I wrote a blog a couple of years ago about the 8 things to do to optimise mental performance. The thing is they’re not only important when it comes to optimising the performance of your brain but are the keystones to maintaining good mental health in general.
For many people, as we are living in this Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health may be suffering. Sleep, exercise, mindfulness, social connection, play, disconnecting, nutrition and hydration are building blocks to mental health. Are you getting the right balance of these right now?
There’s no one, daily combination for everyone to follow. The amount of each element needed for optimal mental health will vary from person to person and won’t necessarily be the same each day. And the recipe for good mental health is most likely different in the current environment compared to your “normal life”. The important thing is to be aware, learn to understand your own needs, triggers and signals and adjust accordingly.
Depending on your circumstances, achieving some elements will be challenging right now.
For example, sleep, are you getting the amount that’s best (generally somewhere between 7-9 hours) for you? With less commitments these days, I thought I’d be getting more hours of sleep, however with my less structured days I’m finding I’m staying up later which leads to sleeping in later the next day.
I need 8 hours sleep and the later mornings really don’t suit me. I function, and feel, much better on the days I get up early and follow the morning routine I’d created for myself when my days were tightly scheduled. Following my well-established routine helps me start out my days with a sense of normality, even when the rest of the day may be anything but. And I tend to get to bed earlier on those days, getting my 8 hours and setting up the positive cycle for the next day.
Exercise is important for mental health; increasing blood flow to the brain, reducing inflammation and insulin resistance and stimulating the release of chemicals that promote healthy brain cells. Exercise can also reduce stress, anxiety and depression – conditions many of us are experiencing right now. It also improves sleep. The World Health Organisation suggests around 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, aerobic physical activity per week.
In Australia we’ve been lucky that lockdown hasn’t stopped us from getting out for some exercise – the neighbourhoods are busier than ever with people walking and cycling. And many gyms, yoga and pilates studios have moved their programs online. Thank you to my yoga teacher for the 6am yoga Zoom classes – I’d be lost without them.
For those still unable to get outside, there are a plethora of blogs and videos out there with creative ways to stay active.
There have been many blogs about the importance of social connection during this time and we’ve cleverly used technology to facilitate our new virtual social lives – hello Zoom martini hour. However, keep an eye out for people living on the other side of the “digital divide”, those without access to the technology to stay connected. Pick up the phone, or even write letters, to those people you know who, for many reasons, don’t have access to technology. The added benefit – research shows that doing good for others increases our own happiness. And, double whammy, that warm glow of altruism helps to bind social groups together.
For those with children, spending more time playing with them may be one of the silver linings to come out of these times. However, being at home more doesn’t necessarily mean everyone has automatically found more time for mindfulness, play and disconnecting – all different but important activities that can help reduce stress, anxiety and even depression. Try and carve out time for these activities in your week.
And finally, don’t forget good nutrition and hydration. Anecdotally I’ve heard many of us aren’t drinking enough water whilst we’re hanging out at home. Are you getting the recommended 8 glasses per day? That lethargic feeling might not just be due to binge watching Netflix late into the evening – you may just be dehydrated.
If this has raised greater mental health concerns for you speak with your GP or contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.