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How to keep positive mental health during an ’anxiety-provoking’ time

Wednesday, March 25th 2020, 9:26 am - Staying indoors involuntarily can be boring and it can be quite challenging, especially for your mental health.

If you would have asked anyone back at the beginning of this year whether they could imagine major cities and countries in lockdown, no one would have thought it possible. Yes, the coronavirus was around, but not here - not in Canada.

Millions of people are now confined to their homes in hopes of flattening the curve, forced to adapt to a new reality. For those who can, working from home has become ‘the norm.’ For others, they are no longer able to work but they are still expected to stay in.

“This is a very challenging time that we’re in right now and I think that there's a lot of things we can do to improve our mental, physical and emotional health,” said Dr. Greg Wells, a scientist and performance physiologist in Toronto.

“This is a huge opportunity for us to set some good positive habits that maybe stay with us after this all sort of dissipates and we're able to get outside and return to our normal, our ‘more normal’ lives,” said Wells.

Given the circumstances we are in, Wells suggests a variety of things we can do to ensure the well-being of our mental health during this time.


Go HERE for our complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic


EXPOSE YOURSELF TO NATURE (while leaving a 2-metre distance from other people)

“One of the really interesting things about the effect of nature on our mental health is what we see in our visual field,” said Wells.

When we are indoors, we are in ‘built’ environments. The walls, windows, and door frames are all straight lines.

“If we get out into nature, it's a completely different visual field. You have leaves. You have water. You have grass. They’re fractals. They’re random chaotic patterns that we see,” said Wells. “There's some research that suggests being in nature is beneficial for us specifically because of the information that's in our visual field, being fractals, being chaotic and it's more interesting to us and better for mental health.”

Open your windows. Get light in. Get fresh air in.

“The other really interesting thing that happens though that is based on some really cool research, is the fact that trees and plants release molecules called phytoncides and when we inhale these molecules, phytoncides, they go inside of our body and it strengthens our immune system for up to 7 days,” said Wells. “When we are able to be exposed to fresh air and there's lots of trees around us and the plants are in bloom, that is a great time for us to leverage that either through opening a window or going by yourself to a park.”

If leaving the house may not be an option - take to technology.

“I've actually changed my screensavers to shots of the ocean on my computer so that we're just seeing nature every chance that you get,” said Wells.

Or you could follow The Weather Network's 'Storm-Hunter' Mark Robinson on Twitter, where he’s been posting calming videos of nature on his account during this time.

GET ENOUGH REST - GIVE YOURSELF MENTAL BREAKS

“We know that sleep has a positive impact upon our immune system. There is a direct relationship there that we can leverage,” said Wells.

He mentions that many of us are working from home, which means there is no need to allot time to commuting. Wells says it’s okay to give yourself permission to sleep-in.

“My family is sleeping in until they wake up. We have no morning alarms right now. It's wonderful,” he said. “I'm actually getting, I'm embarrassed to say, like an extra hour and a half to two hours of sleep that I normally wouldn't get. Normally I'm up at 5. Now I'm up at like 7 and I feel pretty good and a lot happier, ironically.”

According to Wells, meditation and mindfulness are practices that also dramatically improve the immune system.

“I've got an app on my phone called Headspace that I'm using right now for 20 minutes in the morning to sort of clear my mind, bring myself back into the present. Not get too caught up in the hysteria of what's out there on the internet.”

Which leads me to the next point - give yourself breaks from social media and the news.

“All the information coming at us right now is anxiety-provoking,” said Wells. “Maybe take a few minutes in the morning to check the news and a few minutes in the evening to get caught up, but try to avoid checking every 20 minutes to see what the latest update is because that can really put you in a dangerous trajectory when it comes to your mental health. We want to be aware of what's going on but not slaves to what's going on when it comes to our mental health.”

NEW TO WORKING FROM HOME? TRY THESE TIPS FROM A SEASONED PRO:

STAY CONNECTED TO LOVED ONES, FRIENDS

Although we are physically isolating we shouldn’t emotionally isolate ourselves.

“The difference between social isolation and emotional isolation. I would love for us to consider that even though we may not be allowed to get within proximity of other people right now, as we shouldn't, there is no reason for us not to be emotionally connected,” said Wells.

Now is the perfect opportunity to connect with people over the phone, over the computer, over other devices.

“If you have kids like I do, I'm taking pictures of the kids and firing it off to my mom and dad so that they could see the kids and keep connected. So there's many different ways of being emotionally connected even though we are socially isolated,” said Wells.”

It is also the most essential time to check in on those who may be alone or who may be experiencing mental health difficulties.

“So many times people are demonizing phones and social media and the negative effect that that has had on us, especially around depression and anxiety, but there's also a very powerful opportunity now to use them for good, increase our connection and leverage these technologies.”

Coronavirus coverage - Friday March 27 Tune into The Weather Network on Friday, March 27, as our expert panel discusses how weather can potentially impact the spread of COVID-19.

EAT HEALTHY, STAY ACTIVE

“There's actually a lot of fruits and vegetables available. I think it's the other canned goods that are getting sort of hoarded at the moment if you will and I think that actually the super healthy food is not being hoarded - which is kind of bizarre,” said Wells.

Pick up foods you wouldn’t normally cook with and take this time to learn new recipes and, if you have children, get them involved.

“My kids are looking up YouTube videos of other children cooking so they're getting into cooking now and cutting vegetables.”

Try to sit around the table together.

“I'm actually spending a little bit more time having meals with my family than I normally do. Normally I'm in and around and out and so I'm really trying to dedicate my time to sitting down with the kids and being fully present for dinner,” said Wells. “This is an incredible time for us to actually make real food that we recognize is food, eat it with your family, the people that are in your home and go really all in on eating healthy.”

FOODS RICH IN VITAMIN D ARE ESSENTIAL RIGHT NOW:

Wells also stresses the importance of staying hydrated. It’s easy to forget to drink water when we aren’t being ‘active.’

Aside from eating as healthy as we can, Wells says now is a good time to get in some exercise.

“YouTube has all sorts of amazing videos that you can do for meditation, living room workouts, just body weights workouts. You can get a really good session of exercising even though you may not have any equipment, just in the middle of your living room just by moving around and doing some squats, or push-ups, or sit-ups, or a little bit of yoga.”

HAVE FUN WITH THE ONES YOU LOVE

“We're just doing things that make us laugh and develop us. Not getting caught up too much in the news cycle and not getting caught up too much in just sort of mindlessly sitting around,” said Wells.

Get creative. Make art. Make music. Play board games. Solve puzzles.

“The kids are playing a lot more music than they normally do. We got a drum kit set up and a piano set up so that they're jamming downstairs or playing music,” said Wells.

Do what makes you smile with the ones you love.

Oh, and wash your hands. Like this:

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