Taking charge of physical and mental wellbeing in 2021

2020. The year that everyone stood still and watched. We have been forced to limit our time in the outside world, have reduced our contact with others and adapt our exercise habits due to gyms and other sporting facilities closing. It is no surprise that our health as a nation has taken a hit. Statistics have shown that three-quarters (75%) of people have said that their mental health has become ‘worse’ as a result of the pandemic (Mind, 2020). Furthermore, adults are reporting specific negative impacts on their mental health and wellbeing, such as difficulty sleeping, eating, increased consumption in alcohol, substance use and worsening chronic conditions due to the worry and pressure over COVID-19. Now more than ever, it is vital that we look after ourselves, both physically and mentally. Physically look after your mental health More than a third of UK adults are turning to regular exercise to improve their mood and relieve stress. With more than one in four people use exercise to take a moment to themselves – particularly parents for whom the work / childcare balance has been doubly stressful. 'Runner's high' is a well-known endorphin powered phenomenon, however, it is not just the sprinting into the distance that gives your mood a forward step in the right direction; research from University College London (UCL) and Sport England found that increasing activity levels from zero to taking part in three exercise sessions a week can reduce the risk of depression by 20%. For many of us, the health anxiety has spiked during the pandemic, and it is a motivational boost to know that by exercising we are doing an important job to support our physical and mental wellbeing as well as our immune system. However, the paradigm has started to shift from a focus of weight loss to mental health benefits. The nation’s hero and PE teacher, Joe Wicks in a recent interview with the Sunday Times stated that exercise is “my anti-depressant”. Improved mental health and well-being have long been associated with physical exercise due to increased levels of endorphins. With the closing of gyms and workout centres, many of us have abandoned our regular exercise routines. But what about at-home or outdoor fitness practices? Take a 5-minute break on the hour so you can walk/stretch your muscles away from the home office. Allowing time to switch off and just enjoy what you are doing is a great way to build a foundation towards a healthier relationship with your mental wellbeing.   Seek help from experts   We’re lucky enough to count Lucinda Carney, CEO and Founder of Actus and chartered Psychologist, as both a client and friend of CommsCo. So, in light of the current universal concern around wellbeing, we invited Lucinda to conduct a dedicated session on wellbeing for the team to make sure we’re doing everything we can to stay positive in this difficult time. Lucinda pointed out that your mental health doesn’t always stay the same: it’s expected to fluctuate as circumstances change and as you move through different stages in your life. Distress arises in times when a person isn't coping – for whatever reason. It could be something at home, the pressure of work, or the start of a mental health problem like depression. When we feel distressed, we need a compassionate, human response. Whether it be withdrawing from social commitments, feeling tired or generally lacking optimism, each of us has our own personal triggers that help us recognise we may not be in the best state of mental wellbeing. The earlier we can recognise these, the earlier we can get support from those around us. Physical and mental wellbeing involves a balance of improving social contact, sleep, diet, fitness, and mind-body medicine during this period of loneliness and isolation. However, Lucinda described overcoming these situations is all about achieving enhanced physiological and psychological responses, and each of us have personalised methods to encourage the best possible response. Being aware of a few sure-fire ways we can make a positive change to our mental wellbeing can help us build a useful toolkit to turn to when we recognise that we’re feeling low: Reduce Social Media/News consumption: Attempt to concentrate and sustain a sense of optimism on the positives of where you are in life. The news media is flooded with stories about the COVID-19 pandemic and has a focus on morbid and mortality rates, public response, and politics. You don’t have to be unaware of what’s going on in current affairs, but it can be helpful to restrict one's consumption of these negative and critical stories: cut down on doomscrolling! Taking breaks from mobile devices throughout the day can also be helpful to increase face-to-face human contact and encourage you to switch off from the stresses and strains of the world. Try the gratitude habit: Start the day with 10 things you are grateful for and, more importantly why you’re grateful! Understanding why you’re grateful can help you to seek out more of the situations that keep you positive. Using this mindset is already will bring positivity to the surface and dampen the negative cogitations which could change your emotions at the start of the day. Reaching out for help: It may be beneficial to partake in social or spiritual events with friends, relatives, work colleagues, and neighbours through the internet to build a sense of community and minimise feelings of isolation. This helps the organisation and everyone else involved just switch off and be their normal selves outside the working environment. Remember: you are not alone in this. And as a team it’s important we all encourage each other to take time to do the things that make us happy and organise regular check-ins – if nothing else, COVID should have taught us that we all have colleagues that care.