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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 opportunity“ Albert Einstein
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.
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.
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.
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]
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.
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:
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]
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.
Learning to be more present and appreciating the simple things in life can have a massive impact on your physical and mental wellbeing.
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.
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.
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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[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.
[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/...