Taking care of our mental health is just as important as caring for our physical health, but did you know they are also interconnected?
There are many emotional, social, spiritual, economic, biological, etc. experiences which affect our mental health, but there are several physically related impacts as well. The pandemic has been active long enough to have significantly shaken up our routines and, in some cases, has caused us to struggle with staying physically active, feelings of apathy, and being social. When we get into these slumps of withdrawal from our regular activities, it greatly shifts our mood and self-worth. Today we are highlighting a different reality brought on by COVID-19 and how we can climb out of a funk.
GETTING TOO COMFORTABLE
Many of us envision our experience in quarantine or additional time at home to be spent cooking healthy meals, joining virtual fitness classes, and becoming the best versions of ourselves. If you are not seeing people as often as you were pre-pandemic, you may feel as though there isn’t a point in getting dressed, grooming, or allocating as much time towards hygiene each day since you aren’t presenting yourself to anyone. If you are busier than ever, you still might be cutting out some of these practices in order to save more time for other activities that you prioritize. Increased isolation or pressure could also lead us to:
- stress eat
- consume more alcohol and substances
- gain weight
- watch too much television
- not exercise as frequently
Which can have serious consequences on our health such as increasing the risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, especially in children, as well as a higher risk of developing a negative body image. We might engage in such harmful behaviours to numb our bodily sensations rather than to experience a range of feelings, in an effort to avoid the emotions that we consider to be unpleasant. However, doing so only prevents communication through natural bodily cues to tell us how to regulate ourselves (when to eat, to sleep, to get moving, what emotions to feel to protect ourselves, etc.) and becomes an ongoing cycle of indolence that is difficult to break out of.
How you can break the slump: remind yourself that putting an effort into your appearance does not have to be dependent on who is going to see you visually…do it for you. When we think we look good, it can make us feel good. It can give us the little boost of confidence we need to keep moving forward. This does not just have to be related to our appearance though- pampering ourselves in general by taking baths, washing the bed sheets, moisturizing, or putting on a face mask, for instance, can allow us to feel extra special and relaxed. Engaging in physical activity helps to stimulate the growth of new brain cells and raises our self-esteem.
If you are going to see someone outside of your household, remember to evaluate the risks similarly to how you would assess the risks of going to a grocery/retail store, testing centre, or restaurant (transition rates in your community, if there are any close contacts to you both with pre-existing health conditions, the safety level of the activity you are doing, i.e. indoors vs. outdoors, public space vs. private space) and pay attention to the recommendations as outlined by public health.
LACK OF EXCITEMENT/MOTIVATION
It is difficult to make plans these days as the number of people we can see, where we are able to go, and which activities are available to us are constantly changing. Especially with some regions returning to Stage 2, there is always an increased probability of a scheduled event facing cancellation. Sometimes, when we have something to look forward to, it acts as our drive to keep going and complete tasks since there is a reward at the end. As a result of the restrictions due to the pandemic, you may have experienced:
- fatigue and burn out
- distractions and gloomy thoughts
- stress, depression, and/or anxiety
- isolation and loneliness
- feelings of unfulfillment and purposeless
All of which are completely valid! Some days you may feel that you are just surviving but being hopeful leads to better physical and mental health. If you have adapted as well as possible to the disruptions in work, school, staying home more often, and taking helpful steps to protect your mental health, yet continue to lack motivation, there may be a physical explanation. Hypothyroidism, leaky gut, and imbalances of blood sugar are all examples of health issues that can steal your energy and desire to thrive.
How you can gain interest: think back to a challenging time in your past and remind yourself how you got through it and that you did move forward. Had you not, you likely would have missed out on opportunities for growth, memories, and positive experiences. Practice getting excited about smaller things. Pre-pandemic, we might have built excitement in anticipation of a trip or a large event, so now is a good time to appreciate the little things like ‘Breakfast for Dinner night’, ‘Takeout Thursday’, ‘Facetime Friday’. If you feel that something is ‘off’ about you and your body, contact your care provider for a thorough check up to rule out any medical reasons for feeling lazy and discouraged. For more tips on building motivation, see Finding Motivation.
REDUCED PHYSICAL CONNECTION
Thankfully, advanced technology has allowed us to be creative with staying in touch with our friends, family, and the community, but no form of virtual connection can replace the feelings and experience of physical touch. Touch helps to form bonds, boosts our immune systems, and promotes the release of feel-good hormones such as dopamine and serotonin (which having an imbalance of are linked to a range of mental illnesses). The pandemic has:
- made it hard to meet people
- deterred hand holding, hugging, kissing
- potentially reduced your libido
- prevented the provision of physical support
- limited expression through body language
And this is against our nature as human beings. Physical touch is a way to communicate, show affection, and build rapport in friendships and familial and romantic relationships with others. Now, we must make a conscious effort to exert physical restraint. It can make us feel trapped and even tense.
How you can fill the sensory void: Luckily, we are resilient and creative creatures! If you have other members in the household including pets, try to hug/cuddle/touch them each day when you can if it is consensual. Some families in quarantine have even built DIY ‘hug-gloves’ which could be some sort of soft structure to hug so you can release your tension and oxytocin, the love hormone. In addition, you can book a professional service if feasible, such as a massage or hair cut to receive stimulation through touch, or practice breath work, self-massaging your neck, back, arms, wherever calms you. Staying in touch is also important through dating apps, video chats, phone calls, writing letters, or outdoor socially distanced visits. You can also experiment with trying new flavours, aromatherapy scents, or ask your doctor about prescription mood enhancers if you feel deprived.
For more tips on bringing thoughtful awareness to sensational cues, see Grounding Tips.