Wednesday, 8 April 2020

How to Stay Connected and Take Care of Your Mental Health During Uncertain Times

Alyssa shares what helps her to maintain good mental well-being during the coronavirus period

- Alyssa

During this new period of social distancing, we’re all experiencing stress, sadness and struggles with our mental health. Even if you’re a self-proclaimed introvert like me, being unable to see your close friends, family, classmates or co-workers can be challenging and you may find yourself slipping into a low mood. I know I’ve been struggling, but focusing on self-care and connection has helped.

How can you stay connected and take care of your mental health, especially when university closes, and you’re forced to adapt to new conditions? Here are some ways you can check in with yourself and stay mentally healthy during this challenging time.

1. Get Outdoors 
Unless you have symptoms, you can still venture outdoors for exercise. Experts advise walking in the woods or wherever is available to you, to alleviate stress, anxiety and depression. 

Getting outdoors decreases activity in your brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for rumination. When you feel anxious or down, you can get stuck in a negative thought spiral, and spending time in nature can break the chain. Sit in your garden with a drink, have a quiet walk, or just take a moment to open your front door and breathe some fresh air. Stepping out onto my balcony is something I do whenever I need to reset and reduce my anxiety.

2. Move Your Body 
Exercise benefits your physical health, but did you know it helps your mind, too? One of the best ways to take care of your mental health during social distancing is to get moving. You may not be able to head to your favourite cafĂ© or eat with your family, but you can still focus on your physical health. 

It doesn’t matter if you go for a run or stay in and look up a class on YouTube. You will increase your levels of endorphins, brain chemicals that make you feel better — and it will release some of the tension we’re all feeling. Personally, I’ve been taking long walks, practising yoga and doing cardio circuits. Do what works for you.

3. Stay Virtually Connected 
You may not be able to meet your friends for lunch or plan a movie date, but you can still stay in touch with the people you love. Give your family a call, plan a virtual get-together with friends, or write emails to your grandmother. Being connected will keep you from letting loneliness and fear take over — you can talk to your loved ones about how they’re currently feeling, or you can distract each other.

It’s also helpful to stay in touch virtually with your professors and classmates, especially if university is continuing online. If you need to talk about how you feel or your physical health, virtual options are available via apps or on the phone.

4. Fuel Yourself Right 
You can boost your mental well-being by eating the right foods. For example, fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids linked to lower levels of depression. Bananas contain vitamin B-6, which helps produce serotonin and dopamine, critical for good mood. 

Even if eating is not the most important thing on your mind right now, it is important for your body — so ensure you’re making nutritious choices and getting the energy you need. Focusing on planning meals and preparing them has helped me focus and feel in control— during a time when I don’t have control of what’s going on around me, I can still control my own health.

5. Practice Yoga and Meditation 
Yoga and meditation are ways to stay connected with your inner world and manage the stress of social distancing. You can combine them both, using gentle movements to relax your muscles so you can sit quietly. 

To begin your meditation, get comfortable and draw your awareness to your breath. When thoughts start to intrude, observe them neutrally without assigning any labels like “good” or “bad.” Then, redirect your attention to the sensation of inhaling deeply and exhaling entirely. Focusing on your body will help you quieten the chatter in your mind.

Not sure where to start? Try the Headspace app to start meditating or look up the Yoga With Adriene channel on YouTube. They’ve been incredibly helpful for me.

6. Stay Connected and Mentally Healthy Despite Uncertainty

This pandemic is a confusing and scary time for all of us — and if you’re feeling frightened, lonely or low, I’m right there with you. Although things may feel uncertain, remember that we’re in this together. Reach out virtually to the people you care about, make time for self-care and nourishment, and take some breaks by going outdoors — we will get through this best by making sure we take care of ourselves first.

For more information Student Space is here to make it easier for you to find the support you need during the coronavirus pandemic.

Click here to see more information from Student Minds about the coronavirus outbreak and mental health. 

Hi, I'm Alyssa, an education and student life blogger with a passion for connecting with students of all sorts. Making positive self-care choices like these has kept me grounded through school and life - and I hope to help other students succeed, stay healthy and make the most of their university experience. Follow along on my blog, Syllabusy

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