Some simple steps to let your body help your mind during Coronavirus lockdownadults

3 steps to keep you on track

Daily routines have changed dramatically for many of us during the Coronavirus lockdown.  Lots of us miss the structure and sense of purpose given by work, school or uni. That lack of structure along with reduced social connection can lead to low mood, anxiety and poor sleep. The knock-on response often includes comfort eating, drinking too much, not getting out of bed in the morning, and not doing activities we used to do. The good news is a few simple steps can get us back on track, when you look after your body it improves your mental wellbeing. 

How to feel better – 3 tips that help your body help your mind

First, and we can’t stress this enough, it’s important to have a daily routine of self-care, this gets you up and gives a sense of purpose for the day.

Why bother? Because you’re likely to feel happier, less anxious and get better sleep.

1. Eat a balanced diet

Lightbulb on a pink plate set with knife and fork

The food-mood connection has been a focus of research for years. Just like the body, the brain and mind need nutrients such as essential fats, amino acids, minerals and water to support healthy functioning.  Pre-Covid-19 we may have been too busy to cook thoughtfully, now a lot of us have time to focus on making meals that are good for mind and body alike. Some of the key nutrients that can improve mental health include Omega 3, B group vitamins and zinc. When these nutrients are included in our diets, they can help reduce anxiety and depression.

So, plan the weekly shop – there are affordable and vegetarian/vegan options. Your list could include mackerel or other oily fish (also some seeds including flax and chia if you don’t want the animal protein option) for Omega-3, dairy products, eggs and leafy greens for B group vitamins, and for zinc beans, nuts and wholemeal foods are good. Find out much more on which foods can help here

When our mood is low we typically lack motivation and energy, so here are a list of foods that increase energy to get you going

2.  Exercise

It’s well known that low mood can lead to lack of motivation, which often results in exercise feeling like too much hard work, it’s a reinforcing loop of inaction. You can break out of that loop by knowing all you need to start feeling better mentally and physically is a gentle approach. Raising the pulse rate by just a modest amount for 20 - 30 minutes, 3 times a week, releases all kinds of feel-good chemicals in the brain. We’re talking about going for a walk, doing basic yoga or stretching exercises at home, or gardening if that’s a possibility for you. Setting achievable goals can lead on to home workouts of your chosen intensity, to brisk walking, jogging or cycling.  Even during lockdown we’re allowed to leave home for up to 1 hour a day; it’s worth taking advantage of the opportunity every day. The important point is to start moving more (unless you’ve been advised by your doctor not to).

Why does exercise help your mental wellbeing?  When you take exercise 4 mood-enhancing chemicals are released in the brain:

Dopamine can make you feel happier and help you work towards goals (like taking exercise!)

Serotonin lifts mood too and helps regulate your sleep (did you know that low serotonin levels are linked to loneliness and depression?)

Endorphins help to relieve anxiety and physical pain levels

Oxytocin can enable you to strengthen relationships, trust and intimacy. This is relevant to exercise because one of the most important relationships is with yourself:  it can help you believe that you are worth self-care which includes taking exercise.

Find out more

3. Drink water

Three glasses in triangle with water in front and orange and blackberry juice showing through

Drink enough water It’s so easy to forget this because our subjective thirst levels vary, or we may not have realised drinking water is an important part of a daily routine. We can have low to quite high levels of dehydration without realising it. Two thirds or so of the body is made up of water and 80% of the brain is water. The mind resides in the brain, so when you’re a bit dehydrated your mood might dip, then it’s less easy to balance your emotions, you’re likely to feel more stressed and your cognitive function will be lower which means it’s harder to concentrate and think optimally. A study in the US showed students who drank 500ml of water just before a test performed better than those who didn’t.

So how much should water should we drink each day? The NHS advises adults to drink 6-8 glasses of water a day which is about 1.2 litres.  This can be in the form of water itself, sugar-free drinks, fruit tea and even tea and coffee with lower fat milk. Try to make a start and see if you notice a difference in feeling better physically and mentally.

Remember always check with your doctor if you do want to alter your diet or take supplements, so you can be sure the change you’re planning is right for you.

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