The past year has taken its toll on many people’s physical and mental health, with the threat of illness from COVID-19, lockdowns, homeschooling and job loss for some. Many people have been running in “survival mode” for the last few months, and have just been doing what they can to get themselves and their families through. Give yourself a pat on the back for doing your best in difficult circumstances.
The lockdowns were stressful and with many gyms, pools and other wellness services closed or restricted, many people had little choice but to change their health and self-care activities. Although the pandemic is far from over, now that many communities are emerging from lockdown and adjusting to life that looks somewhat normal, looking after your mental health and getting back into an exercise routine is important.
Physical activity and healthy eating can help us feel empowered and in control of some part of our lives, even when so much is uncertain. Here’s a handy guide for looking after yourself in this “new normal” environment, and when to seek help for mental or physical health issues.
Physical activity boosts mental wellbeing
Physical activity has been proven to improve many aspects of health, beyond the obvious physical benefits. Exercise releases endorphins, chemicals that can relieve stress and pain. Regular running or walking can help to improve your mood and help clear your head. Exercise also serves as a distraction from cycles of negative thinking and worry. Exercise milestones are something to reach for when other parts of life have become uncertain. So, looking after your mental health and your physical wellbeing go hand-in-hand.
However, it should also be remembered that exercise isn’t a one-size-fits-all antidote if you’re suffering from severe depression, anxiety or other potentially serious mental health issues. If you’ve tried exercising and are still not feeling right, speak to your doctor.
Get back into a routine
The experience of lockdown was not the same for everyone. While some people found more time to run or ride bikes or cook nutritious meals, others had to juggle homeschooling and working from home with everyday household chores like cooking for the whole family.
Whichever side you found yourself on, your routines probably shifted quite dramatically. Now that you’re back to a sort-of-normal life, you can get back to an improved routine.
Setting aside time for an exercise routine is one of the best things you can do when it comes to physical activity and try to include smaller amounts of activity more regularly. Plus, once you’ve stuck to a routine for a couple of weeks it is much harder to come up with excuses to back out. The 30 or 60 minutes you set aside for an exercise routine gets woven into your daily and weekly life.
Another important part of getting back into a routine is to increase your incidental exercise. Even if you stayed active during lockdown, you may have lost out on the incidental exercise that accumulates from walking to work, climbing the stairs to your office, taking your kids to the playground or going shopping. These things add up and are a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle.
Hit the gym safely
Depending in your local restrictions, if gyms are now open in your area and you need a gym environment or the structure of an exercise class to keep you on track with your exercise routine, there are ways to do so safely even when the risk of COVID-19 is still around. Gyms and other facilities will have their own rules and regulations around what you have to do, following government guidelines. Important rules and suggestions include:
- Wash your hands before leaving home.
- Sanitise your hands when you arrive at the gym.
- Sign in using a COVID-tracer app or a physical log book.
- Go at less busy times, if possible.
- Keep a distance from people you don’t know; space out by keeping a machine in between you and the next person, when you can.
- Spray and wipe all equipment as soon as you’ve finished using it.
If you feel uncomfortable attending a crowded gym or exercise class (or just prefer to exercise differently), this is a perfect time to get outdoors. Go for a weekend hike or an evening beach or riverside walk; jog through a park; even choose an outdoor yoga class. Spending time amongst trees and greenery can be beneficial to humans’ mental and emotional health.
Make time for self care activities
Being isolated with your immediate family members means that many people have struggled to find alone time. You may not need this as an essential part of looking after your mental health, but introverts definitely do.
If your kids are back at school and you have some time to yourself again, try not to spend all that time working or catching up on chores. Take a bubble bath , or simply curl up on the couch and read a book. If you have other demands on your time, remember that you’ll bring a better version of yourself to the task later by practicing some self care activities first.
You’re not alone
Even if you had to spend the lockdown alone at home, remember you’re not alone in this. If you’re worried about your emotional health after the lockdown, many other people are too. Talk honestly with your friends and family about your struggles and you’ll probably feel less alone. Even people who appear to be coping well (such as on social media) may be struggling more than you realise, and could benefit from your moral support in return.
If your feelings are troubling you and disrupting your ability to sleep, eat or perform daily activities, speak to your doctor or seek a recommendation for a counsellor. It’s normal to feel anxious and upset at times, but you don’t have to suffer through all the fallout alone or long-term. Professionals can help you in ways your loved ones may not be able to.
To revitalise your healthy eating or activity plan, it’s a great idea to seek the support of others. Find a friend or two to exercise with, or to keep you accountable to your weight-loss goals. Our trained professionals at Jenny Craig are also always available to set you on the right track, or to get you back on it after a break!