It can be enormously helpful to limit or consciously control our intake of bad or upsetting news. This is especially relevant in these times of Covid-19. It is important to be informed about national and world affairs but we can easily over-do that. Take particular care about apps and social media with notifications popping up on your devices delivering bad and distressing news. One of the most difficult and distressing things about dealing with bad news is when we have little or no power to change or control what is happening and when it happens. In stressful conditions, this feeling of powerlessness can even lead to conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. So if you want to be informed about national or international affairs then make a conscious and deliberate decision to seek that information by choosing a time to switch on your TV or by going to a website. Don’t allow yourself to be bombarded daily by bad news through your devices and don’t keep habitually refreshing your newsfeed for updates on an unfolding disaster. And if the bad news we hear is something that we do have some ability to impact then we can overcome our sense of powerlessness by donating a small sum of money to a fund or by volunteering our time to help a cause.
Yoga is a truly holistic practise, excellent helper for stress and anxiety, that engages all parts of the human experience. Yoga works on our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and relational selves and it is no accident that the popularity of yoga has lasted thousands of years. Its benefits on physical health are well documented in this part of the world but it is less commonly known that the benefits of yoga on our mental health and emotional well-being even exceed those of many other forms of physical activity. And just like there are many forms of physical exercise there are many forms of yoga. Some forms of yoga involve slower and gentler movements and stretch while others provide a faster pace so you can choose a type of yoga that suits you, suits your body, your goals and personality. If you are not sure what type of yoga is for you then get in touch with Claudia, senior teacher and founder of Uniyoga Dublin to find a series of classes that suits you.
Taking care of our diet is one of the most important things we can do in life. Recent research has demonstrated that the brain chemical serotonin which is associated with psychological well-being can be found in plentiful supply in our gut as well as in our brain. Studies have shown that a well-balanced diet with enough water can greatly improve our ability to relax, be happier and deal with stress and anxiety. In contrast, a poor diet can worsen or even cause symptoms similar to anxiety and depression
Exercise has shown itself to have not only have beneficial effects for the body but can also positively affect our mental and emotional well-being. Exercise causes our brains to release endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals and exercise is also a great way to leave stress, worry and anxiety behind us. If you are taking up a new form of exercise make sure you take any appropriate precautions and ensure that you choose a form of exercise that you enjoy. If you hate running then you are unlikely to sustain that form of exercise beyond a few weeks. However, if you enjoy your chosen form of exercise you are more likely to continue it for months and years to come and even on those occasional days that you are overly tired or lacking in motivation. Consider other factors when taking up exercise such as if you hate being outdoors in the rain and cold of the winter months then you might benefit from taking up a form of exercise that you can carry out indoors or that you can move indoors when necessary.
Learn a new skill or hobby. For many years scientists believed that our brains were more or less fully formed by our mid- 20s’ but in more recent years the concept of neuro-plasticity teaches us that as adults our capacity to learn new skills remain with us throughout adult life. Much of the difficulty we have with the concept of learning a new skill or hobby lies more with our impatience and willingness to find the time to invest in it rather than due to any innate ability. So, when you take up a new activity remind yourself to be patient with yourself as you learn your new skill and remember that you are taking up your new hobby purely for enjoyment and not for financial gain. As adults, we can sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that any new activity must be centred around financial benefit or enhancing our career rather than simply for pleasure. There is a wonderful freedom in having a hobby that does not require you to try to make money from it. If you think you don’t have the time for a new hobby then take an honest look at how much time you spend each day on social media or watching TV and take some of that time wasted there for your new activity.
Use the screen time apps on your phone to monitor how much time you spend on your phone. If at all possible, take a full day-long break from social media once a week. Social media can be a wonderful tool for good and for enhancing our lives and our ability to connect with people. But overuse of social mean can lead to addictive attachment and withdrawal effects (similar to the withdrawal effect of drugs). Excessive use of social media has also been linked with anxiety and depression. Social media encourages us to fall into the trap of constantly unfavourably comparing ourselves and our lives with others. Taking a break from it for part of each day and if possible for one full day per week can be hugely beneficial for most people. You could also reframe and reconstitute your use of social media to help your learn your new skill or hobby such as viewing tutorials on playing a musical instrument, learning to cook or bake, learn another language and so on.
When personal life or work life is stressful a little escapism is okay occasionally and when we consciously choose to briefly avoid our troubles. Many of us unknowingly and without any sense of awareness spend too much of our lives trying to escape pain or discomfort and this is not particularly helpful. Instead, we should make deliberate decisions to take occasional breaks from the stresses and strains of everyday life. But we should never use alcohol or drugs to escape our problems. Drugs or alcohol may provide temporary relief but by using these substances we are training our brains and bodies that we do not need to learn real ways to deal with stress. By drinking excessively and using drugs we are teaching ourselves that the solution to stress and anxiety comes through a substance that we take into our bodies. If we do this then our ability to learn authentic and effective ways of dealing with stress is greatly impaired. So, the answer is to face our troubles but to also to consciously take some breaks and light relief such as a movie night and popcorn with your partner, to have fun with friends, read a book or watch a comedy or comedian that you like.
Studies have shown that even viewing pictures of the sea, mountains and green fields have positive effects on our mental health. A 2015 study showed that a group of people who took a 90-minute walk in nature had less activity in the part of the brain associated with negative thoughts and negative feelings versus a group who took a walk in an urban area. Another study showed that patients viewing pictures of scenes of nature from their hospital bed reported less experience of pain after their operation. If life circumstances and demands make it difficult for you to get out in nature as much as you would like then try to bring nature to you by making a garden for yourself or by growing some indoor plants.