NATIONAL lockdowns are supposed to be an extreme last resort in tackling pandemics – but we’ve just started our third in less than a year.
On Monday, once again Boris Johnson plunged England into lockdown – which we now know can have a dreadful impact on millions of people’s mental health.
⚠️ Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest news & updates
A survey of 16,000 locked down Brits by mental health charity Mind found half of adults thought their wellbeing declined last year, with many reporting mental health issues for the first time.
Figures from the ONS also show that rates of depression have doubled during the pandemic.
Reports of moderate to severe depressive symptoms increased from 9.7 per cent between July 2019 and March 2020 to 19.2 per cent in June 2020.
And with returns to work, debts from Christmas, and miserable weather, January is usually a gloomy time of year for many too.
So give your mental health a boost with these tips.
Watch what you eat
Everyone knows that good nutrition boosts mental health.
But even the simple act of cooking can make us happier too – offering a much-needed distraction and group activity inside.
“Cooking can benefit our mental health because it is a mindful activity – right the way from meal prep to making the actual dish,” says Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic.
“Provided we’re not on autopilot, when we’re cooking we’re free from distraction and fully engaged in what we’re doing.”
And because 80 per cent of our serotonin – the hormone that makes us feel happy – is produced in the gut, a healthier gut could lead to great emotional resilience.
So seek out some simple healthy recipes that you can try your hand at this lockdown, like our three-ingredient crusty loaf or £1 chicken peri peri tacos.
Mind recommends eating regularly to avoid blood sugar levels dropping, which can make you feel irritable, depressed and tired.
Foods that slowly release energy like pasta, rice, and wholegrain bread are particularly good for keeping blood sugar levels steady.
By contrast, you might want to avoid food and drinks which cause those levels to rise and fall rapidly like sweets, biscuits and alcohol.
Shocking research from mental health charity With You revealed that more than 1.9million over-50s say lockdown restrictions lead them to start drinking earlier in the day last year, with 2.1million saying it has affected their mental health.
Keep on moving
Just like paying attention to what you eat, a little effort with exercising goes a long way too.
That’s because even brief bodily exertion can have huge rewards for mental health.
“Exercise doesn’t just keep us in good shape physically,” says Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist. “It boosts happy hormones and reduces stress, leaving us feeling happier and more relaxed.
“It can also lead to an increase in productivity by increasing our focus.”
Look up Child’s Pose, Warrior Two and Happy Baby for some simple yoga positions to get started.
Or take a free guided class with an instructor like Joe Wicks – who will be leading lessons for adults and kids throughout the new lockdown.
For those looking to take up running, which is excellent for mental health, start with a gentle warm-up of fast walking for five minutes.
Then, break up runs into short intervals of one minute running followed by one minute walking for ten minutes.
Over time, you can lengthen the running intervals and shorten the walking intervals to build fitness – and don’t worry about your speed at first.
Sleep and mental health have a close relationship – disruption to one can have a knock-on effect on the other.
One study showed that during the lockdown of spring 2020, Brits were sleeping for longer on average, but the quality of their sleep was often worse.
Worries about the pandemic and changes to routine were keeping many people up, along with some reporting more vivid dreams at the start of the pandemic.
But there are simple things you can do to improve your sleep during lockdown.
They include not looking at your phone for 90 minutes before bedtime, avoiding caffeine after 5pm, and not eating anything for three hours before sleep.
Instead, try reading a book before sleeping, having a shower 90 minutes before bed, and sleeping in a room no warmer than 18C – all of which have been shown to help with a good night’s sleep.
Just because we’re all locked in our homes once again doesn’t mean we have to be lonely.
The new lockdown rules mean you can meet up with someone for exercise once a day, and you can still leave your house to provide volunteer work.
But in our interconnected age, there are loads of ways of keeping in touch with friends and family without leaving the house.
Most important of all for dealing with lockdown related anxiety, if you’re struggling, is to ask for help.
YOU’RE NOT ALONE
EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide.
It doesn’t discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.
It’s the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.
And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.
Yet it’s rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.
That is why The Sun launched the You’re Not Alone campaign.
The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.
Let’s all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You’re Not Alone.
If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:
“Talking to someone you trust about what’s making you anxious could be a relief,” mental health charity Mind advises.
“It may be that just having someone listen to you and show they care can help in itself.