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Surviving social distancing - A mental health sufferer's guide (part 1)

2020: The beginning of a new decade, the close of a tumultuous 10 years and the promise of something entirely new. The universe has taken a rather strange route in fulfilling my New Year's Eve's thoughts. Before anyone asks what qualifies ME, the author of this humourless article, to give YOU advice on how to combat the gloom associated with this unprecedented moment in human history, let me layout my credentials for you. I have more experience than most when it comes to suffering meaninglessly at home, specifically in my bed, for extended periods of time in the absence of any alternatives (it must be said that in my case the absence of alternatives was almost entirely a perception-based problem). While this seemingly only licenses me to suggest to you what not to do, I will be framing my advice in a somewhat instructional manner for the purposes of positivity.


DISCLAIMER: If it isn't already glaringly obvious, I am not a mental health expert or professional, nor am I a therapist. I am simply your average, friendly mental health sufferer (that has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder) who has managed to implement some semblance of routine that has made my life more livable.


Wake up at the same time everyday:

Even though this first piece of advice is less romantic than a Valentine's Day museum visit, it is the one item on this list that has made the biggest difference in my life. I am not attempting to give you a revoltingly watered-down version of the 5 AM Club. There is no need to get up at an absurdly early time, just the same time everyday. This allows one to regulate their circadian rhythm, which is the internal body clock that we all possess which controls our levels of alertness and lethargy throughout the day. The significance of this is found in the fact that researches have found that those with a disrupted circadian rhythm are more likely to suffer from mental health ailments. Through this, we are simply trying to create some sort of routine and stability in our lives.


Eat breakfast in the morning:

This is definitely the easiest fix in this article. As someone who used to routinely skip breakfast or consume something unfulfilling the morning, as many people do, I really jumped for joy when I stumbled upon this nugget of wisdom. I was going to benefit from simply eating?! This sounds way too good to be true but numerous studies affirm the efficacy of eating in the morning and for a variety of reasons too. As well as providing vital nutrition for the body, consuming breakfast has been shown to improve one's mood and reduce levels of distress and emotional angst. It should be noted that ideally we are trying to eat something nourishing and wholesome in the morning. While it may be tempting to use this knowledge to justify splurging out on sugary cereal every morning, this is likely going to lead to an insulin spike followed by a sudden energy crash. The general consensus is to eat a balanced breakfast with protein, fat and complex (as opposed to simple) carbohydrates present. More information on this can be found in the link referenced at the bottom of the page.


LIGHTLY exercise:

I considered adding "lightly" in brackets after the word exercise but then I realised how quickly I would close the tab of any article recommending that I engage in physical activity. Now that you're hopefully still here, I can clarify that if you're someone who regularly exercises, please feel free to maintain the intensity of your workouts as per usual. However, if you're like me, and the idea of working out is a wildly exotic phenomenon in your mind, then it should be noted that even a very light form of exercise after waking up will likely a reap massive reward if carried out routinely and consistently. Even simply stretching in the morning is shown to improve circulation and remove bodily tension which serves to reduce overall stress. Also, this should preferably be done before eating breakfast, I just listed it after eating breakfast in a cheap attempt to keep you here for longer.


Shower and get dressed:

The temptation to wake up and watch Netflix in bed during this lockdown period is immense. Could there be a more comfortable way to spend the day? Lazying around in your pyajamas and binge-watching Love Is Blind or the new season of Ozark. I've wasted many weeks in a similar vein, and an effective way to combat this potentially detrimental cycle is just to get showered and dressed in the morning. Now, this tip is largely anecdotal with no reference link being present, but I can assure you that this is an easy way to increase one's motivation. The refreshing effect of a shower coupled with a change into a fresh pair of clothes is the perfect way to equip yourself to productively confront the day ahead.


This lockdown period is certainly daunting as it cuts us off from many of the small pleasures in life that we take for granted such as going for a walk or socialising with colleagues and friends over a meal. However, through the use of even a very basic routine, we can implement a positive mindset that allows us to bear this collective sacrifice in a manner that is less prone to misery and, dare I say, even productive.



References:

Circadian rhythm and mood - https://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/home/topics/mood-disorders/circadian-rhythm-disruptions-associated-with-mood-disorders-adverse-quality-of-life/

Eating breakfast and its effects on mood - https://www.researchgate.net/publication/12932030_Breakfast_and_mental_health

Eating breakfast without suffering an insulin spike and energy crash - https://www.wellandgood.com/good-food/breakfast-blood-sugar-spike/

Stretching in the morning and its benefits - https://jysk.co.uk/blog/importance-morning-stretches






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