“The New Normal” and Mental Health
It is hard to believe that it has been over eighteen months since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the globe. It has taken us all by storm, and we are still not sure what the long-term effects will be. With the pandemic continuing to be unpredictable and largely uncharted territory, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all that we do not know or understand. How exactly has COVID-19 and the new Delta variant affected mental health, and how can we focus on not only healthcare, but also self-care?
When COVID-19 first hit, the mental health of the general public suffered. The CDC reported that an astounding 40.9% of the US population had anxiety or depressive symptoms because of the pandemic. Despite the year of stress and uncertainty, things seemed to start looking up with the release of the vaccinations. Restrictions were lifted; we started to socialize more when it was safe, we were able to grab coffee with friends and visit with loved ones. It seemed like everything was getting back to pre-COVID normal.
Now, with the rise of the more contagious Delta variant, people are starting to fear going out again. This extreme emotional switch between optimism and worry was dubbed “pandemic flux syndrome” by the Washington Post. Our tentative freedom was restricted again. Some businesses started to require proof of vaccination in order to enter; offices pushed back to working from home.
So, what is this doing for mental health?
This prolonged pandemic stress is leaving people to feel less in control, more aggravated, and depressed. Anxiety symptoms are starting to return to people in full force. However, it’s possible to make it through and come out the other side mentally stronger. Here are some tips for practicing self-care and improving your mental wellbeing:
Mental Health Means a Moving Body
We all know that exercise is good for our physical health, but it also has a positive impact on your mental well-being. This is called the “runner’s high”. By breaking out into a sweat and pumping some iron, or by sprinting around in circles like you are five years old again, endorphins are released and help improve your mood. Even a little bit of exercise can go a long way. It can be as simple as a short walk or a quick 10-minute stretch. Working out also distracts your mind from worries, boosts your confidence, and helps you cope with stress in a healthy way.
Practicing mindfulness is one of the easiest ways to bring more joy into your daily life. Mindfulness helps you slow down and appreciate what you have around you. Start your days off by meditating on something small like breathing deeply before getting out of bed, or just writing about ten things you are thankful for during the day. It’s easy to get caught up in memories of the past or worry about the future, but mindfulness brings us back to the present moment.
Fuel Your Body to Boost Your Mood
Foods rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can help improve your mood and promote cognitive function. A healthy diet includes everything from leafy greens and berries to beans, whole grains, lean protein and, yes, even healthy fats. However, it’s best to avoid processed foods since they are high in refined sugars.
Our brains and guts are connected- what affects one affects the other. A healthy gut biome leads to improved cognitive function and a lifted mood. Foods and drinks high in both prebiotics and probiotics are great for balancing gut and mental health. This includes onions, kombucha, yogurt, garlic, bananas, and more!
Research suggests that exposure to natural environments leads to a decline in anxiety levels. Getting outside means going for a walk, starting a small garden, or just basking in the sun. Spending at least 120 minutes (about 2 hours) outside per week greatly improves mental well-being. If you live in a climate that makes it harder to spend time outside, you can substitute with Vitamin D supplements, or special lighting in your home.
Start a new hobby
Maybe baking your own sourdough loaves didn’t last long during the first wave of the pandemic, but finding a new hobby is a great way to cope with stress and even help you find a new community to socialize with online. Painting, photography, listening to music or learning how to play an instrument are all creative hobbies that can help improve mental health and stress coping skills.
The new Delta variant has left us all feeling unsure about the future, but with some self-care techniques, it’s completely possible for all of us to thrive through this challenge and build our resilience.
We want to hear from you. What has been your experience with coping with COVID-19 or the new Delta variant? Do any of these suggestions resonate with you?