In the past two issues of our Staying Healthy at Home series, we first discussed exercising from home with the equipment that is available to you.  In our last issue we discussed cutting the sugar from our diets to avoid insulin resistance and to cut down on the typical North American diet of high carbohydrate meals.  In this article, we will address our mental wellbeing. 

With the current pandemic situation we are limited in the activities we can do, people and family we can see and travel is just out of the picture.  Whether we are living on our own or with others, be it roommates or family, these are the people that are in our lives and we can’t do too much to change that.  Please make sure that you are safe, because, believe it or not, not everyone is in an ideal situation.  If you are in a safe environment, this is a time, however, where we can build stronger relationships with those around us.  In my very busy life with two teenage boys, we used to rarely have dinner together because we would be running them to practices or games somewhere.  When things return to normal, I will really miss our nightly dinners  together and the conversations that we have. 

While we may feel that we have all had enough of this already, there are some things we can do if we are feeling down, depressed, anxious or just sick of this situation.  Let us discuss a few things we can do, to occupy our time and make sure that our mental health is in check.

1.  Have a schedule:  When you organize your time into a schedule, you will feel more accomplished by achieving something.  You may have not been at home and not working before, this can feel really odd.  You haven’t had so much “free” time before.  Make a list of things that you want to do and daily things that need to be done (chores, cooking, etc…).  Organize your day so that you are keeping busy while incorporating the things you need to do on a daily basis, with a few things that you want to do.  You can go as far as planning your weeks with things that don’t necessarily need to be done daily, but 1 or 2 times a week.  And then add in that monthly activity to your schedule. 

2. 
Exercise:  Daily exercise has shown to be beneficial to your mood and mental health.  As you exercise, you release the “feel good” neurotransmitters which help balance out your hormones and can benefit those that suffer from depression.  You don’t have to have a rigorous workout, simply getting outside for a walk can have very beneficial effects on your mood. 

3.    3.  Talk to someone:  There are many ways you can talk to someone.  The good old fashioned telephone is a great way to start.  With everyone using video conferencing for work, maybe you don’t want to be on another video call.  That is okay.  Arrange to go for a socially distanced walk with someone.  Have a porch chat with your neighbor.  Send someone a text that you haven’t been in touch with for a while.  And if there is deeper conversations that you need to have with a professional, there are several therapists that are working and having either telephone or video calls. 

4.      4.Go outside:  I know it is the winter, but bundle up and get outside.  The fresh air has a significant impact on our mental functioning.  A study done in 2015 compared the brain activity of people after they went for a 90min walk in either a natural setting or an urban setting.  The results found that there was lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area that is more active with negative thoughts or emotions.  The effect of seeing trees and greenery appears to have a soothing effect and distracts your mind from negative thinking (Harvard Health Publishing, July 2018). 

5.     5. Try something new:  If you are into music, teach yourself to play the guitar or piano.  There are so many online free instructional videos to learn a new skill or craft.  Drawing is another skill that has many free instructional videos.  Find your interest and get it done! 

6.     6.  Change up your routine:  You can change up your daily activities just a bit.  Try walking your regular walking trail the opposite way and pay attention to those landmarks.  It’s surprising how very stimulating this can be to your brain when you see things from a different direction. 

7.     7.  Address your nutrition:  Supplement with Vitamin D in the winter.  Depending where you live in Canada or other parts of the world, your skin colour and your overall chemical make-up in your body, producing Vitamin D, from sunlight alone, during the months of November to February, can be very difficult.  If you have other nutritional concerns, I always suggest speaking with a naturopathic doctor or a registered dietician.  These individuals are well trained in the area of nutrition and will provide you with some excellent dietary suggestions which may make a tremendous impact on your mental health.   

Try a few of these suggestions and see if this helps.  There are many more options that can help with your mental health. 

Please remember, if you or someone you know are in desperate needs and wish to speak with a therapist, councillor or psychologist please contact your family doctor as most have individuals either working in their office directly or are teamed up with an accessible resource.  If this is an emergency, please contact Hamilton COAST for yourself or a loved one and they can help you through a difficult situation.