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Mental Health – How to help yourself recover “Post Pandemic”

Published on:June 11, 2021Author:Emma Hartley

Mental Health – How to help yourself recover “Post Pandemic”

PPSD* (post-pandemic stress disorder)

Not (yet) an official term but one that psychotherapist Owen O’Kane has come up with, whilst speaking to Anna Maxted at The Times, to describe some of the symptoms experienced by some coming out of the pandemic and the mental implications they are facing heading into the “new normal”

Are you struggling to sleep? Feeling increasingly anxious or self conscious? Lethargic and unmotivated? Could you be suffering with PPSD?

We want to discuss a few hints and tips to help work through the post pandemic stress and get back to a better headspace.

How are you?

We can be asked this question on a daily basis and the majority of us will dismiss it with a “I’m fine, how are you?”

But have you sat down and really thought about how you are? It is completely normal to not know the answer to this. We are coming out of a worldwide pandemic, it’s understandable if you just do not know. There is no right or wrong way to feel regardless if you had “good” pandemic or not.

Whatever feelings you can identify, anxiety, exhaustion, anger, sadness or confusion, acknowledge them. You felt them, you may still be feeling them, they are completely normal and it’s important to not do what many of us have previously done, which is dismiss, squash them and pretend they were never there in the first place. It’s ok to feel all of those things, but now it’s time to try and identify them and work on ourselves to overcome those feelings and get in a better mental space.

Lockdown Positives

It’s undeniable that lockdown was difficult for so many for varying different reasons. For lots of people old hobbies and routines were put on pause whilst new ones had to be made. Whether you started baking, enjoying long walks in nearby woodlands you had yet to explore, discovered you were an expert quiz master, a natural chef or budding gardener, take those new found hobbies that gave you little bits of joy during the darkest times and work them back into your “normal” routines. If you didn’t manage to pick up a new hobby and physically couldn’t face anything other than flicking through Netflix, then maybe now is the time to find one.

Lockdown may have also given you a new outlook on life. You may decide that you don’t want all of your old “normal” life back, and that is absolutely fine. It’s OK to say no to things, or people you may not have even questioned pre-pandemic.

A mix of the old and new is OK.

Exercise

Exercise is the key to good physical and mental health. You may have been a regular gym bunny pre lockdown and fully understand the implications of lack of exercise, or perhaps the thought of stepping in to a gym or hitting the pavement is way out of your comfort zone. Whatever your fitness level it’s important to know how exercise can make such a positive impact on, not only your physical and mental health, but also help boost your brainpower. An article written by Caroline Williams in The Times refers to different types of exercise and their benefits.

Walking – Boosts ideas and creativity. Charles Darwin was known for using this method of exercise and had what he called his “thinking path.” A gravel walkway that stretched a quarter of a mile around his countryside home in Kent which he used to do 4 or 5 laps of whilst reportedly stroking his beard whilst putting together his big idea. Low intensity exercise such as walking at a slow and steady pace allows your mind to wander. The forefront of our brain is known as the prefrontal cortex which uses our previous experiences to whittle down our ideas to those that are most likely to be successful. A great tool in day to day life, however if we want to expand our horizons and come up with new, innovative ideas, this low intensity exercise will help override this part of the brain and allow us to access a wider set of ideas helping boost creativity.

Running – Good for Problem Solving – It’s no secret that running releases endorphins giving us that all important boost in mood as well as the sense of triumph after completing a run. But that’s not the only benefit putting on those trainers and hitting the pavement has. Psychology studies have shown that physically moving forward encourages our direction of thoughts to follow suit – forward. Coming out of the pandemic looking into the future and not dwelling on the past is something we could all do with.

Lifting Weights – protects your memory. Now do not worry. I am not suggesting you start training for “World’s Strongest Man or Woman” but putting your bones under weight pressured exercises is not only proven to improve physical strength but also our memories. Research has shown that bones under weight whilst on the move releases a hormone called osteocalcin which then travels through the blood and into our brain. Once it has reached the brain it then boosts the activity of the hippocampus which is a key part of the brain involving our memory. Studies have shown that people suffering with Alzheimer’s disease were found to have low levels of osteocalcin. Our natural levels of osteocalcin begin to decline from the age of 30 in woman and 45 in men, so whilst weight baring exercises are beneficial for all age groups it’s even more important from middle aged onwards.

Core Strengthening Exercise – Helps to De-Stress You may remember your parents or grandparents saying, “stand up straight”, “stop slouching”, “chest out, shoulders back and stomach in”. Well like in most cases, mum was right. After years of studies by psychologists, they have linked a good posture and upright stance to feeling good. Slouching often sends a message to your brain that you are exhausted, leaving you feeling just that. Lots of exercises involving core muscles such as yoga, pilates and t’ai chi, are calming and classes are taken by many to help de-stress. It has been uncovered by research undertaken by Peter Strick at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania that there is a link of nervous pathways joining the adrenal glands that are located above the kidneys and are responsible for humans fight or flight response, to parts of the brain that control the movements of core muscles. An explanation as to why types of exercise involving the core such as yoga are so calming, as there is a direct link between the core and the stress response.

Dancing – To Tackle Loneliness – Now this may seem self explanatory, yes go out for a dance with your friends and you won’t be lonely. But there is more to it and surprisingly, it’s also effective if you are alone. Human beings are born to dance, it’s cemented within us. We’ve all seen and cooed at babies moving and squirming to the beat of the music. Now research shows that this is because as humans our brain works by predicting what is about to happen (the beat of the music) so as we move to the beat and we get it right, we get a hit of dopamine, a chemical which is connected to feelings of pleasure and reward. Overall giving us that feel good factor every time we move to the beat. Expanding a little more, the effects of dancing are even stronger when moving in time with other people and it has been said that when people move in a synchronised way it blurs the perception of where our bodies end and another starts making us feel more connected. But even dancing alone provides our brain with the illusion that we are moving in time with other people. So push the furniture out of the way and turn up the music to tackle loneliness and isolation.

Stretching – To reduce inflammation – Inflammation is known to be an immune response and appears, or increases, in times of stress and in studies it has also been found to be linked to depression. Surrounding the muscles is tissue called facia which is the immune link, not the muscles themselves. In testing, stretching the facia has been found to release a chemical that reduces inflammation. The research itself has not been completed but it is thought that this could be the reason that those who practise yoga on a regular basis have been found to have lower levels of inflammation and why the exercise itself is such a good source of stress relief.

 Diet

There is a lot of contradicting information on the world wide web about diets. What you should be eating, what you shouldn’t be eating, super foods, red meat, Atkins, cabbage soup diets, diary free, vegetarian diets and veganism? Let’s face it, it can become overwhelming.

Being conscious of your diet does not only help you monitor your weight but also helps with your mood and mental wellbeing. We have all been there, were we have perhaps overindulged and have been left feeling bloated and lethargic, and during the lockdowns many have found themselves in a cycle that is hard to get out of. A high fat diet full of processed food, sugars, carbohydrates, and generally “beige” in colour can not only add the inches to our waist line, put stress on our internal organs increasing the risk of heart disease or diabetes but also have a huge impact on our mental health.

Research shows a link between that diets containing a lot of processed meat, fried food, pastries and people suffering with anxiety and depression. These types of foods can temporarily release hormones into your brain that you are lacking give you an immediate but temporary high, whilst quickly crashing you back down to earth with a thud.

Diets such as a Mediterranean diet or similar, which consists of lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, olive oils, nuts and fresh fish, alongside physical activity, can reduce risk of serious mental and physical health problem such as:

  • Prevention of heart disease and strokes, as you limit your intake of refined breads and processed foods
  • Keeping you agile as the nutrients gained from this type of diet reduces the risks of developing muscle weakness
  • Reducing the risks of Alzheimer ’s disease or dementia. Research suggest that diets high in fresh foods and fish and low in processed foods will help improve cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and overall blood vessel health may in turn may reduce the risks of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia.
  • The risk of Parkinson’s disease is halved due to the high levels of antioxidants in this type of diet which can in turn prevent cells from undergoing a damaging process called oxidative stress.
  • Prevention against developing type 2 diabetes due to the high fibre in the diet which digests slowly and prevents huge swings in blood sugar which also helps to maintain a healthy weight.

Ultimately when you stick to a diet of healthy food you are setting yourself up for fewer mood fluctuations, which in turn will give you an overall happier outlook improving your ability to focus and reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Always remember to consult your GP before taking on any rapid changes in exercise or diet regimes.

Reaching Out –

If you need advice on other areas that are affecting your mental well being there is always someone you can reach out to. See suggestions below.

Debts – Our trained advisors are friendly, understanding and easy to talk to. If you are struggling with debts and need some advice to see what option you have you can contact us on 0800 085 1825 or fill in our request a call back page and someone will get in touch.

There are sources of free debt advice and services. You can find out more by contacting the Money Advice Service on 0800 138 7777 or by visiting their website.

Domestic abuse – There are multiple charities that you can reach out to if you are in an abusive relationship. Do not suffer alone. Women’s Aid and Refuge are two of many.

Homelessness – The ban on eviction notices has now been lifted, and many people and families for the first time may be fighting to keep a roof over their head, Shelter is a charity that is there to help.

Bereavement and Loss – At some point in our lives we are all bound to lose someone close to us and it can be devastating Cruse are a charity who can help support you through your loss.    

Other Charities to turn to for support:

Mind

The Samaritans

Age UK

Macmillan Cancer Support