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How To Adapt To The New (Ab)Normal

How To Adapt To The New (Ab)Normal
By Raihane Palagi 3 months ago 6411 Views

Many moments in history have turned the world upside down and changed the way we live, work, behave, and think. The year 2020 is one of them. Our thoughts and actions today will have an influence on whether this year makes or breaks us as a global community, and how it is remembered by future generations. While some have rejoiced in the idea of working from the comfort of their home and continued to work relatively as normal, others have been severely affected financially, physically, and/or mentally. There is no doubt that the current pandemic has affected us all, in one way or another.

As we enter this new phase of trying to go back to work and back to school, we are also avidly following the latest news updates and many of us are growing concerned about what the future holds. Now is an opportune time to reflect on how we have been doing so far during this pandemic, how we can best support ourselves moving forwards, and how we can grow through this experience, stronger and wiser.

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunityAlbert Einstein

THE HEALTH IMPACT OF LOCKDOWN

Weight gain

You might have come across the hashtag ‘#lockdownweight’ used by some to refer to the few extra pounds packed on during the pandemic. According to data from the COVID Symptom Study app, 29% of those surveyed gained weight since the start of the lockdown.[i] The people who took part in this study reported increased snacking, decreased levels of physical activity, increased alcohol consumption and a less healthy diet. This is not surprising as our routines were thrown out the window as soon as lockdown started, with gyms being shut down and daily movement being restricted.

Stress

Being in lockdown has meant restrictions on the typical outlets often used for relieving stress, such as sports, outdoor exposure, and social interactions with friends and work colleagues. Not to mention the increase in job losses and furlough which has seen a vast increase in stress and anxiety.

Loneliness

Lockdown has brought social isolation for many, particularly for those living alone. Humans are social creatures and until modern times, always lived in close social units, never alone.[ii]

This new, forced isolation has brought its own mental health issues not only for those having to shield, but also those working from home alone with a lack of daily interaction from work colleagues, for example.

Poor Mental Health

Studies also suggest an increase in anxiety and lower wellbeing related to the pandemic, particularly in young people, those with pre-existing mental and physical health conditions, those living alone and in socio-economic adversity.[iii] Sadly, 43% of psychiatrists in the UK have seen an increase in emergency and urgent appointments since the start of lockdown.[iv]

Poor Sleep

Unsurprisingly, the lack of schedule and the anxiety caused by these uncertain times has also impacted our sleep. Poor quality sleep is known to contribute to other health issues such as anxiety and weight gain, creating a vicious cycle.

WHEN OUR BASIC HUMAN NEEDS AREN’T MET

For the majority of human history, we were immersed in nature and nourished by clean air, organic food, and clean water. We had a balance between ‘work’ during daylight and ‘rest’ after sundown. We slept in complete darkness and silence. We lived in strong social units. This ancient environment nourished us on every level and subsequently drove human spiritual, technological, and intellectual evolution over the last several thousands of years.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow theorised the ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ with five categories of basic human needs which he believed to be necessary to reach full potential. Three of these categories have been particularly relevant in light of the pandemic:

  • Physiological needs’ - this is the core ‘need’ from which all others stem. For example, we require good quality food, water, and sleep on a daily basis to nourish our physiology.
  • ‘Safety needs’ - we need to be sheltered and feel a sense of safety in our lives (e.g. financially, mentally, at home).
  • ‘Social belonging’ - we humans are social creatures who thrive on social connection.

Our modern environment, especially during 2020, lies in stark contrast with this ancient environment. The most basic need of accessing good quality food became jeopardised as the lockdown started with shopping restrictions, long queues at local supermarkets, and the widespread fear of scarcity which lead to panic buying and food shortages. It also goes without saying that we certainly haven’t felt ‘safe’ this year, whether it be due to the threat of the virus on the health of us and our friends and family or the impact of the pandemic on our job and finances for example.

Our social interactions have also changed markedly as a result of the lockdown and social distancing measures. For example, Whatsapp group conversations became the new routine and changed the social dynamic for many families and friends. Unsurprisingly though, instant messaging is no substitute for verbal, in-person interaction between individuals. An interesting study found that children interacting with their mothers in person or over the phone released oxytocin, a hormone involved in bonding, when girls who instant messaged their mothers did not.[v]

This shift in communication was also seen within the workplace with millions of people working from home. Swapping an office desk for the front room or garden shed may sound like a great way of achieving better work-life balance, but in reality, it has its own challenges. Working from home has blurred the line between personal life and work for many individuals. Strikingly, a recent report found that 44% of parents felt under pressure to check their emails or do other work at night.[vi]

THE ‘FRESH-START EFFECT’

However, amidst all of the doubts and loss that we have experienced this year, the lockdown has presented many of us with opportunities to make positive changes to our life and start new beginnings.

In psychology, a concept known as the fresh-start effect refers to the human tendency to take action towards a goal after temporal landmarks that represent new beginnings. The popularity of hashtags like ‘#lockdownbaking’ and ‘#lockdowncooking’ on social media platforms showed a renewed interest from people to cook food from scratch, learning new skills such as gardening or making sourdough bread. People have also taken this opportunity to take on new hobbies or revive long-lost passions, with online art classes and YouTube tutorials being popular. Furthermore, many families have been compelled to spend more quality time together and engage in various meaningful activities.

What this year has reaffirmed for us is our remarkable adaptability and resilience in the face of dramatic changes in our environment, including our primal ability to find new ways to fulfil our basic needs and desires when they are being challenged by external forces. Now that we have made it through the lockdown period, it is important that we realign our nutrition and lifestyle with our basic human needs, to ensure that we are emotionally and physically in the best place possible.

HOW TO ADAPT TO THIS NEW (AB)NORMAL

1. Check in with yourself

Learning to be more present and appreciating the simple things in life can have a massive impact on your physical and mental wellbeing.

  • Acknowledge your top priorities to give you the time necessary to spend doing what will serve you best.
  • Daily journaling can help you take notice of how you feel. You can write a gratitude journal and think of 3 things you are grateful for to help you notice small things that make you happy.
  • Identify the types of rest that you need (i.e. Mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, or social rest) and allow yourself to release the pressure by giving yourself what you need.

2. Create your own ‘micro-environment’ to fulfill your basic needs

The current pandemic can make you feel hopeless and out of our control. You can’t prevent storms from coming or how others behave, but you can control your attitude and the ‘micro-environment’ you live in.

  • Create a healthy environment at home. This year we have spent more time in our homes than ever. Declutter your home and create a peaceful environment can give you more opportunities to relax and de-stress.
  • If you are still working from home, make sure you set boundaries to separate your work and personal life. Try to dedicate a room or space to be your office and stick to your normal working hours.

3. Back to basics: eat, move, relax, sleep

Finding yourself worrying and stressing over all the things you should or should not do can make you feel powerless. We sometimes overcomplicate things, when simple things can have a significant impact.

A nutrient-dense diet is one of the best ways you can support the good function of your immune system.

  • Cut down on processed food and cook everything from scratch.
  • Eat the rainbow to make sure you get a wide variety of nutrients.
  • Buy more organic produce. If cost is a concern, you can use the ‘Clean Fifteen, Dirty Dozen’ list to help you buy organic in an affordable way.
  • Focus on antioxidant-rich foods in particular foods high in zinc and vitamin C, which support immune system function. These can be found in foods, such as citrus fruits and berries for vitamin C and beans, legumes and high quality, grass-fed meat for zinc.
  • If you find it difficult to get these key nutrients in the diet or for an additional nutrient boost, consider adding in a supplement which focuses on immunity, including vitamin C, D, A and zinc.

Movement is key for de-stressing and reducing anxiety. It can impact your mental state, release endorphins and relieve tension. Now that gyms have reopened, you can sign up to a local gym or try different types of exercise (tennis, football, running etc.) to find something you enjoy.

Relaxation has never been more important than it is today. Whether you do this by running a hot bath, deep-breathing, or cooking dinner for your family, looking after yourself is important. Find our top tips to de-stress in this blog: https://www.biocare.co.uk/news/stress-tips.html

Sleep is a crucial time for repair and allows your brain to rest at night and function efficiently during the day. You can read more about the importance of sleep and how to improve it in our blog: https://www.biocare.co.uk/news/sleep.html

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity“ said Albert Einstein. So let’s turn this year into a year of opportunity, for ourselves as individuals, for our family and friends, for our community – and beyond.




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References

[i] Covid Symptom Study. The silent pandemic: How lockdown is affecting future health. Last accessed: September 8th 2020. https://covid.joinzoe.com/post/lockdown-weight-gai...

[ii] Snell KDM. Social History. 2017; 42 (1): 2-28.

[iii] Kwong et al. Mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic in two longitudinal UK population cohorts. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.06.16.20133116

[iv] Royal College of Psychiatrists’ briefing Analysis of second COVID-19 RCPsych member survey. 2020.

[v] Selzer. Evolution and Human Behavior. 2012; 33 (1): 42-45

[vi]Modern Families Index 2020 Report. Last accessed: September 8th 2020. https://workingfamilies.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/...