Since its first outbreak in Wuhan city of China, the coronavirus has almost monopolized global consciousness. The World Health Organisation (WHO), declared it a pandemic on 11 March 2020 and people, the world over had to exercise social distancing or had to be in complete lockdown, as in certain countries. Some parts of the world were exercising, that includes China, lockdown much before, it was declared in India. Man is a social animal and when quarantine or isolation is imposed, apart from the existing stress due to the pandemic, there are undercurrents that could affect his mental health. It’s a sudden change of behavioral pattern that, though self-imposed, does not warrant a choice, as one could be a threat to others. Though everyone reacts differently during stressful situations, it has been observed that the common stress factors during a disease outbreak are:
- Fear & worry about your own health and that of your loved ones
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Difficulty in sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Worsening of mental health conditions
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco and/or other drugs
Amplify the same now with the global recession, job cuts, salary delays or salary cuts, and a looming sense of uncertainty and you have much in hand to cope with. The new realities of working from home, home-schooling of children, and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends, and colleagues, take time to get used to. Adapting to lifestyle changes and managing the fear of contracting the virus, with the various phases of relaxations and continuance of lockdown can be quite worrisome and challenging. Fear, worry, and stress are normal responses when we are faced with uncertainty and the thought that we all are particularly vulnerable until the vaccine is in place. S,o while we all are taking steps to increase our immunity in the meanwhile, it is additionally impending on us to also take care of our mental health.
Fortunately, there are lots of things that we can do to look after our own mental health and to help others who may need some extra support and care.
1. Exercises or practice Yoga
Start your day with any kind of physical exercise or Yoga. Performing exercise and Yoga in the early morning helps to relieve stress and boost the mood by decreasing circulating cortisol levels and increasing endorphins secretion.
- Exercise raises brain activity allowing you to take your mind off things and improve your overall mood.
- Yoga helps us develop an awareness of how our own unique mind works and that awareness can help us live in a more conscious way.
According to Ayurveda, Yoga helps to balance the energy of Surya (Pingala) and Chandra (Ida) Nadi (neurons) and keep our body in a state of relaxation.
The power of touch has an amazing effect on body and mind, massaging the body stimulates the production of serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitters that promotes well-being, satisfaction and feelings of happiness. Massage also decreases cortisol levels, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, which is related to stress and anxiety. Serotonin consequently stimulates production of melatonin, which helps regulate the body’s circadian rhythms and lull people to sleep.
In Ayurveda, Abhyanga (oil massage) is a daily self-care ritual that helps to heal the mind and body from the stresses of daily life.
3. Healthy and nutritious diet
Whatever you eat, it has profound effects on both physical and mental health. A healthy and nutritious diet, in particular, can help to regulate stress and anxiety. Diet that includes prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods like yogurt helps to promote a proper balance of gut bacteria. These good gut bacteria activate the neural pathways by the release of 95% Serotonin neurotransmitters that travels directly between the gut and the brain, which aid in mediating moods and regulating sleep.
One should daily consume dry fruits like walnut, almond, berries, leafy vegetable, and oily fish. All these are full of antioxidants and omega fatty acids, that inhibit oxidation in the brain, support the growth of new neurons and help to produce neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and serotonin, an essential aspect of maintaining good mental health.
According to Ayurveda, one should consume Satvik Ahara i.e vegan, fresh, and light food to enlighten the Satvika Guna of the brain to remain free from tamas properties like fear and anxiety.
4. Meditation and self-awareness
Meditation is the practice of thinking deeply or focusing one’s mind for a period of time. Meditation helps you to develop a stronger understanding of yourself, helping you grow into your best self.
The brain is part of the body where meditation really works like magic. Meditation helps to decrease negative neurological connections to the medial prefrontal cortex or ‘me center’ of the brain’s dampening traits such as fear, stress, and anxiety. Alternatively, it also builds new positive neurological connections to the parts of the brain responsible for promoting traits like focus and decision-making.
According to Ayurveda, Dhyana is a process in which mind and the body are inextricably connected. It helps to gain self-consciousness and keep you away from the sense of fear.
5. Busy yourself
Keeping yourself busy is the key to a healthy and happy mind. Involve yourself in activities you like – create art, listen to music, read books, dance, spend time with nature, get close to your family members and pets.
Busy people are likely to have more opportunities to learn as they are exposed to more information and encounter a wider range of situations in daily life. When you are busy, you don’t have time to dwell on the negativity and also your neurotransmitters are regulated in a proper manner.
Sleep is as important to our health as breathing, drinking, and eating. It allows our body cells to repair themselves and our brains to consolidate our memories and process information.
Poor sleep is linked to physical problems such as a weakened immune system and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Lack of sleep affects levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones in the brain and impairs thinking and emotional regulation. So it is much necessary that you should take adequate sleep of at least 7 – 8 hr per day for mental wellbeing.
Ayurveda teaches us that sleep (Nidra) is one of the three pillars of health, along with food (Ahara) and energy management (Brahmacharaya). “Happiness and unhappiness, nourishment (good physique) and emaciation, strength and debility, knowledge and ignorance, life and death—all are dependent on sleep.”
Aromatherapy is a holistic approach that uses natural plant extracts to promote mental health and well-being. When we inhale the oils of aromatic herbs like lavender, sandal wood and basil through inhalation the specialized nerve cells in the upper part of the nose detect smells, they send an impulse to the brain along the olfactory nerve to an area called the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb processes the impulse and delivers the information about the smell to other neighboring areas of the brain. These other areas are known as the limbic system.
The limbic system is a set of brain structures that play an essential role in controlling behavior, emotions, memory, and mood and immediately helps to feel calm and stress-free.
8. Ayurvedic and natural herbs
In addition to helpful lifestyle and diet changes, Ayurvedic and traditional herbal supplements can be used to treat various ailments including depression. There are many plants mentioned in Ayurveda that support mental health.
Herbs like Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri), Shankhapushpi (Convolvulus microphyllus), Mandukaparni (Centella asiatica), Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Jatamansi (Celastrus paniculatus) and Vacha (Acorus calamus) are clinically proven to boost overall brain function thereby enhancing its capacity to deal with stress, while allaying anxiety. These mentioned herbs are potent natural nootropic and help to regulate the secretion of neurotransmitter like serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine. Also these herbs are adaptogenic and have been independently researched to show anti-stress, anxiolytic and anti-depressant properties.
Additionally, take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news and consuming viral information, which could exaggerate the anxiety levels. Simply follow the natural ways and stay mentally strong and healthy during the lockdown and in the world-order, post the lockdown.
Authored by: Vasavdatta Gandhi, Wholetime Director at Millennium Herbal Care Ltd.