“A mental illness crisis is looming as millions of people worldwide are surrounded by death and disease and forced into isolation, poverty and anxiety by the pandemic of Covid-19, United Nations health experts said,” according to a Reuters article by Kate Kelland. The director of the World Health Organization’s mental health department, Devora Kestel, is quoted in the article. She says: “The isolation, the fear, the uncertainty, the economic turmoil – they all cause or could cause psychological distress.”
In the past three weeks, more than half a million people accessed an online training course that aims to prevent suicide, a BBC article reports. The training course is run by UK-based charity Zero Suicide Alliance and leads users through the skills they might need to help someone who is considering suicide.
It’s clear that supporting mental health issues is a priority at the moment, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues. To mark Mental Health Awareness Week (18–24 May), a campaign run by the Mental Health Foundation, we share some tips on how to look after your mental wellbeing while at home. These tips are transferable to life outside of lockdown, too.
Connecting the body through breathing
In a CISI TV video, Carina Asuncion, a senior consultant at the TLEX Institute (a company that offers leadership training programmes), highlights the importance of using breathing to help control your mental state. In the webcast, she says that “lockdown is the best stress test for mental wellbeing and resilience” and acknowledges that there’s no clear difference between work and life.
She says that breathing helps us come into the present moment, and being in the present moment is when we can be the most creative, innovative and make skilful decisions. “It is also a time when we can be happy and peaceful,” she adds. Being present and engaging in the moment is the definition of practising mindfulness.
Asuncion explains that there is a relationship between emotions and the rhythm of breathing. “Every emotion has a rhythm … when we’re happy it’s slow and deep, when we’re angry it’s short and fast,” she says.
She runs through some practical techniques you can use while sitting at your desk. One of these is the wave method, which, she says, activates the parasympathetic part of the nervous system, which can be soothing.
- Place one hand on your stomach, and one hand on your chest
- Breathing through your stomach, your stomach expands as does your chest
- Hold your breath for a few moments after breathing in
- Let your breath go, and hold it for a few moments
- Repeat this for a few rounds.
The UK government’s new lockdown restrictions mean you can do unlimited exercise every day, as long as social distancing measures are adhered to. Keeping fit and healthy is obviously good for the body, but it also impacts mental wellbeing.
The Mental Health Foundation reports that regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and help you concentrate, feel better and also sleep better, too. “Exercising doesn’t just mean doing sport or going to the gym. Walks in the park, gardening or housework can also keep you active,” it says. “Try and make physical activity that you enjoy a part of your day.”
When you’re feeling stressed, summoning the energy to exercise can be difficult, but if you’re not in the mood for a high-intensity workout or a long run, for example, walking is still extremely good for your mental health. In an Independent article, author Lawrence Ostlere writes: “Even a 20-minute walk is good for the mind, especially if you live near a park, fields or woodland. One study found that walking through green space, rather than an urban setting, brought about a state of ‘lower frustration’ and ‘higher meditation’.” Another study referenced by Ostlere, by the Harvard School of Public Health, finds that “regularly walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%”.
The lockdown has made some people more appreciative of the outdoor spaces around them. According to a survey of more than 2,000 adults living in the UK by the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the Women’s Institute, 53% of respondents now appreciate local green spaces more, and 57% say the lockdown has made them more aware of the importance of green spaces for mental health and wellbeing.
The Mental Health Foundation’s theme for this year’s awareness week is kindness. On its website, the charity’s chief executive Mark Rowland explains why it picked the theme.
“We think it could be the most important week we’ve hosted, not least because our own research shows that protecting our mental health is going to be central to us coping with and recovering from the coronavirus pandemic – with the psychological and social impacts likely to outlast the physical symptoms of the virus,” he writes. “The research shows that kindness is an antidote to isolation and creates a sense of belonging. It helps reduce stress, brings a fresh perspective and deepens friendships. Kindness to ourselves can prevent shame from corroding our sense of identity and help boost our self-esteem. Kindness can even improve feelings of confidence and optimism.”
The foundation is encouraging people to “carry out or reflect on an act of kindness”, sharing it with a photo or video on social media with the hashtags #KindnessMatters and #MentalHealthFoundationWeek and tagging the Mental Health Foundation.
How do you plan on showing kindness? Leave your comments below.