It’s completely normal to feel stressed out, fearful, anxious, confused, and depressed from time to time these days. However, chronic negative emotions can suppress your immune system.
Here are 6 ways to achieve greater mental and spiritual harmony during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wondering how you’ll pay the bills and how much longer you’ll be stuck at home? You’re certainly not alone.
News reports focus on the number of deaths and people hospitalized because of SARS-CoV-2, aka COVID-19, the infection caused by the novel coronavirus. However, the number of people adversely affected by the pandemic psychologically may very well be much higher than the number of people physically harmed by the virus.
Speaking of the news, here’s the first holistic tip for keeping your spirits up during these challenging times:
#1: Don’t Watch The News
You don’t have to be an ostrich and bury your head in the sand, ignoring what’s going on in the world. But it’s extremely liberating and beneficial for mental health to drastically reduce your consumption of news, both from mainstream media and social media.
Scan a couple news headlines if you must. Check your local municipality’s website for up-to-date information on social distancing guidelines, city park closures and the like. However, watching news broadcasts can fuel anxiety and fear.
The same goes for watching violent shows on TV. Incredulously, TV series about pandemics (“Pandemic”, “Contagion” and “Containment”) are among the most popular shows on streaming services such as Netflix.
Try a 7-day news detox. If people in your household want to watch or read the news, ask that they respect your desire not to talk about the current state of affairs—unless it’s positive news, such as a downward trend in hospitalizations.
#2: Focus On Things In Your Control
You have no control when the self-quarantine will end. So don’t continuously dwell on the question of “When will things go back to normal?” Be grateful for the positive things in your life such as food, clothing and shelter.
Speaking of food, you are in control of what you eat, which plays such a critical role in keeping your immune system balanced. (More on this below.)
Use the stay-at-home mandate as an opportunity to cook and eat more low-starch vegetables than you ever have. If you have more time on your hands than usual because of reduced work, learn new recipes that will entice you to eat a cornucopia of healthy veggies.
(And if you are out of work, you can’t control the economy, but perhaps you can spend time finding work that you can do from home, even if it pays less than your former job.)
#3: Get Some Fresh Air And Sunlight
At the beginning of the pandemic, videos that went viral (no pun intended related to viruses) showed residents in Italy, one of the hardest-hit countries, singing opera on balconies. Being exposed to fresh air enhances mood. It’s also highly therapeutic in other ways. In fact, open-air treatment was successful in treating patients of the so-called Spanish Influenza pandemic.
To put it simply, being outside generally makes people happier. The mechanisms of why this happens is not completely understood. One theory involves negative ions, which are invisible air particles that may explain why our mood is lifted when we spend time by the beach or elsewhere in bucolic nature.
However, if you live in an area that’s on lockdown, you can’t so much as take a walk around your neighborhood. Even if that’s so, what you can do is get some fresh air circulating in your home by keeping windows or doors open.
If you have a balcony or front stoop, try to expose your skin to sunlight. Even just 5-10 minutes of sun exposure can boost levels of vitamin D3 and serotonin, both of which can support mood.
#4: Short Bursts of Exercise
Exercise is another area where the immune system and mental health interconnect.
If you’re fortunate enough to be working from home, make sure you take frequent breaks (3-5 times a day) to exercise. That doesn’t mean you have to work out for a long time. On the contrary, shorter bursts of exercise may be more beneficial for counteracting the harmful effects of being sedentary than one prolonged workout.
Exercise supports mental balance because it stimulates the release of dopamine and serotonin, the so-called “feel-good chemicals” of the brain.
(Can’t get to the gym these days? Try these 3 simple total-body exercises at home.)
#5: Nourish Your GABA
If you’re a fan of Miracle Noodle, you probably don’t need a reminder about how important eating a healthy diet is. But did you know that there are certain foods that help activate a neurotransmitter that helps you feel more calm?
The neurotransmitter in question is GABA. It plays a vital role in getting good sleep and having mental balance. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. This means it helps prevent the cells in your brain and central nervous system (neurons) from becoming overactive.
The more active your GABA neurotransmitters are, the less mental stress you’ll likely experience—without the feeling of being sedated, as is the case with certain anti-anxiety medications.
In short, GABA promotes calmness.
You can obtain GABA or increase the production of it in your body by eating certain natural foods, or you can take a GABA supplement. GABA is naturally found in green tea as well as fermented foods. That’s why having some low-sugar yogurt about 30-60 minutes before bedtime may help promote better sleep.
And great news if you’re a chocolate lover. Cacao, the raw form of chocolate has been shown in studies (like this one) to exert a positive effect on GABA. Keep in mind that most chocolate bars contain added sugars. Choose a dark chocolate of at least 70% cacao with a minimal amount of ingredients (5 or less).
It may come as no surprise that some of the healthiest foods such as berries, spinach and broccoli also can be GABA-good. So, too, are beans and lentils, nuts, citrus fruits and fish.
#6: A No-Brainer: Avoid Junk Food
When it comes to diet, your brain is what you eat. Eating healthy encourages mental balance.
A 2019 review of 16 randomized controlled trials involving over 45,000 participants concluded: “Dietary interventions hold promise as a novel intervention for reducing symptoms of depression across the population. One of the 16 studies included 67 clinically depressed subjects. By eating a Mediterranean diet, the subjects showed “significantly greater reduction in depressive symptoms.”
The researchers of the study said of their work, “To our knowledge, this is the first meta-analysis to examine the efficacy of dietary interventions for depression and anxiety.”
But the researchers also acknowledge that their findings aren’t particularly Earth-shattering: “However, this is perhaps unsurprising the dietary intervention generally hold some common features, such as aiming to reduce the intake of ‘junk’ foods (e.g., high-fat, high-sugar discretionary foods and takeaways), while replacing these with high-fiber, nutrient-dense alternatives, such as vegetables.”
May this advice help you experience mental harmony during these unprecedented times.