By Camryn Kenkel, Intern at Foresight
Over the past several months, we’ve been forced to adapt to entirely new routines. Cherished habits, like attending our favorite exercise class or meeting friends for brunch, have become dangerous to our health.
For many, the pandemic has sparked feelings of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. It is now even more crucial to make the conscious decision to live a healthy lifestyle, which is a simple way to ease some of those emotions.
It’s been well established that there’s a significant connection between lifestyle choices and mental health. The term “therapeutic lifestyle changes” refers to actions or habits that are associated with beneficial effects for our health. They have been shown to be both preventative and therapeutic for multiple mental health disorders.
Therapeutic lifestyle changes are also referred to as TLCs. That abbreviation seems fitting, as we all could use some tender loving care in the age of coronavirus.
There are eight specific TLCs that have been proven to be particularly powerful for mental health.
We’re all familiar with the idea of a runner’s high: the happy mood caused by the feel-good endorphins released in the brain after a jog. Exercise sessions longer than 30 minutes, either aerobic or anaerobic, are just as beneficial for our mental health as for our physical health.
The pandemic has limited our access to gyms and in-person classes. This is a great opportunity to try walking, running, or cycling outside. If you prefer the guidance of an instructor, there are many online classes that require minimal equipment. Some companies, like CorePower Yoga, are temporarily offering free access to their online videos. Exercise can be a fun alternative to socially distanced activities—spice up your weekly zoom call with a group Zumba session!
What we eat has a greater effect on our brains than you might expect. A diet filled with fruits, vegetables, and fish full of omega-3 oils is neuroprotective and can reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline.
We’re all eating out less these days, which gives us a chance to experiment with some new recipes and make sure we’re incorporating a variety of foods into our diet. If you’re trying to limit trips to the grocery store, frozen produce or fish are good alternatives to more perishable, fresh options. Taking supplements of Vitamin D and fish oil are other easy ways to provide your brain with optimal nutrition.
Time in Nature
Spending time outdoors gives us a much-needed respite from our typical environment of fluorescent lights and mechanical noises. Nature has the power to calm and to heal. Simply being in nature has long been touted by philosophers as a way to refocus ourselves on what truly matters.
Luckily, the outdoors is one of the easiest places to enjoy during the pandemic. Take this chance to explore trails in your area or head to a local park to savor the fresh air–but don’t forget a mask if you can’t maintain at least 6 feet between yourself and other visitors.
As human beings, we crave personal connections. We’re hardwired to be interdependent. Unfortunately, Americans have been spending less time with family and friends than previous generations. And that was before the pandemic!
This one is tough. Zoom and FaceTime are great ways to stay in touch with loved ones, but “Zoom-fatigue” is a real thing. If you’re looking to take a break from video chats, try making a phone call or sending an old-fashioned letter. Even sending a quick “thinking of you” text helps us feel a little more connected.
When we spend time doing activities we enjoy, whether it be art or comedy or traveling, we experience an influx of positive emotions. If these activities happen to overlap with other TLCs, like exercise, relationships, or spending time in nature, it’s even better.
Some hobbies, like reading, painting, and listening to music, can easily be done at home. If you’re someone who loves to go to movie theaters or explore a museum, you might have to get more creative. Maybe try mimicking the theater experience by popping some buttery popcorn and inviting friends to watch a movie with you through Netflix Party. Or explore the virtual exhibits offered by many museums, such as the Met and the Louvre.
Relaxation and Stress Management
There’s no arguing with the fact that stressors are higher than ever for many of us right now. Developing strategies to manage our stress can be pivotal for our mental health.
Guided meditation, mindfulness, and yoga routines are readily available online. It’s also easy to find resources explaining other calming techniques, such as muscle relaxation or deep breathing. Of course, little things, like curling up with a good book and a cup of tea, can be just as effective.
Religious or Spiritual Involvement
Religion can be beneficial for mental health, especially when it emphasizes positive themes including love and forgiveness. Religion often overlaps with other TLCs by providing a social network, promoting service to others, and encouraging meditative reflection.
Although in-person services aren’t currently the safest activity, staying spiritually connected is still possible. Many congregations are offering services online. Praying individually or with your family is also a good option.
Service to Others
When we set out to help others, we often end up benefiting ourselves. Altruism, characterized by concern for the wellbeing of others, has been shown to have positive effects on our own health and happiness.
Many typical volunteer opportunities aren’t feasible at the moment, but there’s still plenty of ways to help out. Virtual tutors are in high demand. You could ease someone’s loneliness by writing letters or making phone calls to a resident at a senior living center. Or, look for local organizations who might be facilitating food delivery to high-risk community members.
During a pandemic, it’s harder than ever to consistently incorporate TLCs into our lifestyles. However, it’s never been more important. It might take a little creativity, but taking some time for activities that can augment our happiness will go a long way.