by Alex Lopez
Lockdown has been a difficult time for most of us. Restrictions have made accessing some, if not all, of the services we depend on to maintain our mental health impossible. So, here at Cornwall Mind we’ve put together some ideas on how you might go about managing and maintaining a healthy state of mind in these challenging times. They are all free, and very easy to implement.
Often what is troubling us may be less clear than we think. The great Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung once said that the best way to clarify vague content is to give it ‘visible form’, because, often, ‘the hands will solve a mystery that the mind has struggled with in vain’. Simply verbalising our troubles and giving them visible form as sentences on a page, allows us to process and view them objectively. In many ways, this is what therapy gives us as well. Writing then, whilst not a replacement for face to face therapy, can provide us with an opportunity to sort through the contents of our minds with a degree of emotional distance and help us on the way towards understanding. All you need is a pen and paper- an inexpensive notepad would be even better- and some free time. You can take a more structured, journal-like approach, or dive right in and explore your feelings through word association techniques and mind maps. Below is a link which will give you some ideas as to how to get started. We are also running free online Creative Workshops, email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Meditation and Mindfulness
The mental health benefits of mindfulness and meditation have been acknowledged in Buddhist and Hindu cultures for millennia. Whilst it may have been relatively slow to catch on, western medicine too now recognises the therapeutic benefits of these tools. There are many different forms and methods. Most have in common an emphasis on sitting in a position with your pelvis elevated on a cushion and your spine upright- although not rigid. Some also encourage closed eyes and a focus on the natural movement of your breath. What all forms have in common however, is an emphasis on changing your relationship to the activity of your mind. Thoughts can be acknowledged, but not engaged. To give an analogy, think of your thoughts as a stream of traffic on a busy road. Meditation takes you out of the driving seat, so to speak, and puts you in the position of detached observer at the roadside. Simply allow your thoughts to follow their course, and you’ll find they leave almost as soon as they arrive. Changing your relationship to thinking in this way, even if only for a few minutes a day, can have a profound effect on your well-being. Below are some links that will help you get started
It has long been acknowledged that exercise can provide enormous benefits to those with mental health issues. Some research even suggests that it may be as effective as antidepressants for treating mild depression. Vigorous activity causes large amounts of anxiety and pain relieving chemicals called endorphins to be released in the brain. In addition, exercise, much like meditation, changes our relationship to the activity of our minds. Attention is diverted from the ceaseless activity of thinking, to the body. Combine this with fresh air, and maybe a friend or relative from your household, and you have an extremely powerful therapeutic tool. But remember: the best form of exercise is the one that you are most likely to sustain. So, choose something you enjoy. And go easy at first if necessary- even a short walk along the coast path can provide benefits.
We are essentially social animals. Acceptance by, and companionship with others, is an essential human need. In fact, many mental health problems have their cause in a lack or breakdown in healthy relationships. This is one of the reasons talking therapies are so effective. Present circumstances, however, have made regular interaction with others difficult. This has proved challenging for most, but those with mental health issues need to take particular care to ensure that isolation doesn’t overwhelm them completely. Whilst it may be tempting to spend a day watching films or browsing the web alone, such activities can often leave us feeling empty and dissatisfied. Instead, why not organise a group activity with friends on zoom or call a family member? Many group and face to face therapies can also be conducted online or over the phone. Perhaps you could use your additional free time to email old friends or neglected family members? Simply hearing the sound of someone else’s voice and sharing experience can make a world of difference.
Recent research suggests that diet may significantly affect our mental health. Junk and fast foods seem to be not only hazardous to the health of our bodies, but also our minds. Consuming these foods, often very high in refined sugars and fats, causes huge spikes and dips in our blood sugar levels. This often leaves us feeling drained, anxious and can destabilise our mood. A much better option would be to prepare a balanced meal of lean proteins and slow-digesting carbohydrates. In addition, you should aim to eat at least five different fruits and vegetables to meet your daily micronutrient and fibre needs. The good news is that cooking whole foods at home is one of the most cost-effective ways to feed yourself – fruits, veggies, pulses and grains are some of the cheapest foods available in the supermarket. So why not dust off that long neglected cookbook or finally get round to trying that recipe you saw online? Developing habits and skills now will stand you in good stead for when lockdown fully ends, and cooking can be an extremely therapeutic and rewarding activity in and of itself.