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Staying sane through lockdown 3: Six ways to keep focused and look after your mental health

by Laura Palmer

Can you believe almost a year has passed since the first lockdown? In theory, living through these strange times should be second nature by now, but lockdown fatigue, the never-ending juggle of work and home life, worry and anxiety about jobs, health, friends and family can be draining. Throw cabin fever and extreme weather into the mix, and it’s no surprise you might be feeling out of sorts and lacking in focus.

It’s likely your daily life has changed dramatically and these huge shifts can play havoc with everything from sleep, to diet and mental health. But if you’re feeling fed up and you’ve lost your get up and go, there are most definitely positive steps you can take to improve how you feel:

1. Exercise as therapy:

Exercise is a tried and tested way to give your mental health a boost. Physical activity reduces stress and combats depression. Why? Primarily because it helps you release cortisol, the ‘fight-or-flight’ hormone, in a healthy way rather than hanging on to it, which can trigger anxiety.

Even something light touch, for example a brisk 30-minute walk, releases feel-good hormones into your body like serotonin and dopamine. These wonder neurotransmitters enable brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other better. This results in better mood, increased energy levels and even improved memory.

Done with ‘the daily walk’ and want more of a challenge? Try one of the many ‘Couch to 5K’ running programmes you’ll find online. Or, try running up and down the stairs a few times a day – every extra active minute helps!

Yoga is a brilliant form of exercise for lockdown. It’s easy to do at home and requires little equipment. Plus, there are countless excellent free tutorials on YouTube and Instagram to learn from. Yoga is proven to help relax the mind, lower your heart rate and will teach you invaluable breathing techniques to relieve stress.

Need more inspo? The mental health experts at charity Mind have a wealth of information on exercise and how it can improve your mood here.

2. Boost your mood with B vitamins:

There’s no fix-all magic pill to banish the lockdown blues, but there are vitamin supplements that could help improve your mental wellbeing.

A vitamin B complex supplement should be top of your list. Numerous studies have shown that B vitamins can ease depressive and anxiety symptoms. They work by boosting your brain chemistry and balancing out neurotransmitters, which improves brain function.

Did you know that B vitamins are water-soluble? This means they can’t be stored in the body, so you should top up your levels every day. They can also be depleted by alcohol, refined sugars, and caffeine. Many of the crutches you might find yourself turning to in lockdown – whoops!

There are eight essential B vitamins, all of which are beneficial to mental health. If you are feeling fed up, B12 is particularly worth considering. This is because it plays a crucial role in the synthesis of ‘happy’ neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine. It could also help increase your energy levels.

The Focus Plus vitamin patch contains all the B vitamins in one handy dose, alongside Nootropics (more of which next) and other brain and mood-boosting minerals and vitamins.

3. Take a trip to the Nootropics:

This isn’t the exotic island archipelago it sounds like, but rather natural or synthetic supplements that improve cognitive performance. Also known as ‘smart drugs’, they can be used to help boost memory, focus, creativity, intelligence and motivation. There are countless Nootropics out there, but l-theanine, pterostilbene and lion’s mane (which can all be found in the Focus Patch) all have a powerful effect, without the negative side effects of Nootropics like caffeine and nicotine.

L-theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that has been found to have a calming effect on the body. Taking as little as 50 mg has also been shown to increase alpha-waves in the brain, which are linked to creativity.

Lion’s mane mushroom extract is a strong anti-inflammatory, which can help reduce anxiety and depression. Animal studies have shown it can even support brain cell regeneration and improve the functioning of the hippocampus – the region of the brain responsible for processing memories and emotional responses. Wow.

Pterostilbene is another mood booster. Studies where rats were given a diet rich in pterostilbene, showed their dopamine levels increased. Their cognitive function and memory also improved. Hands up who wants what they’re having!

4. Eat your way to happiness:

And no, this doesn’t give you carte blanche to polish off all that lockdown baking! In fact, excess sugar is something you should be looking to eliminate from your diet. Too much sugar triggers inflammation and imbalances in certain brain chemicals. Multiple studies have also found a link between high sugar diets and depression and anxiety.

Instead, you should increase your intake dietary intake of good fats such as oily fish, avocados, alongside oils such as: coconut, hemp and extra virgin olive, plus plenty of nuts and seeds. You should also load up on green leafy vegetables and brassicas (for example: cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli) which have been shown to combat anxiety.

Nutritionist Catherine Carris-Harris recommends plenty of brightly coloured vegetables and berries. They have a high anti-oxidant content to fight off inflammation. She also suggests throwing in anti-inflammatory herbs such as turmeric and oregano to your cooking. Catherine is a firm advocate of Omega 3 supplementation (The Omega 3 Plus Patch is here), especially if you aren’t an oily fish fan.

5. Be more mindful:

If you’re currently working from home, you’ll know how difficult it can be to clearly define where work ends and relaxation begins. Downtime can be elusive, but making space for rest and reflection is essential for optimum mental health. A great way to build this into your routine is to schedule a mindfulness session in each week.

If you don’t know, mindfulness is a sort of meditation where you sit quietly and tune into the senses of your body. There’s a huge amount of free resource online that can teach you how to practice mindfulness. Sites like Every Mind Matters and Be Mindful are both great places to start.

Mindfulness has been shown to reduce activity in the brain’s amygdala. This is key because the amygdala plays a central role in switching on your stress response.

It also provides time for you to check in with yourself and your feelings. Something you might not have had space for in these crazy lockdown times.

6. Head for the great outdoors:

Spending time outside in natural light has long been understood to alleviate low feelings or lethargy. Sunlight boosts your serotonin levels and helps your body to make melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that helps you get ready to sleep and will also keep your Circadian rhythm in check. The ideal antidote to lockdown insomnia.

Studies also show that surrounding yourself with nature helps your brain with regulating emotions, and can even expand memory function. Stuck at home somewhere urban? Try looking at photos of your favourite places in nature and listen to birdsong, ocean waves, or rainfall. Or, bring nature inside by investing in house plants.