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The Most Natural Way To Boost Mental Health During COVID-19

It can help improve mental health and wellbeing and reduce anxiety.

Even modest reminders of nature can help boost mental health during lockdown, research finds.

Nature can be experienced on a walk close to home, in the back yard or even indoors.

All have been shown to improve mental health and wellbeing and reduce anxiety.

Experiencing nature mindfully can help increase its effect, as can sharing memories of nature, thinking back to natural places that induce calm and sharing these stories with others.

Nature can help stop rumination — thinking about the causes and consequences of depressing events — a process common in depression.

Dr Kathleen Wolf, an expert on the health benefits of nature, said:

“Studies have proven that even the smallest bit of nature—a single tree, a small patch of flowers, a house plant—can generate health benefits.
Look closely in your neighborhood, and the bit of nature you may have taken for granted up until now may become the focus of your attention and help you feel better.”

Over the years, thousands of studies have shown the positive effect of nature on mental health.

As little as 20-minutes of nature can help to reduce stress, one study has found.

Gardens and backyards provide some with access to grass, bird song, leaves and flowers.

For those stuck indoors, though, potted plants or even photos or videos of nature can provide the necessary reminder.

Being mindful is key to getting the most out of nature, said Dr Wolf:

“It’s important to be mindful, commit to the activity and think about your observations while looking at these materials or elements of nature.
That means not merely scrolling through on your computer, but looking at photos or video streams with more intention.
It’s essentially nature-oriented meditation.”

Sharing experiences of nature with others is also powerful, said Dr Wolf:

“Even though we are physically distancing, it’s really important to our health to maintain our social connections.
There is evidence that people who are lonely or who are socially isolated can be prone to poorer health.
Nature might be a means, either by being outside a safe distance from others or by sharing stories with each other, of staying socially connected.”

Exposure to nature helps to stop people ruminating, a process of continuously worrying about the past and the future linked to mental health problems.

Professor Peter Kahn, an expert on environmental sciences, explained:

“In these times, I think our minds can be a little out of control.
Part of the effect of nature is that it can soften negative conditioned mental patterns.
If you can find nature, engage with it and get your heart rate down, then your mind begins to settle.
When your mind isn’t ruminating, it can then open to a wider world, where there’s great beauty and healing.”

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology (Hunter et al., 2019).

About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog.
He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.

source: Psyblog
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Why You’re Having Anxiety Over Lockdown Ending,
And How To Cope

As coronavirus restrictions lift and states began to reopen, therapists say there are things you can do to manage your anxiety and stress about the transition.
As states and cities start to ease lockdown restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, many are thrilled to get back to business and return to normal — well, normalish — life.
Yet there are just as many people who feel conflicted about these seemingly overnight developments. You can be glad to see things reopening ― and heartened to see people protesting systemic racism across the country ― but simultaneously, a little anxious about how the next phase of cities reopening will play out.
After all, the stats are still overwhelming: As of this week, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world has exceeded 6.6 million. In the United States, more than 1.8 million cases have been recorded and more than 108,000 people have died so far from COVID-19.
If you’re experiencing anxiety over lockdown ending or just the coronavirus in general, know that you’re not alone. Recent Census Bureau data found that 30% of Americans now show symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.

“Many of my clients, most of whom have never previously experienced anxiety about going out, are nervous as states begin to reopen and loosen restrictions,” said Jennifer Chappell Marsh, a marriage and family therapist in San Diego, which is in the process of moving from stage 2 of reopening to stage 3.

As that happens, Chappell Marsh said many of her clients are reporting generalized social anxiety about resuming their regular lives in public.

“They’ve spent months without much exposure to people and places while consuming a lot of coronavirus-related media,” she said. “But there are so many unknowns: We don’t know how bad this will get and we don’t know how long this will last. They don’t know what to expect and the unknown can be terrifying, especially because the risk of infection is real, can lead to death and there is no vaccine.”

Over the last few months, Chappell Marsh has learned on the fly how to address concerns like these. Below, she and other experts share their best advice for managing panic and anxiety as states begin to reopen.

Recognize that it’s entirely natural to feel anxiety about this.

Amelia Aldao is a psychologist and anxiety specialist in New York City. People in big metropolitan areas like NYC may feel heightened concern about the end of isolation since most city dwellers are used to seeing and interacting with hundreds of people in the course of a day (during subway commutes, at the office, walking around the city).

“We were used to [it], but during the last few months, most of us have only had real, face-to-face interactions with a small subset of people,” she said. “It’s going to take some adjustment to go back to ‘real life.’ At the very least, we might experience sensory overload, since our brains are no longer used to processing so many social interactions.”

As the city begins to reopen, even Aldao has said she’s dealt with some unexpected anxiety while walking around town.

“I was walking in the park here in NYC and all of a sudden I was feeling very foggy and confused,” she said. “I then realized it was because my brain had a hard time adjusting to seeing that many people outside!”

People at the park were spaced out far enough from each other and wearing masks, but it still felt jarring, Aldao said.

“My brain was just having a hard time adjusting,” she said. “Much like when we are outside on a very bright day and our eyes have a hard time adjusting to the change in light when we go inside.”

Ask yourself: What can I control now?

You’re living with a lot of unknowns right now: Will the surge of COVID-19 infections slowly decline in your part of the country, or will it pick up as it has in other parts of the country? Will your workplace do enough to ensure employees are social distancing? How safe are indoor public places right now (retail stores, for instance, and restaurants)? Will people remain vigilant about wearing masks?
When you get stuck in this loop, try to refocus on positive thoughts about things in your life you can control, Chappell Marsh said. You can wear a mask to lower your chance of catching the virus and others’ chances, too, for instance. You can talk to your manager at work and slowly reacquaint yourself with going out in public places again. (No need to rush to make those restaurant reservations!)

“In times of uncertainty and overwhelm, it’s best to bring our focus to the here and now, asking ourselves, ‘What can I do?’ said Chappell Marsh. “Shifting our mindset in that way takes us mentally from overwhelm and anxious to empowered and hopeful.”

You don’t have to rush back out there, but try to take baby steps to get comfortable with being in public again.

With the exception of work demands, there is no need to rush into anything as restrictions are loosened, said Julia Yacoob, a psychologist in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City. You can still avoid big crowds and say “no” to invitations to a bar or restaurant if you’d rather keep your social circle somewhat small.

“Stay in touch with your feelings, continuously check in with yourself, and respect where you are, given what you’ve just experienced,” Yacoob said. “That doesn’t mean you need to let your feelings completely dictate your actions if you know rationally that they are not serving you well. As in, just because you feel something is true does not mean that it is.” (In other words, sometimes our feelings can convince us of that we’re more at risk than we are when, say, we go to the market with a mask.)

The goal here is to build emotional tolerance slowly, Chappell Marsh said. Obviously, the risk is real and we can’t ignore that. But avoiding everything that triggers anxiety will only make it worse, she said.

Take baby steps. Start by asking yourself, “What is a small risk I can tolerate today?” the therapist said.

“Then identify one thing that you can do that feels uncomfortable,” she explained. “Keep washing your hands, wearing your mask and maintain good distance when in public while also pushing yourself to take one small step outside your comfort zone. Once there, allow yourself to stay in the discomfort and breathe through it until the discomfort dissipates.”

When you start to worry, try this simple thought exercise.

Aldao has been telling her clients dealing with COVID-related anxiety to try this simple cognitive behavioral therapy exercise. It might help you, too.
First, identify what’s at the core of your anxiety.

“What’s triggering it?” she said. “What are the specific worries you’re having?”

Once you’ve identified these worries, ask yourself the following five questions:
  1. What is the evidence for and against the worrisome thought?
  2. What’s the usefulness of having this thought? (Is it adding more tension than helping you solve problems?)
  3. What would you tell a friend or loved one in a similar situation?
  4. Can you set aside time to worry later?
  5. Can you breathe through the worry and practice mindfulness?
Lastly, she said, try to identify how the worries and anxiety hold you back.

“Are there specific things that they make you avoid? If so, write these down and every day, try to push yourself to do those things you’re scared of,” she explained. “This is a technique called exposure and we use it in cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders.”

Consider counseling at least temporarily if you’re feeling a heightened sense of anxiety.
If your stress is worsening or you’re noticing a major uptick in anxiety, low mood or problematic behavior (substance abuse, for instance), it might be worth talking to a professional. Many people are currently turning to teletherapy ― videoconferencing with a mental health expert ― to get help.

“Counseling to help improve mental health in response to this experience can be helpful,” Chicago therapist Anna Poss told HuffPost. “As a society, we haven’t done a great job of normalizing counseling, but it is a great way to get support and does not mean anything is ‘wrong’ with you. It just means that something is hard and you don’t have to go through it alone. That’s certainly the case with a pandemic.”

Keep the focus on you and your self-care, not on others and how they’re approaching things reopening.

Continue to prioritize self-care, including exercise, a healthy diet and sleep, but also self-compassion and compassion toward others, Yacoob said. That means holding back on the judgment when you see your sister-in-law bouncing around from bar to bar on her Instagram story over the weekend or questioning the number of people your neighbor has over.

“We have no insight into what those around us may be experiencing, so as best you can, lighten up on judgment and harsh words towards others,” she said. “It’s healthier to focus on you right now.”

By Brittany Wong             06/09/2020


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How People Are Practicing Healthier Behaviors in the Face of COVID-19

  • In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are getting motivated to make healthier choices and adopt healthier habits.
  • Some people living with chronic conditions have found they’re also vigilant about self-care.
  • Experts say even small changes can lead to big improvements in overall health.
  • With many things still shut down, experts say this is an excellent time to focus on your health.

Like most New Yorkers, Rob Taub, 64, has been sheltering in place as the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the city and the nation at large.

For Taub, a writer and broadcaster who lives in the city’s Upper East Side neighborhood, there has been one surprising result of the radical day-to-day life changes brought about by the outbreak — his overall health has improved.

Taub has been living with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure for nearly 15 years. An athlete growing up, he said when he was in his 40s he “looked like an NFL player,” but then something changed as he got older.

“I started gaining 15 pounds a year. Soon I was 40 pounds, then 50 pounds overweight,” said Taub, who serves as an ambassador for the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association.

Now, as he’s been adhering to physical distancing and stay-at-home guidelines, he’s found that his overall health has improved.

The man who ate out at restaurants for about 80 percent of his meals now cooks for himself at home. A big change has been salt intake.

“One of the things I switched to recently prior to COVID-19 was oatmeal because there’s no salt in it and I realized my blood pressure was going down while eating it,” he said. “When cooking for myself, there is no salt. I realize restaurant food is laden with salt and it’s not good for you.”

Taub takes his blood pressure every day — at the time of his interview with Healthline it was at 112/80 mm Hg — and has been able to cut back on his medications.

These readings are better than he ever thought he’d see, especially when they were at their worst about a decade and a half ago.

Being vigilant is also important because he has a family history of these health concerns. His mother died at 73 from complications tied to diabetes.

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A time to embrace healthy habits

While now is a difficult time for many — stress and anxiety are up, people’s insecurities and fears over their personal health have increased — for some people like Taub, this new way of life has ironically led to better, healthier behaviors.

Dr. Robert Eckel, the American Diabetes Association president of medicine and science, and an endocrinologist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said Taub’s story isn’t unusual.

With life on pause, he said that “now is a good time to focus” on health.

He added that depending on a person’s individual lifestyle and desires — and assuming they’re not facing too severe of an economic impact from the current health crisis — sheltering at home gives an opportunity to adopt some healthier behaviors, from more routine fitness to better sleep habits.

A big piece of it is reflected in Taub’s experience — eating better food.

“In general, a heart healthy diet is a diabetes healthy diet and cancer healthy and blood pressure healthy diet,” Eckel, a past-president of the American Heart Association, told Healthline.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, an independent science-based consumer advocacy organization, writes that rampant unhealthy diets have something of a domino effect on overall health in the United States.

The organization says that diets that rely on heavily processed meals low on nutritious value contribute to about 678,000 deaths each year as a result of diseases tied to poor nutrition and obesity, like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

It should be no surprise then that each of these conditions are highly prevalent in the North America.

Annually, heart disease is the leading cause of death nationwide, resulting in 1 in every 4 deaths, while more than 100 million adults live with diabetes or prediabetes.

Obesity statistics are similarly high, with the condition’s prevalence shooting from 30.5 percent in the year from 1999 to 2000, to 42.4 percent in the 2017–2018 time frame. The prevalence of obesity-related diseases moved from 4.7 percent to 9.2 percent during that time frame.

Eckel said that as the coronavirus puts a pause on day-to-day life, it gives Americans an opportunity to hit the reset button on some of these worrying trends.

He cited both the DASH and Mediterranean diets as fairly accessible healthy eating plans that promote weight reduction, decreased salt intake, increased daily nutritional intake, and lowered blood pressure.

He also cited moderate exercise as a way to maintain healthy behaviors while stuck at home.

This means trying to fit in about 40 to 45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day — this doesn’t mean having fancy or expensive equipment. It could be a brisk walk or using light weights to include some sort of resistance-training workout at home.

Really anything to avoid being in a “predominantly sedentary position,” he explained.

The challenges of making these changes

Of course, all of this can be easier said than done for some people.

The emotional, psychological, and financial toll taken by COVID-19 can make it hard for people to dedicate time to make some of these lifestyle shifts.

Dr. Luke Laffin, a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic, told Healthline that the people he treats generally have fallen in two camps during this crisis. One group was already exercising, visiting gyms, and adhering to healthy diets. Anecdotally, he noticed this group actually seemed to “fall off a bit” from their schedules once sheltering at home.

“They haven’t been doing as well in this setting,” Laffin said.

The other group consists of people who weren’t regularly exercising, not making the best dietary choices, but are now changing their routines slightly, finding they have more time to go for a walk or start preparing meals.

“It’s a double-edged sword. I’ve seen people benefit from this time but also some people not benefit as much,” he added.

For those in the second group, does Laffin envision these new healthy habits being maintained over the years once the COVID-19 threat passes?

“I think the most important part is getting into these habits and routines, and sticking with them. People are creatures of habit, so if for a couple of months with more time to exercise and eat healthily, I hope they find they can’t go without the daily routine of eating healthier, of making these choices,” he said.

If they feel better and see that their weight is lower and that their overall health has improved, Laffin added that he hopes these people will see these are necessary behaviors to hold on to.

Maintaining new routines

For those in the first group who are finding it difficult to self-motivate during an uncertain time, Laffin suggested pursuing routines that aren’t intimidating.

Just walking around the block is a good way to add some activity, and taking quick breaks in between working from home to do some light exercise could be helpful.

As for food, one doesn’t have to embrace complicated recipes if they’re used to dining out or grabbing a quick meal at the office cafeteria. He said to make sure you try to make dishes that have 50 to 60 percent fruits and vegetables.

Try to stock up on some healthier items when you do go to the local grocery store, just so you have them on hand and can incorporate them with your meal, even if it’s a side dish to complement what you might naturally gravitate to.

“I think it’s important for everyone to be realistic with themselves, however,” Laffin added. “A lot of people out there will slide back a bit, they will put on some extra pounds, they won’t be as physically active. Understand that this is not a 6-week reality, this is going to be going on for 6, 12, 18 months — now is the time to make these adjustments but also be realistic.”

For Taub’s part, he’s a social person who lives alone and said he will heartily embrace eating out with friends once it’s safe and responsible to do so.

What will he make sure to do moving forward to keep up with his new shelter-in-place healthy behaviors?

“I’m going to be aggressive in restaurants about what I order, I might even call ahead to see what I can get that is salt-free. If they won’t accommodate me, then I won’t go there,” Taub stressed.

“If I’m able to control my blood pressure more, then I have to be more cognizant of my behaviors,” he added. “It’s too easy to depend on medication, as great as it is. I need to be really diligent about it.”

Written by Brian Mastroianni              May 26, 2020              Fact checked by Dana K. Cassell