Top 10 tips for staying happy and healthy in these challenging times
May 15, 2020
I feel like I’m hearing the word ‘unprecedented’ approximately 150 times a day at the moment, but for a reason. We have never experienced times like these, and our minds and bodies are starting to feel the effects. As humans we are, both physically and mentally, adaptable to gradual change. The changes we currently face, however, have come upon us suddenly and bring a constant feeling of uncertainty, not only about how long this will last, but also about our future, that of our loved ones, and that of the country as a whole. Many people who usually have very manual jobs keeping them fit are now doing very little on furlough. Others who are used to doing very little at a desk job are now fitting a kitchen.
In these times of change and uncertainty it is more important than ever to look after both our physical and mental health (which come hand in hand anyway!). Here are our top 10 tips for self-care over these times of change and uncertainty.
- Stay informed but avoid over-exposure to Covid-19 media coverage! Set boundaries as to how much news you watch, read or listen to as constant monitoring of updates, particularly from unregulated social media feeds, can lead to increased feelings of worry and anxiety. Stay informed by accessing factual information on reputable sources, such as that on the NHS website.
- Stop smoking. I’m sure you’ve heard all of the usual reasons to quit smoking (smokers are at far greater risk of lung cancer, COPD and other respiratory problems etc), but did you know that smokers are also more at risk of developing musculoskeletal aches and pains, while recovery from injury is slower in smokers? Furthermore, experts in China found that smokers were 3 times more likely to have a worse outcome from Covid-19, while Professor Christ Whitty, UK Chief Medical Advisor, has previously warned that smoking is an ‘additional vulnerability’ to lung function which is the primary area of impact by the Coronavirus. See here for advice on smoking cessation from the NHS.
- Plan and maintain regular routines with set boundaries. Keeping a routine such as waking at a set time in the morning, getting dressed and having meals at normal times, will help provide a sense of normality and provide a handful of certainties which can help us feel more able to manage the uncertainties around us. Keeping up routine bedtimes will also help ensure good quality sleep, and, if you are working from home, having set start and end times and regular breaks will help you switch off from work mode, giving your brain the recovery time it needs to avoid burn out. If you have the kids at home, involve them in setting the routines – this way they are more likely to respect them!
- Get active! As tempting as it is to use your time in lockdown to catch up on all 16 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, or make your way through the offerings of the Disney+ app, the human body is not designed to stay still for long periods! If you are used to doing manual work, this lack of activity will make it even harder when you go back and will put you at risk of developing problems on your return. So, getting active is a great way to improve physical health (which as we know, can significantly impact mental health), as well as releasing endorphins – the happy hormone! Try to get active in the following 3 ways…. 1) Incorporate regular stretch and activity breaks into your routine for a quick and easy way of breaking up that sedentary behaviour and minimising stiffness. 2) Use your 1 hour a day to get outside (safely) for moderate intensity aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, cycling or jogging. This will contribute to the 150minutes of moderate intensity exercise recommended by the Department of Health. Furthermore, while getting fresh air, a bit of sun and connection to mother nature can help mental wellbeing, the vitamin D you get from the sun’s rays will help to keep bones strong and healthy. 3) Spend time doing strength-based exercise to maintain or build strength. It’s true what they say, if you don’t use it, you lose it! Its then very hard to get that strength back, and with age, it’s even harder… but not impossible!
Pick from the multitude of YouTube videos, use your home gym equipment or just make do with household items, or maybe use this time to get your garden ready for summer? There are many ways of building exercise into your day, but most importantly, just find something that you genuinely enjoy, and if you’re not used to exercising, start gentle! If you would like a more personalised exercise program which takes into account your medical or work needs, contact us today for a remote physiotherapy consultation.
- Eat Well. Maintaining a healthy diet, full of vitamins, will provide your body with the nutrients you need to stay healthy, and give your brain energy to minimise physical and mental exhaustion which can lead to reduced activity and increased symptoms of anxiety. Taking in the right nutrients can help maintain a healthy immune system, help your body recover from illness. Furthermore, if you are overweight, reducing your weight can help reduce stress on the lungs and joints. The NHS ‘eat well guide’ is a great source of information for this.
- Try to get a good sleep. Sleep is one of our most important basic needs, giving our mind a chance to recharge. We have all felt the effects of a poor night sleep, whether that’s due to a seemingly insomniac toddler, because our mind or body hasn’t allowed us to switch off, or simply because we stayed out at the pub a little longer than we should have. The best tip for improving sleep is to develop regular sleeping routines including having a period of calm before attempting to sleep, keeping all electronic devices away from reach so you don’t get tempted to endlessly scroll through facebook, and making sure you get up at a ‘normal’ time in the morning. Exercise through the day has also been shown to help sleep.
- Practice mindfulness. A common mistake made with mental health issues is to avoid them. Trying to block out unwanted thoughts or concerns does not allow you to address them. A great metaphor is a beach ball… the further under the water you try to push it, the higher it jumps back out when you let it go. Mindfulness is a way of giving your full attention to the present moment. It is only by acknowledging and accepting your thoughts, feelings and emotions that you can even begin to do anything about them. Mindfulness also extends to your physical health. Just like you listen to your mind, listen to your body, acknowledge what you are feeling and what your body is telling you it needs. The relaxation and breathing techniques often used within mindfulness can also help to reduce pain and muscle tightness. There are several mindfulness apps (such as Headspace or Calm) as well as activities that involve mindfulness practice such as yoga, as well as more structured mindfulness therapies. Keeping a diary can also help you keep track of any changes to how you feel, and spot any patterns, for example things that make you feel better or worse.
- Have alcohol free days. I know it’s tempting, if no night is a school night, but consuming alcohol can make your liver less able to make the building locks your body needs for healing, so it is recommended that you have no more than 14units per week. See here for advice on alcohol support from the NHS.
- Connect, but also, disconnect! Stay in regular contact with a network of people. Calling each other regularly to talk about how you are feeling, venting, or even just for a chat can help combat the feelings of anxiety and loneliness. You could share tips such as these, share contacts of people that can help with anything in your area, even playing games or discussing craft/DIY/gardening projects over the telephone! You also, however, need to connect with yourself, and sometimes that means disconnecting from others. Within your routine, build in a ‘self-care’ hour to use however you feel you need to. Complete an internet exercise video, have a bath, sit somewhere quietly and do mindfulness or relaxation practices, real me time!
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The world might be in lockdown but you still have support where you need it. Whether that be from friends or family or professionals, addressing mental and physical health issues early can help to nip them in the bud before they start impacting your daily life. If you have a physical health concern, or would like some advice about any aches and pains, our physiotherapists are on hand to remotely complete holistic assessment of your problems and needs, and provide expert advice and rehabilitation plans. See here for more information about our remote physiotherapy consultations.