What with a global pandemic and several national lockdowns, the prevalence of mental health issues has undoubtedly increased over the last year. In fact, the Office of National Statistics reported that a quarter of the adult population in Britain have “experienced some form of depression” during the pandemic so far. Mental health can have a huge impact on our overall wellbeing and it is important to remember that many people suffer with anxiety and depression, whether we’re in the middle of a pandemic or not. It is so important to look after both our physical and mental health and this blog will look at a few ways to help us get started.
As physiotherapists, we often talk about the physical benefits that exercise has on our bodies, but exercise also positively impacts our mental health. Scientifically, as we exercise the brain releases ‘feel-good’ chemicals and hormones (endorphins and serotonin to name a few) that help to dampen the perception of pain and regulate our mood. Put simply, when we move more, our bodies feel better! This doesn’t mean that we have to move all the time – exercise goals should always be achievable and sustainable, so start small and build it up gradually.
Another really important aspect that can impact our mood and overall mental health is sleep. We’ve all been there after a rubbish night’s sleep when you wake up feeling tired, unmotivated and a bit miserable! Poor sleep and mental health issues are a bit like the chicken and the egg – many studies argue about which one came first as they are closely linked and both impact on one another. Effective sleep gives our bodies time to recover and restore energy cells, preparing us for the next day. There are several ways that we can improve our sleep patterns, for example; reducing screen time, limiting caffeine intake and trying to stick to a wake up and bed time routine.
Having mentioned caffeine intake, it is also important to note that our overall diet can really impact on our mental health. Eating foods that are non-optimal (for example, sweets, biscuits, chocolate) causes our blood sugar levels to rise and fall rapidly, which can make you feel tired and depressed. Whereas eating more optimal foods (for example, fruit, vegetables, protein sources) helps to boost our energy levels and restores amino acids which help to create the chemicals our brains need to regulate our mood. Our diet choices also impact our overall gut health which is closely linked to mood. Ever felt nauseous before an interview or had ‘butterflies’ if you’re excited about something? It is all connected! So in order to try and keep healthy and boost our mood – try and stick to regular meals, eat your five a day fruit and vegetables and limit your sweet treats.
Being in lockdown has meant that we’ve all had more free time than we’re used to and many people have increased their screen time as a form of entertainment. Studies have shown that screen time affects serotonin levels – which as mentioned earlier is one of the hormones needed to help regulate our mood. Screen time also commonly includes time on social media which often only displays positive times in people’s lives - this can make viewers compare themselves and feel unsatisfied with their own life which may exacerbate low mood. We should try to limit our screen time, particularly before bed as this has been shown to obstruct effective sleep due to the stimulating effects.
We should all try to adopt the tips discussed above, however if you are suffering with symptoms of poor mental health, you should seek advice from your GP.