Worries and anxieties about COVID-19 and its impact can be overwhelming. Social distances make it even more difficult. Know how to deal with this pandemic.
- Our brains and our immune system are strongly interlinked. The immune system is the main mediator of environmental agents such as bacteria, chemicals, and the notorious COVID-19. It is closely linked to our mood and to a number of diseases of the brain from Alzheimer’s disease to stroke and depression.
- Stress is normal and can be healthy (and stimulate healthy behavior: think of a zebra trying to escape a rapidly approaching lion), but there is not too much-sustained stress. High and unregulated levels of stress have a number of negative consequences for the brain, immunity and vascular systems, leading to imbalances in blood sugar, high blood pressure and impaired immunity, and inflammatory reactions – exactly the opposite of what is needed to combat the potential impact of exposure to COVID-19.
- Physical exercise is a key component of improving both physical and mental health, and regular exercise has been associated with changes in brain connectivity and increases brain growth factors ( e.g. brain-derived neurotrophic factor) and decreases oxidative stress that damages cells and tissues.
- Mindfulness and relaxation strategies can enhance mood and sleep quality by improving awareness and concentration of the body’s arousal system, as well as controlling anxiety and anxiety.
- Investing in mental health pays long-term dividends. Research has shown that future mental and physical health is related to past investments in mental and physical health. The sooner the better, but it’s never too late.
A healthier ‘new normal’: three habits for good mental hygiene to beat COVID-19
- Focus every day on what you can do and take action – no matter how small. Low-tech and even non-tech approaches matter a lot. Go outside and enjoy nature (as approved by your local guidelines) at a slower pace to get a daily dose of physical activity, relaxation and vitamin D. Name your parent or friend you haven’t been talking to in a while. Train over the next few weeks to be more conscious and respectful of those around you right now. We can all learn to be more flexible and accept (which is not the same as our acquiescence) what we can do with the present rather than what we can not do.
- Explore – even shape – the new mental health toolkit. COVID-19 pays a great deal of attention to the growing resources available online. Let’s discover and master the full range of possibilities for positive social interaction, mindfulness, self-care, distance learning, medicine and beyond. There is no time like this to study our use of technology in general and mental health technology in particular. Apps don’t magically offer wellbeing, sleep or an end to poor mental health, but they are resources that we can come to use with wisdom.
The Global Future Council on Technology for Mental Health has provided a call for action to empower 8 billion minds through wise and ethical growth and the implementation of a wide range of emerging technologies.
In response to COVID-19, many developers offer free online tools that can be used to stimulate more self-reflection and develop better sleep, exercise, and self-care habits.
Cultivating these habits can have significant and timely effects, such as changes in our immune systems. When common enough, this understanding will revolutionize how we deal with general and mental health in the future.
- Empower those around you. We can all take ownership of and be supportive and responsive to our communities – our families, our neighborhoods, our work, our societies. A recent US study has shown that the most effective public health messages to slow the spread of COVID-19 are those that focus on considerations of duty and responsibility to family, friends, and fellow citizens, not just our own personal agenda.
We’re in a moment of “increasing revelatory tension” for the first time for many of us, we are seeing how the “old normal” in terms of both physical and mental health can take a backseat in the prioritizations of daily life.
We have an opportunity before us to build an even stronger and more resilient global community, one that practices both physical and mental hygiene. Now is the time for individual and collective action to move to a healthier “new normal” for all.