The COVID-19 pandemic is not only a threat to our physical health but also our mental health. In these uncertain times, many of us are confined to our homes and are with the same people, day in and day out – so no wonder that our levels of anxiety, depression, stress and panic may be increased. Some of us are even dealing with the loss of a loved one, which is made even harder by this situation.
Some people are really struggling emotionally and with no clear end date in sight, it’s important to look at different ways that we can try to stay happy, healthy and positive. Here are some top tips from Claire Smith, Health and Fitness Tutor for The Training Room, on how to improve mental health, which can benefit both you and your personal training clients.
1. Stay Connected
With the current emphasis on social distancing, it’s important to stay connected. Thankfully, social media and online platforms such as ZOOM are in place for us to chat with friends or family members. There are also pub quizzes, virtual tours, comedy, concerts and even shark feeding (yes, you read that correctly) online to keep us entertained! You can keep up relationships and have experiences all from the comfort of your sofa. Bear in mind though that sometimes social media has a detrimental effect on our mental health – we can fall down rabbit holes and end up having arguments with strangers or play ‘Go Compare’ with people who seem to be having a lavish lockdown.
2.Keep to a Routine.
We, humans, are creatures of habit and, without a routine, we find ourselves pottering around the house feeling a bit lost within the four walls. Have an idea of what you’re going to do that day and at least try to do some of it. Don’t put pressure on yourself if you don’t manage to clean the top of the kitchen cupboards. Set small goals and if you accomplish more, then you’ll feel great. You can even make your weekend routine different from your weekday routine. Routine is important for our wellbeing and will also help with family life. As well as giving certainty to the day, you can develop some healthy habits by introducing them into your daily living. It can provide a sense of safety, especially for children too. Humans are also fantastic at adapting so increase or decrease your routine, depending on how you’re feeling.
It seems strange to say “slow down in lockdown” whilst we are going through this pause in life, but it could be exactly what you need for your mental health. Keeping calm can involve mindfulness, meditation or simply breathing, as well as peaceful activities like gardening or colouring in (adult colouring books have really taken off in recent years). Yoga can combine calmness of mind with physical activity, and the practice is good for the body as well as the mind. Use an app, YouTube video or simply switch off all devices and focus on your environment – the sounds, the smells, and being present in the moment. Read a book, go for a walk or take a nap, but whatever you do, don’t feel guilty. Remember, if slowing down is what you need to do to self-care, then that’s as important as needing to go for a 10k run.
4. Play Those Tracks!
Music is a fantastic way to make everybody feel better. Play all those tunes from your youth, introduce the kids to a different genre, sing-a-long to musicals, and dance, dance, dance! Get the whole family on the kitchen dance floor to show off their skills - just watch out for those dad moves! If you’re alone, then dance like nobody is watching – because they’re not! Even sad music can lift your mood as it can bring comfort. Perhaps, certain songs that bring fantastic memories flooding back? Using music as therapy is an actual process and you can do this at home. Make playlists or simply send a friend a song that reminds you of them – that’ll make their day happier. Studies have shown that music really is a way to manage stress, decrease anxiety, and lift your mood.
5. Set a daily Challenges
Set yourself a daily challenge, however big or small, and try to make it physical. Determine the challenge by your own capabilities and set goals to be realistic. It doesn’t have to be 25 push-ups in 25 days – it can be just doing five every week. It can be doing that 10k that you’ve always wanted to do, or it can be just doing wall sit for 30 seconds. The sense of accomplishment from overcoming a challenge can be mood-lifting – it’s something that you’ve done yourself that has taken determination, skill or just sheer hard work – and it’s YOU that has achieved it! Beating a challenge is such a great feeling because it makes our self-esteem soar. Be proud of your accomplishments, however small they are.
6. Appreciate Nature
Enjoy the outdoors and stop to look, listen, and smell. If we’re going to be in lockdown, then thankfully it’s during spring so we can get outside and appreciate nature. The Icelandic government is encouraging people to hug trees as a way to improve mental health during lockdown, especially while they can’t hug each other. Sounds a bit mad? Just hear me out...
Firstly, it’s a great consolation as it gets people outside and you can also do it as many times as you want (people can get fed up with hugging after a while!) Secondly, if we examine the Japanese concept of ‘forest bathing,’ we find that simply 'being' amongst trees is, in fact, scientifically proven to aid your mental health. The reason for this is because trees give off certain essential oils (specifically phytoncides) which put your stress levels down and your immunity levels up.
Therefore, getting some fresh air is a great way to reduce negative thinking and boost positivity. At this time of year, the bluebells are out, the trees are green, and with spring rebirth in the air, you might even see a duckling or a lamb, giving you extra reasons to smile and enjoy the outdoors with your family.
We all know the benefits of physical activity, and exercise is strong medicine for many mental health conditions. Regular activity can have a profound positive effect on stress, mood, anxiety, depression, and it will even improve sleep. Exercise gives us those ‘feel good’ hormones that improve mood, and a healthy body can help to support an unhealthy mind. Exercise can help boost your immune system too, as Vitamin C has a stronger effect on people who exercise. A little bit of exercise is guaranteed to make you feel better, and it may encourage you to start thinking about other healthy habits such as cutting down on alcohol or doing better with your nutrition.
The Mental Health Foundation
encourages you to do 30 minutes of exercise per day. Many studies have looked at how different levels and intensities of physical activity affect mood but, overall, research
has shown that low-intensity, aerobic exercise for 30-35 minutes, 3-5 times per week, for 10-12 weeks, is the optimum for increasing positive moods (enthusiasm, alertness etc.) If you’ve always thought about exercising but never had the capacity, lockdown may have given you more time to prioritise this. So, give a short workout a go and, who knows, you may even stick to it when we’re out the other side of this because it’s a great way to combat the stresses and anxieties of modern life.
8. Be Kind
Kindness is the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week
(18-24 May), and for good reason. It’s a powerful way to unlock our shared humanity. When we help others that feeling is reciprocated. Kindness strengthens relationships – building community and solidarity. Just look at the way the country has pulled together to support each other and our frontline workers, sewing masks, delivering food to vulnerable members of our society, offering free PT sessions to keep the nation healthy and active, to name just a few. Being kind is a fundamental element of our individual and collective mental health, recognised throughout human existence as something that we all need to experience and practise to be fulfilled and feel alive. So, what acts of kindness can you do to benefit yourself and others?
Overall, there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to improving mental health, and every person will have different factors that affect this, which means it can take a little bit of time, and some trial and error, to find what really works for you or your clients. Hopefully, you’ve found these tips useful, and at the very least have some good food for thought to begin moving in the right direction.
For more advice and support about mental health, or to find out about our industry-leading personal training qualifications and CPD courses, please do get in touch.
Some great advice and resources are also available from the Mental Health Foundation