2020 has been one tough year for everyone! The unprecedented events of the last year have touched everyone’s life in unimaginable ways. The ongoing pandemic, continued social restrictions, changing work conditions have caused a sharp rise in mental health problems. Throughout the year the spirits have been dampened and mood pretty low.
Whilst we all wish to put the challenging events of the year behind us, the bygone year has also taught us a lot! Lockdowns and social restrictions meant we were enforced with the slower pace of life and learnt we can cultivate new habits to adapt to the new situation. It didn’t take us long to notice this slowness was rather a source of bliss. It brought peace and calm in our hectic lifestyle. We are so hardwired to be ‘busy’ in today’s fast paced world, the year has been insightful in cultivating the understanding that we don’t need to get constantly consumed by looking for ways to keep ourselves occupied and that ‘Business’ doesn’t need to be a status symbol or defining us which many people identify with.
Also by accepting the situation we could cope better and reduce anguish. Acceptance brings clarity to the situation and to our actions and behaviours. It makes us more resilient. It helps us make wiser choices in terms of our responses – what to choose, strengthen and what to let go of! It’s the resistance to change that comes in the way of accepting something as it is. It’s the state of denial that doesn’t let us accept the events as they are causing more suffering. The bygone year has also made us realise we shouldn’t take anything for granted!
Celebrating milestones, social meet ups, meeting with friends or family for a cup of coffee or over a meal, visiting local cafes, restaurants, all usual things we took for granted, do not feel so small anymore. In fact, they have been an excellent way of nurturing our mood, relations and social wellbeing. All these seemingly small social events feel pretty special, now that they have been taken away from us, and with no restoration of normalcy in sight feel cherished too!
When my flight touched the ground in mid-February last year little did I know, that it would be my last travel for the entire year! Ever changing rules and restrictions on travel meant spending more time at home. On reflection, the past year has been insightful. It made us appreciate what we have in life and nurture our relationships. Backed by science, expressing gratitude has shown to cause a positive impact on our mental wellbeing. It has never felt so fitting than in the current situation. Deep gratitude comes from within and in a meaningful way. Practicing gratitude means really paying attention to what we are thankful for. And the good news you can cultivate this skill. Practice gratitude by writing down about three things or events which generate positive emotions. Or be appreciative of people who really mean something to you and you are grateful for their presence in your life. Whilst writing feel the warmth of the heart, focus on the smile this may bring to your face or experience the sensation of tingling down the spine. Expressing gratitude plays a bigger role in bringing positive effect on our emotions than we realise. It helps reduce the negativity bias of the brain when we take some time to focus on positives and train our minds to appreciate what we have in life rather than focusing on what we don’t have.
Combined with self-compassion, one can also facilitate self-development to improve self-respect and confidence! With ever changing social restrictions, we all have been trying to be more creative and looking at various ways of improving our health. One of the best ways of optimising our health is through adopting a healthy lifestyle. This means changing our daily behaviours and looking into diet, addictions, improving sleep, stress management and investing in getting more and more physical activity, Making every effort to move more! Yup, life as we know it isn’t normal anymore. Working from home, sitting hours on end, watching endless television, Netflix or similar entertainment programmes without moving much are proving detrimental not only for our physical health but also to our minds! Recent years have seen Neuroscientists establishing the positive link between exercise and mental wellbeing. Moderate intensity aerobics style exercises like brisk walking, jogging, Zumba, dance – any of these which get the heart beat faster are proven highly beneficial for the cardio-pulmonary health as well as our brain. If you haven’t been exercising for a while, start gradually and aim to spend at least 150 minutes per week. Just a 10 minute brisk walk can bring clarity to the mind and boost mood.
All of these aerobic activities release endorphins in the brain, which improve mood, cognitive function, focusing and enhance performance. Secondly, endorphins also help reduce aches and pains. Another most important benefit of aerobic exercise is its association with increased concentration of Brain derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). BDNF functions literally like a fertiliser for our brain increasing the brain reserve and neuronal function. Just like our physical health, good mental health doesn’t mean absence of disease it also means building mental fitness.
And the best part of this? None of the exercises mentioned above need any special equipment nor are you required to go to a gym to achieve the desired benefits! This means with some motivation and by being creative we can change our lifestyle, move more, take control of our mood and the mind improving our emotional, physical and mental health even during these hard times.
May 2021 bring peace, positive vibes and hope!