Time and time again, the idea of ‘self-care’ is wheeled out as the solution to all of our mental ills. But with mental health conditions on the rise in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, can self-care actually make a difference? Many of us have had to make massive changes to our routines over the past two years as countries introduced measures to restrict movement and slow the spread of COVID-19.
In these strange times, what can we really do to stay healthy?
Your ability to participate in the community and handle other areas of life such as school or work performance and relationships with family and friends can be substantially affected by a mental health condition. Across the world, mental health conditions are increasing in prevalence. In the last decade (2007 to 2017), and largely because of changes in demographic, there has been a 13% rise in mental health conditions and substance use disorders.
Top Tip: While there’s such a thing as following the news too closely right now, you may find it helpful to keep informed so that you know what your national and local authorities are recommending to keep you safe.
Of all years lived with disability, mental health conditions now cause 1 in 5. Among 15-29-year-olds, suicide is the second leading cause of death, with around 20% of the world’s children and adolescents living with a mental health condition. Mental health conditions are common in approximately one fifth of people living in post-conflict settings.
There are a few things you can do to help yourself if you are battling with low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, a long-term health condition or poor work-life balance.
The good feeling that many people experience after exercising has been compared to morphine, and is often attributed to the production of endorphins. In fact, endorphins bind to the same neuron receptors as pain medicines because the chemicals are so similar. There are lots of different activities for you to choose from if you want to pursue this feeling by getting a bit more active.
Endorphins are natural analgesics and diminish your body’s perception of pain. In addition to this, regular exercise has been proven to…
- improve sleep
- ward off anxiety and feelings of depression
Your mood may be further improved if you take up a team sport or group activity, as you will develop stronger friendships and a greater sense of community. Improving your skills and helping your team can do wonders to improve self esteem, and you can also benefit from setting and meeting goals. Physical activity also causes our bodies to release cortisol, which helps us manage stress.
Your physical health will also benefit from increased activity in addition to improving your mental health:
- it helps your body to manage insulin levels, which in turn keep your blood sugar levels healthy
- it improves muscle tone and strength
- it increases energy levels
Anything you do that protects or improves your health and well-being can be classed as ‘self-care’. Everything from maintaining social relationships to keeping fit and eating healthily can be a part of self-care if you have a long-term mental health condition.
Despite the high number of people affected, less than 2% of government health expenditure (global median) goes towards mental health. Each year, two of the most common mental health conditions – depression and anxiety – cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion.
Many of us have found it challenging to adapt to lifestyle changes over the past two years while managing the fear of contracting the virus and worrying about those close to us who are particularly vulnerable. It can take time to get used to the new realities of working from home, temporary unemployment, homeschooling of children, and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends and colleagues. People with mental health conditions are likely to have found these changes particularly tough.
The good news is that there are plenty of things we can do to improve our own mental wellbeing and help those around us. You may find mindfulness meditation worthwhile if you often find yourself overwhelmed. The misconception that this practice requires you to sit in silence for 30-60 minutes a day leads many to dismiss the technique. In reality, however, you only need a few minutes.
The goal is to anchor yourself so that you can keep centred while taking in what’s around you.
You can benefit from mindfulness for just five minutes a day. If you want to concentrate on what you want to achieve in a day and feel more focused, try setting your morning alarm slightly earlier to meditate before work. If you want to improve your sleep and relaxation, try in the evening before bed.
“Caring for others is important, but Covid-19 taught us that sometimes, by caring for yourself, you’re caring for others, too.” – Becca Kaye, senior care specialist at AvaCare Medical.
Breathe steadily and follow your breath to settle your attention, then focus on everything around you. Note to yourself everything that you can see, hear, feel or smell.
Persistence is key, especially if you’re someone who struggles to switch off. If you need, you can try focusing on a piece of music or something else that resonates with you.
Relaxation exercises can also be helpful, especially if you are new to things like guided breathing. You could look for a class near you, or try out a guided meditation app. If you’d rather attend a class in person, you’ll need to stay up to date on changing guidelines from reputable organisations like the WHO and NHS.
Have a Routine
Where possible, keep up with your old daily routines, or invent a new one to stick to. Going to bed and getting up at around the same time each day is a great place to start.
If you’re interested in learning more about mental health and how to improve yours, you can read all about it in The Essential Guide to Depression from Need2Know Books.