5 daily activities to boost mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

By July 15, 2020 COVID-19
Dr. Zac Turner and Alisha Polsen

Dr. Zac Turner and Psychologist Alisha Polsen from Concierge Doctors discuss how to recognize signs of mental fatigue and proactively exercise mental health to not only thrive during lockdowns but actively help people in your community as well.

Constant change is neurologically exhausting. When thrust into facing Covid-19 as a new and global challenge, we all responded with significant lifestyle adjustments, and since this impact, we have had moments barely without changing parameters for how we have been guided and enforced to live and engage. This lack of consistency and familiarity is exceptionally taxing, having to learn new ways of doing things in all domains of life for an extended period.

Neurological, physiological, and emotional resilience-building as a proactive mental health practice is now essential for us all to be able to respond adaptively to these challenges as they arise. Accessing psychological support from mental health professionals can help be done from home, you are not alone in this process.

What are some easy daily activities people can add to their routine to keep their mental health positive during a lockdown?

  1. Adrenal regulation. When we experience fear, stress, or anxiety, we have an adrenal response in the body that is functional, however, to be able to maintain access cognitive functions such as logic, concentration, and memory we have to regulate this primal response to ensure this is not exacerbating physiological anxiety symptoms. This can be done by engaging the muscles. Even 5-10 minutes of stair climbing, squats, or pushups or brisk walk usually do this effectively and is my initial go to when feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or stressed. There are also some fantastic online workouts available to guide using light hand weights or bodyweight to give daily physiological regulation and routine in the safety of your home.
  2. Addressing fearful/ anxious thoughts early in the day. Support with your psychologist to do this allows ‘air time’ for these understandable experiences at the time you are well resourced and reduces the adrenal impact of these when you want to sleep at night, as well all know by now that sleep is the essential element for immune and mental health! 
  3. Mediation. Guided or self-directed and practiced daily. Knowing how to use breath and focused attention to find moments of peacefulness in the present and utilise visualisation and mindfulness to allow the adrenal system to have a respite from demand. 
  4. Calming the parasympathetic nervous system. Listing health goals and keeping them as a checkpoint is a useful way to stay on track, by including elements such as head inversions (like ‘downward dog’ yoga pose), firm pressure on the body through the use of a weighted blanket, soothing music and essential oils and showers or a bath.
  5. Focused attention on the positive. Just like riding a bike, we focus on the path where we want to go, not on the obstacles on the side of the path. Productive pursuits give us purpose in a stagnant situation to continue the momentum in having a sense of achievement within our control. Creativity with how is a must right now, for example, travel interest, may be manifested in learning a new language online.

Strengthening positive or new neural networks with micro-tasks each day conditions balance in the primed responses to balance the negative or fear that may be perpetuating neural looping around stressful or anxious thoughts. 

What are some symptoms people should be mindful of when they are feeling down?

If you notice things start to change physically or emotionally, checking in with a psychologist early and proactively is vital to get back in balance, build and maintain resilience. Look out for signs including;

Hygiene practices sliding or daily routines changing significantly, sleep disturbances or changes, feelings of isolation, disconnected or avoidance, substance abuse or dependence, or emotional eating. Addressing what’s going on can be done with your psychologist to address adaptive strategies. Identification of ‘body foods’ and ‘mind foods’ is always the right place to start if this is present.

If irritability or feelings of anger or violence within a household or feeling unsafe in the home are present, access help though the resources below are essential without delay.

How to recognise symptoms that might be caused by poor mental health?

Many physiological symptoms such as stomach upset, tightness in the chest, headaches, and weight fluctuations may be resulting in or exacerbated by stress and anxiety as these experiences manifest in the body as a primal response. 

By addressing stress and anxiety with an online psychologist you can establish a feeling of safety in your environment. Allowing you to create a plan that suits your needs and address issues in manageable steps.

How can people help their friends and families?

For many, the reconnections with family and friends have only been recent, if at all. This time frame, being away from those locally, interstate or overseas, maybe creating grief and loneliness and a reduced support network. Now more than ever, it is of paramount importance to connect with friends and family emotionally to maintain feelings of connectedness, a basic neurological need. 

Initially, there was a significant effort to establish these routines through our online portals. Subsequently, attention to this many have reduced, or feelings of burnout from visual communication may have been experienced. 

‘Walk and talk’ phone calls with friends and family may give structure and connectedness to those around us. Regular times for phone/ face time calls while having somebody movement is a favorite go-to practice at this time, even if it’s walking around the lounge room or backyard, or shared exercise online.

Be honest about emotional experiences. Many are experiencing emotional unease that may not have previously. These are normal reactions to unprecedented and stressful life experiences, and taking a nonjudgemental perspective to different reactions is imperative. Listening without trying to solve the issues is crucial if you feel helpless in this interaction, direct loved ones to professional resources listed below.

What are some questions people should be asking themselves and others to check-in?

What’s your daily routine like, and has this changed? Are you getting some exposure to sunlight, fresh air each day? Are you eating healthy food each day? Are you getting food delivered, or are you feeling ok to go to the shops? Do they need someone to shop for you? Are you relying on substances to relax? Have you been having any worries or thoughts that are making you afraid? Do you have a psychologist you can talk to? Do you need some help to make an appointment with a psychologist or doctor?

Would you like a regular phone call? How often would you feel good?

If feelings of anxiousness, depression, isolation, or helplessness are identified, please seek professional support without hesitation. Don’t let it get too overwhelming before reaching out!