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We are in the midst of a virus driven economic and emotional meltdown; everyday life as we know it, has drastically shifted for every one of us. Even though I hope that we have seen the highest peak of this disaster, and will soon be able to start on the somewhat shaky future, the stress and uncertainties are naturally taking a huge toll on all of us. Now is the time for many of us to make sure that our health has a strong foundation and we are resilient for the future, focusing on strengthening our immune defense and finding ways to persevere.
Because just like improving our physical health, building mental muscles requires just as much exercise and determination. Like trying something new, picking up new skills, ideas and viewpoints as well as new ways of working and functioning. The brain benefits from being constantly pushed out of its comfort zone and, just like our muscles, the brain can be strengthened.
According to WHO, mental health is one of the risk factors and in largest danger during this pandemic. The suggestions for countries and individuals are unanimous, in how we best should take care of ourselves and each other.
In that spirit, here are my own suggestions based on my experiences during these weeks of quarantine.
I find that the best way to care for my mental health is indulging myself in learning something new as well as practicing healthy, preferably already established, habits.
Maintaining a regular sleep schedule, where we’re getting at least 7, preferably 8 hours, is absolutely pivotal for our mental and physical health. Now in quarantine, I know it’s easy to turn your schedules upside down now that we don’t leave the house, or are expected anywhere. Worry and anxiety can have us up late at night, watching Netflix or something else as non relaxing and sleep promoting which can be deeply disturbing for both our mindset as well as our circadian rhythm. The long term effects of a subpar sleeping schedule according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and memory loss.
As far as the wellbeing of our children, this might be doubly important. A study on bedtimes and children’s development, showed that children with regular sleeping hours perform better in tests of executive function as well as working memory, inhibition, attention, and cognitive flexibility.
This quarantine isn’t time to let go of healthy sleeping patterns just because school and work has been transferred online and the natural pressure might seem to be less apparent in our daily lives. On the contrary, we should use this opportunity to stabilize and strengthen our families’ sleeping patterns.
2. Daily workouts
A daily workout goes a long way in keeping your head clear and sane. You’ve probably heard “Working out helps me think”? Well, it turns out that there are actual scientific facts that can back that statement. According to a study done by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia, exercising for only 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. Furthermore, recent research from UCLA demonstrates that exercise increases growth factors in the brain—making it easier for the brain to grow new neuronal connections.
As these studies suggest, your workout doesn’t have to be a long, high intensity gym session. Rather, it can be just a simple 20 minutes of yoga, a brisk walk or something you enjoy doing to get the heart pumping. Find the right workout for you, and try to practice the discipline of doing it daily, it will only get easier for every day you do it!
I have to admit that my execution here is not what I would like it to be. I do use the Headspace app and I have been slowly improving, but I wish that my daily work out discipline would also trickle its way down into this area. Because meditation is one of the best tools to reduce stress, control anxiety and enhance your focus throughout the day and experts are also conducting studies as to whether it can reduce memory loss that is associated with age. A meditation session doesn’t have to last more than 5 minutes. If you are feeling frazzled at any point, try taking the time to sit, focus on your breathing and feel how your mind might clear up. If you find you can’t clear your mind, and all you think about are your upcoming grocery purchases, that’s ok, that’s meditation too.
Another crucial thing to focus on, especially with the decreased availability of
food chains and restaurants, is adjusting our own diet after our new, perhaps more stressful but less mobile, circumstances. One of the best life hacks I’ve been experimenting with for quite a long time is intermittent fasting. This means that I only eat twice a day, skipping breakfast. I find this both to be increasing my efficiency by not having to plan for 3+ meals a day but also makes me more alert and more focused during my fasting hours. The first couple of days can feel a little foggy and difficult but it’s only the mind that’s playing tricks on us, we are built for not constantly being full with the same amount of energy.
Diet wise, everyone is different and different diets suit different bodies. Personally, I love a low carb diet. It’s not a NO carb diet, but I just try to keep the carbs intake as low as I can, in order to avoid the blood sugar spikes, and at the same time helping my body to burn fat, as fuel. That together with my fasting routine, facilitates my body to burn fat constantly at a high pace.
5. Loved ones
Last but not least, the most important one. Look to your family and friends in these challenging times for support. Be kind to each other and especially, be kind to yourself, knowing that this is a state of emergency in all aspects of our lives; in our relationships, in our habits and our routines. If you feel like screaming into a pillow when homeschooling your kids, that’s ok. If you binge watch Casa de Papel an entire night – cool. Just make sure to balance out the little less desired habits with some great ones, like the ones mentioned above.
Maybe you can create new traditions and activities with your family and friends? During our lockdown, not being able to experience meals and fun activities outside our home, I’m focused on conversations with my children, my girlfriend, and phone calls with my mother and my friends. Even though some days it’s an uphill battle, every day my children and I are doing some form of exercise, doing gymnastics (push ups, sit ups, burpees), playing table tennis, etc. Of course we spend a lot of time in front of the TV, each getting to pick our movie of preference. With a big family the range is wide, from Cartoons to Planet Earth, sometimes we spend a bulk of our time making and snacking on homemade sugar free chocolate. Regardless of what we do, the important thing and what helps each of us the most is that we are always together and we never feel we are going through this alone.
I might portray myself as a hopelessly positive person, but I can guarantee you that some days that is not the case. This pandemic is proving to be one of the greatest challenges to face our generation; but I have chosen to look at it from a positive perspective and maybe, by seeing the potential, I hope that I can spread at least some hope. Do keep on not only staying alive, but also improving, caring for yourself and your loved ones and see the light and potential in you as well as in others.