Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, pulmonary medicine specialist and ICU doctor Mike Hansen, MD has made YouTube videos dispelling medical misinformation and addressing common questions and misconceptions around coronavirus. In his latest video, however, he tackles a different but related health issue which has arisen in the last 10 months: how the pandemic has affected mass mental wellbeing.
He points out that the new set of circumstances we live in—working from home, practicing social distancing, and self-isolating—will have had huge knock-on effects on our sleep patterns, diets, and levels of physical activity, all of which feed into our mental and emotional state. Hansen also fears that many people’s issues with addiction, be it to alcohol or even doomscrolling, will have become exacerbated during these extended periods of confinement.
He outlines six distinct factors which play a role in mental health and wellbeing:
“There’s new, even stronger evidence for the benefits of exercise on mental health,” says Hansen, explaining that resistance training and cardio have both been linked to a decrease in depressive symptoms. “You don’t have to exhaust yourself,” he adds. “Low to moderate intensity exercise improves mood and vigour, while high intensity training, if overdone, has the potential to increase tension and fatigue.”
A diet comprising fish, fruits and vegetables, nuts, and healthy fats may stand you in better stead than a diet heavy in processed foods when it comes to reducing the risk of developing common mental disorders, says Hansen, citing dieticians who have named the “mediterranean diet” the healthiest way of eating.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is anecdotal evidence that the number of people struggling with insomnia and other sleep disorders increased in 2020. Hansen recommends eliminating screen-time in the hour leading up to bed, and practicing mindfulness techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises or yoga, in order to create conditions that are conducive to better sleep hygiene.
Being out in nature and exposure to natural sunlight can have a huge restorative effect on us, including lowering stress levels and reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. “Getting outside also means you’re spending time off social media, away from your phone, and the importance of this can’t be underestimated,” says Hansen.
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Reducing our interactions with friends and family to text-based conversations can make us feel even more isolated. “I would advise, wherever possible, to use a visual means of communicating with your circle,” says Hansen. “At the very least, try to have a voice call.”
Easier said than done, right? “There is light at the end of this tunnel,” says Hansen, referring to the planned vaccine rollouts, the new Biden administration’s dedication to fighting the pandemic, and the warmer months coming, all of which, he believes, are reasons to be optimistic.
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