The focus on COVID-19 pandemic has been on slowing down the spread of the virus to prevent overwhelming the health service. However, as a health and fitness coach, I see a pandemic of another kind brewing, which isn’t being focused on nowhere near enough.
Covid-19 and mental health
Whilst it’s important to be prepared for the medical impact of a pandemic, we also need to prepare for the psychological impact. The social, mental, and emotional impact of being in lockdown and going through a global pandemic will likely leave a psychological trauma pandemic behind.
Many people have experienced dramatic changes and losses in their lives with little warning. This coupled with the social isolation and indoor lockdown required to combat the virus are the perfect ingredients for mental health consequences.
These sudden changes may have bought up more stress from having to juggle work and life from home. Or it may have bought up unresolved emotional trauma from the past that has been buried and hasn’t been healed.
Moreover, people have had to override these issues to adapt and survive financially. People are trying to show confidence and competence on the outside while they are struggling on the inside.
Additionally, people are having to deal with this on their own whilst in lockdown. Yes, you can instantly connect with someone via a video call. But that’s not a real human connection.
So what are some good ways to look after your mental well-being?
4 steps to look after your mental well-being
Focusing on your breath through nasal breathing can literally change your state of being. While we like to think we have control of what we do, most of our habits and behaviours are controlled by our subconscious and we are not in control of it.
In a state of stress our sympathetic nervous system keeps us in fight or flight or freeze and locked into these routines. However, nasal breathing switches on your parasympathetic nervous system to rest and digest and allows you to be in a more conscious state to take back control of your habits and behaviours. You can start with 5 minutes a day and progress from there. A couple of steps to get you started;
- Close your eyes and take a long but light breath contracting your muscles from the pelvic floor all the way up to the brain. Hold that breath for 5 seconds
- Observe your thoughts and emotions. When you have a thought accept it, and try to refocus on the present moment by focusing on the breath
- Your brain and body experience a thought and feeling as though you are living it in the present moment. So start to try and change your mental habits by replacing a negative thought with a positive thought or visualisation
Connection: Do something for someone else
Society conditions us to be individualistic. It’s seen as acceptable to criticise and focus on their faults rather than at least attempt to understand things from their point of view.
But deep down we humans have a desire to be appreciated and needed. Doing something for someone else fulfils this desire whilst simultaneously improving your own mental well-being at the same time.
It doesn’t have to be a big thing or take a lot of time – cook a meal for someone else, phoning a friend, smiling at someone instead of ignoring them, ask how the cashier’s day is going at the checkout, offer free advice on a topic you are knowledgeable on etc etc.
But it’s crucial that it’s genuine. So find something you genuinely appreciate or want to help with.
You will not only help them, but help yourself at the same time. Moreover, they will likely reciprocate the kindness to someone else and a ripple effect starts to happen.
Connection: Self love
Our biggest critic is ourselves. We are often hard on ourselves for not coping well mainly because we are conditioned to believe that we have to be a strong and functioning member of society and if we’re not, something must be wrong with us.
But not feeling great is actually a perfectly natural response to the backward and dehumanising society we live in, especially in lockdown with exacerbated social isolation. So I think you are actually a sane human being if you are feeling down during this time.
Also, sometimes true strength is vulnerability and taking responsibility by admitting you need help with something. If you don’t, you are burying your head in the sand. You think you are being strong but you are living an inauthentic life. In this state of inauthenticity, toxic feelings of stress, anxiety, fear and shame can take over.
So if you feel down, don’t beat yourself up because feeling down is the natural response – so do the opposite. Be kind to yourself and accept that this is a natural and sane response to your living situation. Doing so will allow you to accept negative feelings as normal and decrease the chances they will stick around long term. Negative feelings are just a sign that you need to change something in your life, which is why it’s important to gain perspective..
Gain perspective: disconnect from the material world
Sure, you can exercise and eat right. But ultimately the coronavirus doesn’t care how strong you are, whether you have six pack abs, how many likes you have, who you voted for, what diet you follow, how much money you have etc etc.
If you get it, you get it. Doesn’t this make you realise how all of life is interdependent? You only have so much control over the world we live in. Everything you do affects everybody else. Everything you do affects the environment we live in.
So if you attempt to dissociate yourself from the material world and socially made up wants and identities like jobs and cars, what’s left is our ability to choose love and contentment in the present moment. Because none of that stuff really matters when you think that we are spinning around on a rock at 1000 miles per hour. What matters is our experiences, our health and our relationships with ourselves as well as others.
Maybe you can use this time to reflect on whether you were truly living life how you wanted to before life got put on pause. When you press play again, are you going to focus on the things that deep down are important to you?