Mental health experts say there are several things we can do to give ourselves a lift at this difficult time
Yes, we’ve been here before. Lockdowns are fast becoming the norm for our COVID-crippled communities, but unlike before there’s no summer, no Christmas on the horizon to focus on. Lockdown 3.0 is in the gloom and cold of winter – a season that can be tough for many, even under normal circumstances – and the hint of warmer days and lighter evenings seems a long way off.
However, there are many things we can do to make sure we reach the promised land of spring in good shape.
Get out: Any outdoor activity at this time of year may seem a bit daunting, but doctors agree it is an ideal way to boost your mood. Exercise triggers the release of endorphins into the bloodstream – producing a feeling of well-being – as well as increasing electrical activity in the emotion-processing areas of the brain, preventing the risk of anxiety and depression.
It also produces a protein crucial to brain health, so even a short period of exercise which exerts the body, such as a brisk walk or a cycle ride, will be beneficial.
Don’t think about it: People often dwell on problems or difficulties, allowing negative thoughts to dog our lives. But while it’s normal to worry, many of our fears never materialise.
The key is to shift focus from worries to practical problem-solving. Over time, we have become highly tuned to negativity and danger, which according to Prof Jennifer Wild of Oxford University, is “over-encoded in our brains. You can make yourself much calmer if you recognise you are over-thinking. Stop and focus on facts.”
New goals: Setting a new target, whether it be something as grand as learning a new language or trying a new recipe, can be beneficial. Learning new things is generally how we acquire self-worth and keeps us motivated.
Stepping outside your comfort zone helps you to focus and brings a sense of control. “Novelty is fundamentally rewarding,” says Dr Dean Burnett, a leading neuroscientist.
It’s good to talk: Maximise the little social contact that is available. Humans are social creatures, so isolated people are more likely to focus on themselves, going over small problems in their heads until they become issues.
Talking things through can help reframe problems, and if lockdown means you cannot do that in person, make that phone call or arrange to talk online.
Go for it: Don’t think twice about doing something. Olivia Remes, from Cambridge University, says: “Our inner voice of criticism stops us doing worthwhile things, so jump straight into action. Do things and accept they might initially be done badly – most of the time, the results are not that bad.”
She also adds that emotions are contagious and suggests writing down three things a day that you’re grateful about which will help to concentrate the mind on what went well and why.
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