Who’s ready for 2021 to be an amazing year? Last year was definitely challenging for our mental health, but those challenges brought the importance of maintaining mental health to the forefront of many conversations. I have shared similar advice in the past on New Year’s resolution ideas to improve our mental health, but here are some ideas that are specific to living during pandemic times:
1. Improve your sleep patterns. Prioritizing sleep can be tough with a busy schedule and changes in our routine as a result of the pandemic, but sleep is correlated not only with health (insomnia is related to hypertension while too much or too little sleep increases the risk of stroke, for example), but also with cognition, stress levels, and mood. Improve your sleep by going to bed at the same time and minimizing distractions before bed (for example, put away your laptop at least one hour before bedtime).
2. Substitute some of your least healthy food habits with more nutritious options. There is growing research of the promising connection between the Mediterranean diet and mental health. The Mediterranean diet consists of lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, fish, olive oil, and minimal red meat. Many of us have been cooking more at home or ordering takeout due to restaurant closures, so start by making simple swaps for more nutrient dense options. Here are some substitution ideas:
- Instead of soda try flavored sparkling water, fruit-infused water, unsweetened iced tea.
- Instead of hamburger, opt for a salmon burger, turkey burger, or grilled chicken
- Instead of vegetable oil, switch to olive oil.
- Instead of snacking on milk chocolate, eat dark chocolate
- Instead of french fries, try baked potato wedges or sweet potato fries
3. Make more of an effort to connect with others. Connecting with others during the pandemic might be more challenging, but making a phone call, texting to check-in, scheduling virtual meet-ups, or meeting outside while masked and physically distanced are still possible.
4. Incorporate exercise back into your routine. No open gyms, no problem! I know many of us have fallen off track with exercising regularly during the pandemic, but going on walks, running outside, hiking outdoors, doing body weight exercises, buying exercise equipment for your own home are some great ways to make physical activity a priority again.
5. Take up a new hobby. In effort to live a more balanced life, having a hobby can be a healthy distraction away from everyday work and home stressors, and the influx of negative news in the media.
6. Set boundaries with your social media use. Although social media can be used in positive ways to keep up with family and connect with like-minded individuals, it can also induce anxiety, contribute to insomnia, and trigger mixed emotions if used in excess. The term doomscrolling has become more widely used during the pandemic since the term describes the tendency to continue scrolling for bad news. Keep in mind that we don’t have to check the news or read each post in order to stay informed, so start by setting boundaries and applying simple rules to limit your social media use. Use an app to keep track of time spent on social media, or limit use to certain hours.
Vania Manipod, DO