April 20, 2020

fitness

Simple tips for looking after your mental health while at home

THE LAST FEW weeks have been challenging at the best of times and by now, I am sure a lot of us are truly valuing our health even more than ever.

With the updated restrictions in place now until 5 May, it is normal to feel unsettled, restless or that feeling of almost starting over again as we go back into another three weeks of limited movement. All of this can affect our mental health, mental fitness and mindset.

A lot of us are going to be feeling up and down these days — that’s perfectly normal — but it’s important to look after our health as best we can during this challenging time.

You might be asking ‘why is this is in a fitness column?’

I would regard physical fitness as very important but how you train and look after your mind is just as, if not more, important. To me, fitness isn’t always about lifting weights, running or going under the bar to hit a heavy squat. Spending time on your mental fitness or mindset is something I would encourage everybody to incorporate into their daily routine.

As a personal trainer who has been working with individuals for almost 10 years now, I know and have seen the huge benefits of how the following steps can help and keep your mind and body strong. Remember — a healthy mind helps a healthy body.

Routine

Routine is key and even more so now. Form a routine and be consistent in terms of the time you get up at and the time you go to bed at. It’s going to be a lot harder when we are spending so much time indoors each day but the key is to ensure your
plan incorporates a good balance.

Stick to a structured day where possible. For example times for meals, work, family, workout, time for yourself to unwind, and the most important, sleep. A regular sleeping pattern is crucial as poor sleeping patterns seep into every aspect of our health. If you’re sleeping poorly your energy levels and performance is sure to dip, food choices are usually worse, and your mood is sure to be affected.

Movement

Movement is essential and your health depends on movement. We are made to move – even in isolation!

Movement doesn’t always have to mean doing a home workout, going out for a run or in general overexerting yourself. Getting out for a walk around the block, playing with your kids, the dog or even just doing some light stretches to break up the majority of our sedentary day.

Exercise and movement is key, even more so now. When we exercise, our body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in our brain that reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body. That feeling can be accompanied by a positive and energising outlook on life.

Vitamin D

Over the last few weeks, we have been spending plenty of time indoors with limited outside movement. Lately we have been experiencing some glimpses of sun
but sadly we just can’t get the full benefit of it right now.

Get out for a walk during the day or spend that little bit more extra time in the garden or even look at supplementing with a good Vitamin D source. It is important to get out and get our daily dose of Vitamin D as it is good for overall health giving us strong and healthy bones, along with it being an important factor in making sure your muscles, heart, lungs and brain work well and that your body can fight infection.

Not only is getting outside in the sunshine good for boosting Vitamin D levels, but overall, it’s great for clearing the head.

Eating and drinking patterns

It is very easy to fall into the trap of binge eating and drinking each day. When we are bored or when we are under stress, we tend to overindulge. I am all for having nice treats in the kitchen but do your best to limit the amount of times we treat ourselves.

My best advice is stick to the basics and get them right within your main three meals in the day. 80% of the time, eat real food: fresh meat, fish, green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds and allow yourself to let loose with foods which should be eaten in moderation. So go have that pizza or ice cream, but just don’t overdo it and even if you do, don’t beat yourself up. Go and start a fresh the next day.

The same goes with alcohol right now. It is very easy to fall into the trap of going overboard here. Sure, still have it if you like it but go about it the right way and be clever.

Screen time and connection

Thankfully, we now live in a world where we can still connect with anybody within a click of a button. Use this to your advantage but try avoid going overboard. During these restrictions I have noticed I have been spending a lot more time on screens. I put this down to the limited amount of face-to-face interaction we now have with family and friends or even colleagues as we see the majority of us working from home through devices.

It is absolutely great to be able to stay connected with people through all the platforms available. However, all this time spent on screen can affect our energy, mood and even our sleep. My best advice here is sure use that time wisely and connect but there is no harm in turning off the devices to switch off your mind.

One habit I use is to turn my phone off at a fixed time in the evening and only turn it on at a fixed time in the morning or leaving the phone at home while you head out for an evening walk.

Know when to switch off and on

When working from home, it is very easy to slip into on-off-on-off mode sporadically during the day. It is hard when we have lots of obstacles to deal with when working from home. It might be the kids, the dog or even the food constantly calling us back to the kitchen!

My best advice here is to keep the work-life balance structure as best possible. Stick to work times that you were used to before, take that lunch break and try have an area in the house that is solely for work, and then come away from it all at your usual finish time.

On your off times, do things that you truly enjoy. That could be some exercise, Netflix, reading a book, a catch up with friends online or even use that extra time in the evenings to get creative in the kitchen with new meal ideas.

Take it day by day

During this pandemic, we all have and are going to continue to experience bad days along with the good days. My best advice is to take it day by day and avoid thinking of the next three weeks.

Try to take positives out of this and focus on it as one day at a time. Make each day the best as you possibly can. I know this can be easier said than done.

It is quite normal to have a bad day during all of this and if you do that’s fine, make tomorrow a better day. Enjoy the extra time you have for example spending time with your kids, perhaps the extra few minutes in bed in the morning, not having the heavy traffic commute to work, time to do those jobs you have never got around to at home, read some books, catch up with friends and family online, or even the extra bit of time to pick up a new hobby such as baking or cooking.

Sometimes we just have to slow down to speed back up and I have no doubt that within time, we’ll all be back to normality. Mind yourself.

David Last is a personal trainer based in Dublin. For more information, you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Or you can send him a direct message here.

You can also see some of his previous articles here.