At unsettling times like the coronavirus outbreak, it might feel like things are very much out of your control. Most routines have been thrown into disarray, and the future, as far as the experts tell us, is far from certain.
But there are still lots of things you can do — aside from social distancing and washing your hands with soap — to protect your health and wellbeing.
Eating the right diet
The best foods for our mental health are generally the healthiest foods. Complex carbohydrates found in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, provide important nourishment for our brains as they slowly release energy, which also stabilizes our moods.
A balanced diet ideally includes a variety of foods high in vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, as well as the minerals iron, zinc, and selenium.
B vitamins found in green vegetables like broccoli and spinach, beans, bananas, eggs, poultry, fish, and beetroot, are important for our brain and its happiness chemicals, serotonin, and dopamine. A lack of B6, B12, and folate (B9) is common in cases of depression.
It's also vital to look after our gut health, which a growing body of research shows has a remarkable impact on our mood and behavior. Prebiotics and probiotics found in fermented foods like kefir, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt can reduce inflammation, boost our moods and cognitive function.
Sleep is essential for our bodies to repair cells, clear toxins, consolidate our memories and process information. There's good evidence that sleep deprivation can have major impacts on our health — negatively affecting our psychological wellbeing concentration and even our emotional intelligence. It can also increase our risk of developing chronic health conditions, like diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
Exercise releases chemicals in the body that make us feel good, and it's also been linked to better sleep, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved memory and cognition.
Team sports may be off the agenda, but you can certainly still exercise on your own, says Marcus Thormann, owner of a high-tech fitness studio in western Germany. He recommends moderate movement for 30 minutes per day, as backed by the WHO
"You can even break that up into 10-minute sections — 10 minutes in the morning, 10 in the afternoon, and 10 in the evening. When you've established that as a daily routine, then your day will be better structured as well," he told DW.
Many fitness instructors — yoga and pilates, personal trainers, dance teachers — are offering their classes online during the outbreak, some of them for free. All you need is a mat or towel on the floor and a reliable internet connection.
Now more than ever, we need our friends. Evidence shows that social connectedness is as important as diet, movement, and sleep to maintain our health.
No, you can't have a dinner party or a picnic in lockdown — in person! But not all social interactions have to be face-to-face to be meaningful. Try recreating them through video calls — you could organize a virtual dinner via apps like Zoom, Houseparty or good old Google Hangouts, or take a friend on a virtual walk or do a housebound activity together, like craft or drawing.
Think of it as being distantly social.
While it might seem like the world is only talking about one topic right now, enforced social isolation could also provide the perfect opportunity for many people to take a break from the news cycle.
What do you usually not have time for? Gardening, cooking, pickling, puzzles, craft, sewing, learning to meditate, building furniture, reading that pile of books on your bedside?
Now could be the perfect time to do them all, or some, or half of a few — whatever you can manage.