In the wake of all the coronavirus conversation, and the government urging the vulnerable and those with symptoms (or who live with anyone displaying symptoms) to self-isolate – and everybody else to socially distance themselves, it’s easy to feel a knock-on effect on your mental wellbeing. This is something that Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton, both wellbeing experts and co-authors of a new book on the subject, Physical Intelligence, know plenty about.
“Humans have a built-in negative bias, which means we see threat even when it’s not there – and certainly when it is,” explains Dale. “Right now, many of us are experiencing that threat response. If we keep feeding it, we enter a state of sustained panic, where our adrenal glands keep pumping out ‘threat chemicals’: cortisol (stress) and adrenalin (fear), making it difficult to increase our ‘feel good chemicals’: serotonin (happiness) , oxytocin (belonging) and dopamine (reward).” This, she says, is especially if we’re self-isolating or have limited human contact, while social distancing.
Our ability to bounce back quickly from adversity and conflict (physically, mentally, and emotionally), is vital. “As is remaining optimistic and constructive in the face of challenge, adopting a learning mindset, and maintaining a well-functioning immune system,” adds Peyton. Here, the wellbeing experts, who’ve coached the top dogs at some of the world’s most successful companies, give their top six tips on how to keep your brain a little happier during these uncertain times.
1. Practice Recovery Breathing
At least ten minutes of daily paced breathing helps to keep those pesky cortisol levels under control. “Breathe diaphragmatically – in through the nose, out through the mouth with a steady count in and steady count out,” Dale recommends. The in and out counts don’t have to match (for example, you could breathe in for 5, then out for 7, or you could breathe both in and out for 7).
“A longer out-breath helps dispel CO2, which increases cortisol if it builds up in the base of the lungs, (which can happen because CO2 is heavier than oxygen),” explains Dale. “Paced breathing with a longer out-breath is called Recovery Breathing, and is especially helpful if you’re feeling panicked.”
2. Shake it off
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, need to shift your state of mind or finding it tough to focus, in addition to Recovery Breathing, try shaking it off. “Bend at the waist (and with a slight bend in the knees). If possible, get your head below your waist,” says Peyton. “Then, shake your shoulders and arms vigorously, punch the air, let it all out vocally.” As in, make the same “Aaahhh” type noise you would if you were getting a firm massage. The science behind this movement? It disperses chemicals within the body that can get stuck at the base of our spine – think of it like rebooting a computer, only for body chemistry.
3. Think healthy
Simple things like physical fitness, good food, hydration, massage, sunshine, and effectively processing negative events, so that we can regain optimism, all help to maintain a positive mindset. “While stuck at home, don’t wallow – eat healthy food as much as you’re able to, stay active, utilise any outdoor space you might have, spend time in the sunshine – and maintain a positive mindset,” says Dale. “Imagine yourself healthy.”
4. Download a meditation app
Limited physical contact can quickly decrease our oxytocin levels, leaving us feeling isolated and even more stressed. “When oxytocin drops, cortisol rises, negatively affecting our immune system,” explains Peyton, adding that meditation can actually help to strengthen our immune system. “It increases the amount of SIgA (Secretory Immunoglobulin Antibody) in our body, which thickens the mucous that lines the nose, mouth, trachea, lungs and gut. That thicker mucous makes it more difficult for viruses to penetrate our cells and bloodstream.” Pick a meditation app, such as Headspace, to jumpstart your practice.
5. Stay smiling
Humans worldwide are currently greeting one other with elbow bumps and many of us will be using virtual platforms to catch up with friends and family. “Make sure that however you’re safely greeting others, your smile reaches your eyes,” advises Dale. “Smiling at yourself boosts serotonin. Smiling at others boosts oxytocin, and if they smile back, you’ll get a dopamine boost.” Noted.
6. Keep in touch
To boost oxytocin, it’s important to stay in touch with your support system. Communicate more openly, use more appreciative words, and build trust by being even more considerate of one other than usual. “Remember: We might be isolated – but we’re not alone – and we need each other now more than ever,” says Peyton. Make sure you’re scheduling in regular FaceTime sessions with your pals.
Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton are the authors of wellbeing book Physical Intelligence (Simon & Schuster), available now in ebook and hardback, priced at £14.99.
The information in this story is accurate as of the publication date. While we are attempting to keep our content as up-to-date as possible, the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continues to develop rapidly, so it’s possible that some information and recommendations may have changed since publishing. For any concerns and latest advice, visit the World Health Organisation. If you’re in the UK, the National Health Service can also provide useful information and support, while US users can contact the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
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