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How to flatten the 'other curve' on mental health?
I hope you are safe and well.
I forgot to mention in previous newsletters that we have launched the Coronavirus Metafact page here, where you can read and share all verified expert answers that come in. So far, the vast majority relate to our physical health (virus, transmission and treatments). And while not all of us will get infected with coronavirus, all of us feel the effects of the pandemic (socially and economically). So some medical researchers suggest it’s time to start ‘flattening the other curve’ on the mental health impact from COVID-19. I couldn’t agree more.
As a starting point, this week I asked some questions to Dr Michaela Pascoe, an expert in mental health from Victoria University. She shares evidence on six areas for us to invest in to promote or improve our mental health: sleep, nutrition, social connectedness, physical activity/exercise, stress management and avoiding risky substance use.
What steps can we make to improve our mental health at this time?
The American College of Lifestyle Medicine highlights six areas for us to invest in to promote or improve our mental health:
Lack of sleep, or poor quality sleep, can contribute to poorer mental health. Keeping to your usual sleep routine even when your daily life has been disrupted is helpful. Aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
[Bens note: During January and February, we asked 50 sleep experts to share some expert tips and methods on how to get better sleep. FYI, our two-part sleep review is available to all Metafact members here.]
The food we eat can have a direct impact on our mental health. Try to eat a well-balanced diet rich in vegetables and nutrients. Where possible, avoid processed food, and those high in saturated fat and refined carbohydrates, which have been linked to poorer mental health.
3. Social connectedness
Being connected to others is important for our mental and physical well-being and can protect against anxiety and depression. Despite the physical barriers, it’s important to find alternate ways to maintain your connections with family, friends and the community during this difficult time.
Relating to this, I asked Dr Pascoe if she thinks obsessively reading bad news / social media helps or makes it worse?
It is important to pay attention to how you are feeling and reacting. If reading the news or following the news closely is distressing than it might be worth limiting your intake. We are all different in terms of what makes us feel more of less distressed, the key is to be mindfulness and to respond accordingly based on your needs, which can change over time.
Physical activity decreases anxiety, stress and depression and can be used as part of a treatment plan for people with mental illness. Regular exercise also improves the function of your immune system and decreases inflammation. You might need to find different ways of exercising, such as running, walking or tuning into an online class, but try to make physical activity an enjoyable and rewarding part of your daily routine while at home. Scheduling physical activity at the end of your “work day” can help to separate work from your personal life when working from home.
5. Stress management
It’s important to be able to recognise when you’re stressed. You might have feelings of panic, a racing heart or butterflies in the stomach, for example. And then find ways to reduce this stress. Mindfulness practices such as meditation, for example, can decrease stress and improve mental health. There are a number of breathing exercises that can also help to manage stress. Spending time outdoors has also been shown to reduce stress.
So consider spending time in your backyard, on your balcony or deck, or if possible, take a greener route when accessing essential services. Talking about your experiences and concerns with a trusted person can also protect your mental health.
6. Avoiding risky substance use
While it might be tempting to reach for alcohol or other drugs while you’re self-isolating, keep in mind they can trigger mental health problems, or make them worse. The draft alcohol guidelines recommend Australians drink no more than ten standard drinks a week, and no more than four a day. People who drink more than four standard drinks per day experience more psychological distress than those who do not.
These are good starting points for a much deeper investigation into Mental Health in general, so stay tuned over the coming months. Please remember that we are all in this together, so it’s important to keep a lookout for friends, colleagues, and family at this time - help from your doctor and mental health professionals in your state or country are just a phone call away.
Stay safe and may the facts be with you!
Ben McNeil, Founder of Metafact
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