Activities for reducing stress and anxiety
Uncertainty can easily lead to spikes in our stress and anxiety. It is essential for us to keep our mental health at the top of our priority list in order to help preserve our physical health and make a new ‘normal’ routine. Below are some ideas of things that can help us to keep our stress at a bearable level.
Exercise: There are endless offers of free online exercise sessions at the moment, including Instagram Live sessions with Barry’s Boot Camp and apps such as FIIT offering free sessions that can be done at home with no equipment. For the young people there are the already notorious, Joe Wicks YouTube PE lessons available. Getting out and about may feel like more of a privilege than ever right now so this could be the time to take the walks or runs you’ve been meaning to take for months. Perhaps try using the Couch to 5K app or train for a marathon if you’re keen to stay outdoors for as long as you can.
Keep a ‘normal’ work routine: Create a workspace at home that is comfortable and offers little in the way of distraction. Try, as much as possible, to keep regular work hours and tidy away work items at the end of the day so your home can be a relaxing space. This advice is for everyone, staff, students and parents.
Reading and Watching TV: This might be the best time to invest some time in your favourite box sets and those books you’ve been meaning to read. At stressful times light-hearted things are often the best, so consider lots of comedy and avoid the film ‘Contagion’ if you can.
Meditation: Now might be exactly the right time to try meditation for the first time or commit to doing it everyday. Headspace are offering free sessions called ‘weathering the storm’ to help us all through this difficult time. You may also like to consider apps such as Calm and Insight Timer and explore what suits you and your needs.
Spending time in green space is hugely beneficial to both our mental and physical wellbeing. This doesn’t mean we need to be immersed in remote countryside; we can bring nature into our daily lives in a whole host of different ways. Some examples include: doing things like growing herbs or flowers, exercising outdoors or being around animals can have lots of positive effects.
Effects of Time Outdoors
- Mood can be lifted
- Feelings of stress or anger can be reduced
- Improvements to energy levels and confidence
- Helps with feelings of connectedness
Research shows that spending time in nature can help with mental health problems including anxiety and depression. This may be, in part, due to the combination regular physical activity (such as walking, even if it’s not rigorous exercise) and social contact with being outside in nature or amongst other people.
Being outside in natural light can also be helpful in reducing the effects of Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that affects people during particular seasons or times of year or indeed those of us who spend vast amounts of time indoors.
Ideas for Time Outdoors
- Grow or pick food: if you have a vast garden, a balcony or a window ledge you can grow your own flowers and herbs. Having your hands immersed in the earth can be calming and connects us with nature. As it’s wild garlic season it might also be an idea to source some of this if you’re out for a walk or simply bring home some wildflowers for decoration.
- Care for animals: it might be interesting to add a bird feeder or even a hedgehog house to your outside space, if that’s a possibility, and bring nature even closer to home. Otherwise you could try to spot as many different varieties of birds and other wildlife while out and about or if you don’t have your own pet, consider offering to walk a neighbour’s dog if they’re not able to at the moment.
- Help the Environment: It might be enjoyable to combine your time outdoors with an act of kindness to the planet but picking litter on your walk or plant seeds/plants that help the environment, such as lavender to attract bees.
Some Interesting Reads
How much time is needed in nature to see a difference: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/brain-waves/201906/how-much-time-in-nature-is-needed-see-benefits
Children and time in nature: https://childmind.org/article/why-kids-need-to-spend-time-in-nature/
Six Ways to Find Balance and Stay Connected
This article is worth your time if you’re feeling a little drained by the new pace of life and expectation that work can still be done at home because of the wonder of IT and also if you’re feeling the pressure to attend every Zoom chat or House Party quiz your group of friends can possibly schedule.
The concept of social connectedness emphasises the importance of positive relationships.
Often when social research is carried out people are asked what really matters to them and what tends to come to the fore is the value placed on relationships and connections to wider communities. The reasons for this tend to vary but the effects are broadly the same, as social animals we crave the feeling of belonging and being a part of something beyond ourselves. Even the most introverted of us will seek a sense of belonging, even if it’s to a much smaller community.
People value relationships because they bring them comfort, provide love, allow them a space to confide or feel part of a group. Other more practical reasons include, achieving goals, such as finding a job, or learning new skills. We may rank relationships in a hierarchy of need or importance but the reality each has a value.
During this time of social isolation we have shown our need to connect through the creative methods we have used to stay in touch. Using Zoom for teaching, meetings and socialising, including online quizzes is just a small example of this. Checking in with vulnerable neighbours and friends has been a priority for many as we are reminded of what loneliness can feel like and the relief that can come with time outdoors seeing and hearing other people going about their business.
Tips for Social Connection
1. Focus on the positive! Continue to cultivate the relationships and social activities that you enjoy best, even if these need to look a little different during this unusual time. Being around people who make you feel good is invaluable and hugely beneficial to our general wellbeing.
2. Keep your social network close. Maintain a group of friends, family members and/or neighbours whom you can talk to on a fairly regular basis. We need people that create conversation beyond small talk, like exchanging ideas, thoughts, concerns and practical matters, and who will also help or encourage us to do the same. The size of our social group doesn’t matter as much as the level of mutual caring involved.
3. Look for opportunities to help others stay connected. Supporting people is proven to boost our cognitive health. This might be extending a phone call to a lonely neighbour or family friend or doing some shopping for them.
4. Seek new connections. If you find yourself feeling lonely, make a change by creating a new connection with someone or by seeking different opportunities to engage with other people. We are never too old to make meaningful connections and if we’re finding that we’re too busy to do that perhaps we need to spend time assessing our priorities.
5. If you are already pretty active socially, shake it up by diversifying your activities. Think about joining a new group or starting a group that doesn’t yet exist in your community, you might find that you come across more like minded people are create an entirely new network.
6. If you’re finding it hard to connect, just take baby steps towards connecting with others. There is power in sharing a smile a day with someone – even if it’s a random stranger or shop assistant.
Social Connection Task
This task is a simple one but can make a huge difference. Choose a person in your life and make a plan to speak to them. Begin by asking the question ‘how are you’? Often we avoid answering this question with the truth and instead provide a platitude of ‘Oh, fine’ or ‘Good thanks’ and immediately return the question as a way of moving the conversation on. This time enquire with genuine interest and spend time listening to the answer and offering quiet support without waiting with anticipation to ‘get on with’ the rest of the conversation. This simple question can make a person feel valued and connected and really helps with building meaningful relationships.
Welcome to day two of Mental Health Awareness Week. The focus of today is better sleep and what follows are useful guidelines on how to improve sleep. The easy bit is reading through this information and recognising that these tips may indeed be beneficial, the difficult bit is putting them into practice. A move towards better sleep takes commitment but the reward is invaluable.
Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep
1. Stick to a sleep schedule: Have the same bedtime and wake up time everyday, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night. If you don’t stick to it one evening try to start again the next evening and get your routine going again. If on the weekend you want to stay in bed to read that’s OK but try to wake up at your usual time.
2. Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual: A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime can help us shift into our sleep state of mind. This is best carried out away from bright lights and shouldn’t be anything that needs lots of energy or may create anxiety.
3. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon: A short 20-minute nap might be all you need in the day to give you the boost of energy you’re looking for. But it’s important to avoid naps after 2pm as this can cause confusion to your sleep patterns and end up creating difficulties when you try to sleep later.
4. Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity at all. Exercise is valuable at any time of the day but even better if you can get out earlier in the day to use of some energy, replace your stocks and absorb some natural daylight.
5. Make your room the best sleep space: The best conditions for sleep are a cool room, somewhere quiet and free of agitating noises and a place that is as dark as possible. Check your room for noises or other distractions and see if there are simple changes you can make to help aid your sleep. Black out blinds or curtains are best but an eye mask might work just as well.
6. Tech free room: Try to keep the room you sleep in as free from tech as possible. Consider investing in an alarm clock instead of using your phone and leave the laptop (particularly if it is for work related stuff) in another room.
7. Manage your Circadian Rhythm: Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. This will keep your circadian rhythms in check. In the evening try where possible to use soft lighting or no artificial lighting at all.
8. Avoid eating and drinking too close to your bedtime: Eating before bed can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it hard to sleep and drinking can cause us to wake in the night needing to use the toiler.
9. Wind down: Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading or listening to a relaxing podcast or soundtrack.
10. If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired: You want to avoid associating your bed with a place that induces anxiety because you can’t sleep. If you’re struggling to sleep and finding yourself getting frustrated take a break from trying, go somewhere else and return to your bed when you begin to feel tired.