice. It is possible to feel joyful even when times are tough. Pay attention to the little things that make you feel good, however seemingly insigfnicant. This could be something as simple as watching a sunset, cooking your favourite dish, taking a hot shower, watching a film or wearing clothes that make you feel good. Take a look at ‘Where joy hides and how to find it‘ for a thought provoking TED talk on joy.
Exercise actually gives us energy! Think about how you feel after sitting around for hours, versus how you feel when you’re up moving around. You just feel better when you’re active. The current UK recommendations are 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on at least 5 days per week – or 150 minutes weekly. Bursts of 10 minutes count too. You don’t need access to a gym to reap the benefits of exercise. You can start with something as simple as a 20 minute brisk walk or online exercise class. There are plenty of workout types to choose from for every fitness level. Look at ways you can add more activtiy into your usual day too – even housework and gardening count. See here for a selection of NHS exercise videos including aerobic, resistance, pilates and yoga.
Expressing gratitude frequently has been shown to improve physical and emotional wellbeing, improve the quality and longevity of relationships, boost self-esteem, enhance empathy and support sleep. Start each day by naming 3 things for which you are grateful. It will help reframe your outlook and prepare you to better deal with whatever may come your way during the day ahead.
It’s easy to fall into bad eating habits when life gets tough. But maintaining a healthy diet will in turn provide a number of feel-good benefits, including sustainable energy levels, improved mood, support for the immune system, and efficient digestive function. Good nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated, just get the basics right first. A good place to start is to eliminate ultra processed foods (industrial formulations typically containing five or more ingredients), and replace with a balance of whole foods from each of the following groups: Plant/animal proteins, healthy fats (eg olive oil, oily fish, avocado, nuts & seeds, eggs), fruit & vegetables, and wholegrains. The British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine have produced a helpful poster entitled, ‘The Wellness Solution‘, incorporating the essential elements of a whole-food diet. Don’t forget to supplement with Vitamin D too, as recommended by Public Health England . For more tips on nutrients to support the normal functioning of the immune system, see ‘Coronavirus and nutrition: How can we support our immune system?’
It may seem a non-essential, but by making relaxation an essential part of your life, you improve not only your own health, but the quality of attention you can give others. Regular relaxation facilitates parasympathetic nervous system function, in turn aiding a number of body systems and processes, including sleep, hormone balance, digestion, and mood. Make sure you set aside some time each day for whatever relaxes you or brings you peace, even if only for a few minutes. Give yourself a break from social media and try to restrict listening to the news to just once per day.
Lack of sleep can lead to inefficient regulation of metabolism and appetite. Leptin and grehlin – hormones that signal to the brain that we are full or hungry respectively – can go awry when the body isn’t fully rested . It’s not just eating patterns that are affected either. When we’re tired, our ability to concentrate is impaired, as is our mood. Inadequate sleep duration has even been linked to increased mortality . Research suggests that most young adults and adults require between 7-9 hours of sleep per night, reducing to 7-8 hours per night for older adults . For those of us who aren’t blessed with the ability to fall asleep in an instant, this in turn means allowing a sufficient window of time in bed to attain this.
If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help. As a first port of call, the site Getselfhelp.co.uk has a number of free self-help resources available for download, including CBT information leaflets and self-help guides on automatic thoughts, emotions, worry, breathing, mindfulness, imagery, sleep, amongst many others. The site also provides a guide specific to coping at home during the pandemic, entitled ‘Stay Home Self-Help Pack’, produced by Birmingham and Solihull NHS Mental Health Foundation Trust. If you feel like you’re struggling with your mental health despite these options, don’t suffer in silence. Seek support from your GP. They will be able to fully assess you, offer treatment if necessary, and signpost to further local support services. Alternatively, provided you are registered with a GP, it is possible to self-refer for NHS talk therapies via IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies).
Even though physical togetherness may not be possible for everyone at the moment, make sure you stay emotionally connected with those close to you. Sharing regular messages, cards, letters, phone and video calls can make a huge difference to wellbeing and remind us that we’re not alone.
Author Bio: Dr Rebecca Healey
Rebecca is a doctor and nutritionist based in North West England.