It’s been a turbulent 2020 and many people are feeling understandably deflated, frustrated and anxious. But there are simple ways to make yourself feel lighter. Our experts share practical strategies for cultivating better mental health during times of uncertainty.
Get moving: Even if you feel like sinking into the couch and smashing five seasons of Suits – don’t, suggests Dr Jaime Lee, AIA Vitality Ambassador and Health and Performance Expert. Exercise – even if limited to just an hour each day – is vital for lowering your risk of depression.
‘Exercising at least twice per week can decrease the risk of depression by 13 per cent, and those who take 10,000 or more steps a day have been found to have half the depression rate of those who take 2,000 steps or less,’ says Dr Lee.
Find an activity you enjoy and make it part of your routine, he suggests. Now is the perfect time to try something new. ‘It can be as simple as going for a long walk, a bike ride with a loved one, or you can try something completely different such as cardio tennis,’ adds Dr Lee.
Create a healthy sleep routine: While every individual’s sleep needs are different, most people benefit from at least seven to eight hours of quality sleep every night. ‘Those who sleep less than four hours per night have a 32 per cent higher depression rate than those who receive between seven to eight hours,’ says Dr Lee.
If you’re finding your sleep is disrupted throughout the night, try swapping screen use – including phones and laptops – for a herbal tea and a book at least 30 minutes before bedtime. This will help let your brain and body know that it’s time to wind down. Further helpful tips for a restful night’s shut-eye are here.
Meditate (but differently): Studies have shown that meditation can help manage anxiety, reduce stress, improve sleep and strengthen relationships. It’s also a great tool to proactively manage your mental health in your daily life, bringing your mind into the ‘here and now’ rather than concentrating on all the things that could potentially go wrong.
The problem? Many people find it hard to do ‘well’.
‘Many people believe that meditating properly requires you to stop thinking all together. However, this is far from the truth,’ says Dr Addie Wootten, Smiling Mind CEO and Clinical Psychologist.
‘Instead of trying to block out your thoughts, try observing them without attaching any judgement or emotion to them. Notice your thoughts as they arise, and then let them go without reacting to them. Bring your attention back to your breath or body.’
Dr Wootten suggests building meditation into your routine – be it just ten minutes before you eat breakfast or just after you brush your teeth – and creating a designated meditation space within your home or workplace.
‘This should be a quiet, still space with no distractions where you feel comfortable and relaxed. You can also use props such as a rug, chair, candle or pillow to mark your meditation zone,’ Dr Wootten adds.
Try the free Smiling Mind app, which features guided meditations for both individuals and families that you can do anywhere and at any time.
Connect with others: Particularly for those working remotely or in stage four restrictions, the lack of natural support systems in colleagues, friends and family can have your anxiety skyrocketing. Utilise incidental meetings, such as well-distanced convos across a nature strip or a masked walk with a family member, or organise a Zoom coffee with friends.
‘Depending on the level of restrictions and where you reside, you could even try volunteering at a local charity or community organisation,’ adds Dr Lee. Blood donation, for example, is still classified as an essential service in Victoria.
Rest and relax: No matter how busy you are with work, make sure you are allowing time for rest and recovery. Set a solid routine, says Dr Lee, and stick to it. ‘Schedule 10 minutes away from screens and to-do lists into your calendar. It can be as simple as making a cup of tea or going for a stroll around the block, or quick stretches to loosen up your back and neck,’ he says.
Learn something new: It feels good when you overcome a challenge to learn something new. And with many of us working from home or staying home on the weekends, there’s more time than ever for personal development. Take stock of your life and think about a skill or topic you’ve always wanted to learn more about. ‘Learning new skills and practising them builds confidence and will give you a sense of achievement throughout this time of uncertainty,’ says Dr Lee. LinkedIn Learning offers a range of affordable courses or check out the array of free courses on platforms such as FutureLearn.
Looking for a little extra support or just want to talk to someone? There is always free and confidential support available. Check out the mental health resources and toll-free hotlines here.