The coronavirus pandemic is creating stress in the global population. Empty store shelves, fear about the disease and quarantine or self-isolation can negatively impact depression and anxiety, particularly now many people are working from home. In these challenging times, it is very important to keep a normal routine as much as possible when it comes to sleep, nutrition and exercise, writes Daniel Mansson, clinical psychologist and co-founder of Flow Neuroscience.
1. First things first – filter news and social media
The constant news about the pandemic can feel relentless and may exacerbate existing mental health problems. Be careful about the balance of watching important news and the news that could cause you to feel depressed. Seek trusted information, such as the NHS website, at specific times to take practical steps to protect yourself and loved ones. Have breaks from social media and mute triggering keywords and accounts.
2. Talk openly
Some people might feel that talking about their depression and anxiety requires no additional attention during these unprecedented times. People should be encouraged to talk about their feelings. Various support helplines are available, including Samaritans, as well as mental health crisis services, details of which can be found via the mental health charity Mind.
3. Eat an ‘anti-depression diet’
Anxiety is likely to increase during the current crisis, but a well-nourished body is better at handling stress. Traditional Mediterranean food, sometimes referred to as the ‘anti-depression diet’, for its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, includes whole grains, vegetables (particularly green leaves), fruit, berries, nuts (including almonds), seeds and olive oil. The Flow app, free to download on iOS and Android, can help people to improve their nutrition and reduce the risk of depression at home.
4. Get therapeutic sleep
90% of depressed people struggle with sleep, which is likely to increase with fears over coronavirus. Good quality sleep is a form of overnight therapy, and increases the chance of handling strong emotions. Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day. Achieving eight hours of sleep, taking a hot bath, setting the bedroom temperature to 18 degrees and having no screen time two hours before bedtime will also help.
5. Exercise as depression treatment
With months of the coronavirus pandemic ahead, it is important to keep exercising. Clinical studies show that regular exercise produces chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin, which are as effective as antidepressant medication or psychotherapy for treating milder depression.
Most people will not have access to a gym during the crisis, so it is important to create a daily exercise routine at home. Experts recommend between 30-40 minutes of exercise, 3-4 times a week to work up a sweat. People with depression often struggle with exercise, so start small with a 10-minute walk, then add a few minutes daily.
Daniel Mansson is a clinical psychologist and co-founder of Flow Neuroscience, creator of a brain stimulation headset medically approved as a home treatment for depression. www.flowneuroscience.com