6 Activities to Support Your Mental Health While Social Distancing
Supporting your mental health is more important than ever because we are all dealing with increase stress that comes from living in a very unpredictable time. Everyone is trying to navigate this new reality that involves social distancing, working from home, schools being closed and constant news about the growing number of cases of coronavirus.
Right now, it is challenging for most people to do the activities they used to do to help manage stress and support their physical and mental health.
One of the most important ways you can support your mental health is by taking care of your body. As I’ve talked about before what you eat affects your mood, but food isn’t the only thing that affects your mental health.
Here are six activities to support your mental health that you can do at home or while practicing social distancing. And, of course, you’ll still be able to do them when the pandemic ends.
1. Walking or Hiking
Walk or hiking is an excellent way to help your brain thrive and to support your mood. The calm, scenic environment allows the mind to rest and reset, and exercise also has mood-boosting benefits. Walking in nature has documented, physiological effects on both cognitive functions and mood.
A recent study conducted by Stanford University explores the benefits of being in nature, even in small doses. The study notes that “more than half of the world’s population lives in urban settings, and that is forecast to rise to 70 percent within a few decades. Just as urbanization and disconnection from nature have grown dramatically, so have mental disorders such as depression.”
Being outside in the sunshine also helps you get enough Vitamin D, which is an important mood-boosting micronutrient.
Look for places to walk where there aren’t many people walking, so you can stay far enough apart to practice social distancing while enjoying the mental health benefits of walking.
If you can’t find a place to walk in nature, try bringing nature inside with houseplants or an indoor container garden with vegetables and herbs.
Yoga is beneficial to mental health. Similar to walking, yoga is an activity that engages both mind and body. There are multiple studies showing the link between yoga and improved mental health.
In one example, a study from 2000 looked a how a yoga class affects the mood of patients in a psychiatric hospital. After a single yoga class, there was a decrease in feelings of “tension, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, and fatigue.”
If you can’t get out to a yoga class, try an online class. There are lots of styles of yoga so experiment until you find one that works for you. I like Fit2B for relaxing, restorative yoga, face and neck yoga, and more intense yoga flow routines.
Mindfulness is an excellent way to support mental health and fitness. Meditation is one way of practicing mindfulness, but there are other ways you can include intentional reflection which allows the brain to slow down.
Mindfulness is especially important in these stressful times that demand we continuously adapt to unpredictable circumstances and deal with continual stress. It allows overactive brains the chance to focus on the present. Whether prayer, breathing exercises or focusing on the blessings in our lives, meditation promotes an environment of tranquillity and peace in the midst of the chaos we have become accustomed to in our personal lives.
You can practice mindfulness anywhere. Incorporate mindful activities to support your mental health at home when you are practicing social distancing or self-isolation.
I’ve put together a collection of resources to help you include more mindfulness in your life.
All physical exercise is helpful for mental health and physical fitness. Heidi Godman of the Harvard Health Letter notes there are benefits to both thinking skills and memory when you do aerobic exercise. Researchers at the University of British Columbia “found that regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.”
Studies show that aerobic exercise also helps support mood and reduces stress and anxiety.
If you can’t get out for a run or visit to the gym, try one of Fit2B’s free workouts, bouncing on a rebounder, jumping jacks, or anything else that gets your heart pumping. If you need weights, use the canned food you’ve been stocking up on.
5. Listening to Music
Music, whether instrumental or vocal, can bring back good memories and a general sense of warmth, all while engaging the brain.
Experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that our brains react differently to music than to other types of speech and sounds.
Studies have also shown that listening to music activates large areas of the brain and triggers the release of dopamine, the feel-good chemical. So, if you’re feeling in low spirits, or just a bit vulnerable, you can take control by choosing music to lift your mood. Better yet, dance along to get the extra health benefits of aerobic exercise. You don’t need to leave home to have a dance party!
Laughter can also support mental health. It relieves stress and decreases the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. Cortisol boosts inflammation in the body, and inflammation is linked to mental health issues.
Even when you are stuck at home you can search YouTube for some cute baby animals stumbling over themselves, or find a comedy on Netflix and spend some time laughing.
If you’re finding it hard to appreciate humour right now, try laughter yoga where you can benefit from contagious laughter.