Anxious, stressed and chronically isolated – the ramifications of this pandemic are set to rock our mental health to its core. This is especially so for those of us whose circumstances may make us more vulnerable to experiencing poor mental health. But here’s what we know about our mental health, for everything that is out of our control, our genes, our childhood, we actually have control over a significant chunk of our mental wellbeing. And yes, wanting to change your mental health for the better can feel daunting, especially if you find yourself in a rut, but by focusing on small, manageable changes you will find yourself steadily improving your mental fitness.
With the pandemic stripping us of many activities that helped to produce the right balance of neurotransmitters (chemicals in your brain) to keep us ‘happy’ for the most part, we have to look at different activities that will help boost the production of these ‘feel-good’ hormones. Here’s three small activities you can start to do today to begin sending the right signals to your brain. Practice them consistently and your brain will develop new positive neural pathways that will begin to improve your mental health. Remember every small and manageable positive step can help you dig yourself out of the rut you may find yourself in.
Good posture doesn’t just prevent aches and pains. With so many of us working from home now, it’s likely your organisation has sent you information on how to set up your work station at home to ensure good posture in your home office… and it’s not just for your physical wellbeing. Feeling unmotivated and a bit down? Sitting in a slumped posture can send signals to your brain that reiterates your low mood. Feeling proud or confident, sitting or standing up straight can make slight adjustments in your testosterone levels and actually make you experience this positive mood even deeper. And it’s not about trying to have perfect posture, it’s just making a conscious effort to not sit slumped in your chair to avoid solidifying a less desirable mood.
Stretching and relaxing your muscles. The pandemic has definitely seen many of us operating in our fight or flight stress response for extended periods of time. This can start a feedback loop between our brains and our bodies. When our muscles are tense it sends a signal to our brain that we are feeling tense and stressed, and feeling tense and stressed can lead to tighter and more tense muscles. To break this cycle you can perhaps practice some muscle relaxation. You could do this by trying some simple stretches or if you are particularly stressed, you could try a technique that has been around for almost 100 years called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). This technique focuses on the fact that your muscles don’t tighten on their own, your brain tells them to do so. It’s one of those bodily functions that can be triggered both unconsciously and consciously. So how can you stop the signal telling you to tense your muscles? By focusing on a particular muscle or set of muscles, consciously tensing them and then consciously relaxing them. The best way to do this is to start with your facial muscles and then gradually work your way down to your toes.
Get warm. Increasing your body temperature, even slightly can improve a low mood by activating the part in your reptilian brain that produces serotonin. Serotonin is a key neurotransmitter that helps regulate anxiety, stress and depressed mood.
So, if you are feeling particularly stressed, anxious or just in a bit of an iso rut, focus on making some of these small positive changes. Just like most things, taking small steps to begin with will eventually lead to leaps and bounds.
These wellbeing strategies are featured in many of our webinars to help support your employees as they continue to live in this time of increased fear, anxiety and stress. For more information, contact us at [email protected] or head to our website www.cfch.com.au