With 2020 in the rearview it feels like we can breathe a little easier. I feel like we're half way through our race which feels more like a marathon. We have a long way to go but at least we can see the finish line on the horizon. That being said it has been a tough stretch because of the stress caused by COVID-19. Especially mentally challenging has been the self-isolation that we had to endure during this past holiday season. That is why it is important to take stock of our mental health and see what we can do to improve our mental health in the new year. Not just for us but also for our friends and family. It is about us being strong as a community. Apart but not Alone.
Although we have been able to stay connected to each other using Aps such as Zoom and Facebook we do still need to be cognizant of what we consume online. Being in isolation during COVID-19 has made us more reliant on Social Media and we need to be more aware of what kind of positive and negative effects it can have on us.
Social media can make us feel inadequate about our life or experience by giving us the impression that the grass is always greener on the other side. Often we share the best of our day to day lives which can give false impressions. We are often quick to share our highlights and rarely talk about our struggles. This can feed into our feelings of fear of missing out. Overuse of social media can also fuel feelings of self-isolation which can worsen anxiety and depression.
Social media has been a great tool to still allow us to stay connected to each other but we still need to balance it out with other activities to help us feel connected to ourselves and our environment.
Prior to the pandemic we had a routine for our day to day as there was more structure. But since the pandemic has come we have had our routines thrown out the window. One of the effects it has had on us is its negative impact on our sleep hygiene.
With you spending more time at home you may be tempted to use your bedroom for work but this could be contributing to some of your restless nights. Make sure that you are reserving the activities of the bedroom just for intimacy and sleep.
For example some people because they are home more often now or due to stress may be tempted to take more naps during the day which will have an impact on our quality of sleep later at night. Some may also have an increase in anxiety or depression which can sometimes result in poor quality of sleep as well. And as we know things have never been as stressful as they have been this past year.
When it comes to your sleep routine is the best thing for it so make sure that you are getting to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Most people do need a minimum of 7 hours a night to feel well rested but everyone is different.
Try not to exercise or drink caffeine late in the day as this can interrupt your sleep. A healthy regular routine of daily exercise though goes a long way in helping you get a healthy sleep.
You want to try to avoid the use of electronics prior to bedtime as the bright lights from the screen can cause an impact on melatonin levels which is a hormone we produce when it gets dark out to help the body transition into sleep. You also want to limit your consumption of things like social media or the news right before bed as this can increase our anxiety levels and disrupt sleep.
Sleep goes a long way in helping manage our moods. Studies have shown that a lower quality of sleep will result in more negative moods while also decreasing the number of positive moods we experience. This is especially true during the pandemic as we are able to better able to deal with stress when we have a full nights rest.
When I talk about spirituality I do not necessarily mean religion but I am referring to a feeling of connection with your mind and body, A sense of awareness that comes from activities like meditation which gives you a greater sense of your physical and mental health.
Mindfulness is a type of meditation where you become keenly aware of how you are feeling both mentally and physically. You also come to understand how your mind and body are connected to one another and how once can influence the other. It allows you to not be distracted by all the problems that have been running through your mind all day and take time to yourself to better understand what your own needs are both physically and mentally.
Meditation has been noted to provide several different health benefits including reducing blood pressure, helping with depression and anxiety, improving sleep as well as helping manage pain.
Exercise is not just good for the Body but it also helps to strengthen the soul! It can help to fight depression, anxiety as well as make us more resistant to everyday stress. When we exercise it releases endorphins which are feel good chemicals that are responsible for feelings of euphoria.
Exercise is a great way to help with anxiety as it can reduce the tension we feel day to day and distract our minds from our worries through physical activity. In this sense exercise does share some commonalities to meditation in that it quiets the mind allowing to better listen to our bodies.
And you do not need to be a weekend warrior or to be training for a marathon to get the positive benefits from exercising. Even going for walks daily for just 30 minutes a day will do wonders in making you feel better mentally.
With us being stuck in self isolation for the last year and many of us working at home it is not unusual to get cabin fever. I know at the beginning we were so stressed out by the self isolation sometimes me and my wife would just go on a drive to just get out of the neighbourhood for a scenic ride around Edmonton.
But self isolation does not mean you cannot go out and go for a walk even if it is just in your neighbourhood. It is important to get that fresh air and enjoy the outdoors. Sometimes I would find if I had too much anxiety going on myself it was probably because I too was spending too much time indoors on my devices. In these cases a brisk walk did me a lot of good to reset myself mentally. Ideally I think it is important to go out for walks daily, weather permitting, both for the exercise and the fresh air.
I hope 2021 does allow us to close the chapter on COVID-19. It has been more than a year since the pandemic had started but at least now there is hope with the COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out. Until then however we will need to continue to be diligent and physically distance ourselves from friends and family. This will continue to put pressure and stress on us. So while we continue to march towards that finish line it is important that you do all you can to help promote the well being for you and your loved ones. And sometimes we cannot do it on our own so if you feel like you do need help you can always reach out to 1-877-303-2642 which is the Alberta Health Mental Health Helpline. We may be apart but we are not alone!