A recipe for physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing for COVID-19 times and any time
There’s a reason that so many people are finding lockdown difficult and challenging. Many reasons, you might think, but I’d suggest one very major, significant and fundamental reason. In fact, it’s the same reason that many people struggle with their physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing in more normal times.
Before lockdown, the main issues that I was seeing clients for were anxiety and stress, particularly stress-related conditions of insomnia and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. What these clients had in common was feeling low and unwell, weighed down by worries, lacking energy and with all kinds of negative thoughts racing round their heads. The first thing that I invariably cover with my clients to help them feel better, calmer and more positive is this very major, significant and fundamental reason that their wellbeing is suffering. This reason is affecting more people during lockdown and is having such a massive impact on health and wellbeing.
I will cover this reason in several parts, because it will take more than one blog post to cover it all.
There is an approach to psychology called Human Givens, developed by psychologist Joe Griffin and psychotherapist Ivan Tyrrell. In their years of research and helping clients with mental health issues and addiction, they developed a model of therapy designed to help people meet a range of fundamental physical, psychological and emotional needs that were essential to health and wellbeing. They found that, when clients were better able to meet these needs that were lacking in their life, depression lifted, anxiety and stress were reduced and addictions could be overcome.
Why are so many people struggling during lockdown?
People struggle when they are not adequately meeting their ‘human givens’ needs and that’s the case now, during lockdown, even more than before.
I use the Human Givens approach with most of my clients, usually very early on in sessions. I go through the different ‘human givens’ needs with them as the fundamentals of self-care and ask them to do an audit of how well those needs are currently being met in their life. If they have any low scores on the audit, we discuss how they can better meet those particular needs. Sometimes some simple, straightforward and practical changes can make a big difference to their overall sense of wellbeing.
When you find out what the ‘human givens’ are, I’m sure none of them will be a surprise. What is surprising, is perhaps how much we take them for granted or even ignore them. When you see what the ‘human givens’ are, you might have a clearer understanding of why so many people are finding lockdown really tough and why, in modern times, levels of stress, anxiety and depression are so high. Lockdown and modern lifestyles make it more difficult for us to meet these fundamental human needs.
I will cover the ‘human givens’ in several parts, starting with the physical needs. Look out for further blog posts for the rest.
Physical ‘human givens’
It won’t be any huge revelation when I tell you that the main physical ‘human givens’ are food, water, sleep and exercise. It’s obvious that if your needs for those aren’t met, your physical and mental health will suffer.
Just a few thoughts on how best to meet those needs and on meeting them during lockdown:
Food – The importance of a healthy, balanced diet, with the right vitamins and minerals, can’t be underestimated. Unfortunately, the current predominance of processed foods and snacks high in sugar and salt in Western diets doesn’t help provide the nutrition we need. I’m not an expert in nutrition, but I do encourage my clients to consider how they could eat more healthily.
Watching what you eat during lockdown is even more important. The temptation to snack may well be greater and it isn’t as easy to work off those extra calories if you’re stuck at home all the time. It’s not just the dangers of putting on weight and the health problems that that can cause, though. There’s increasing research evidence to show that what you eat affects not only your physical health, but your mental health too. Recent studies point to the effect that gut bacteria can have on mood, even to the extent of being linked to depression and anxiety. A healthy, well balanced diet will make sure your gut bacteria contribute to good physical and mental health, rather than mess it up.
So it’s even more important during lockdown to eat as healthily as possible – plenty of fruit and vegetables, of course, and reducing your sugar intake. Keep your blood sugar level stable by avoiding sugary foods and drinks and white, refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta and rice. That will help to prevent energy dips and tiredness. Caffeine and alcohol cause stress on the body, so they’re ones to avoid as well. If you’re stressed or anxious, the last thing you want to do is rev up your nervous system even more with caffeine in any form.
Water – Water is an even greater need than food. We can survive without food much longer than we can survive without water. Fortunately, this is perhaps one of the easiest needs to meet during lockdown. Nearly two-thirds of the body is water, so constant hydration is vital at any time. Among other things, it helps to keep skin and hair healthy and to control body temperature and blood pressure. Signs of dehydration include lack of energy, irritability and confusion, so just like food, water has an effect on both our physical and mental health.
Recommended daily water intake is usually given as 2 litres for men and 1.6 litres for women, or 6 to 8 glasses. Of course, you may need to drink more, if it’s hot or you’re exercising a lot and losing water from your body by sweating. Your recommended daily water intake can include tea and coffee, although as already mentioned, it’s best to avoid caffeinated varieties if you’re stressed or anxious, and caffeine in large quantities is dehydrating. Another culprit for dehydration is alcohol. The body draws on its water reserves to flush alcohol out of the system – a further reason for reducing your alcohol consumption.
Sleep – We all know that a good night’s sleep is essential for physical and mental wellbeing. In sleep the body repairs itself, the mind processes experiences of the day and recent findings suggest that toxins that build up in the brain while we’re awake are removed. 8 hours of sleep a night was always put forward as the average amount of sleep we should all be aiming for. More recently it’s been recognised that everyone is different, some people need more sleep than others, and that actually 7 hours of sleep a night is a good average.
Get my top tips for dealing with sleep problems and how to get a good night’s sleep
During lockdown, I’ve seen a lot of comments about people sleeping badly for different reasons. Stress and anxiety are clearly having an impact, as well as the disruption to normal daily routines. I have a handout which I give to clients about some of the practical things they can do to help have a good night’s sleep. If you’d like me to send this to you, please e-mail me at email@example.com. One tip is to make sure that you go to bed and get up at the same times every day. This keeps your body and mind in a good sleep habit.
If a racing mind is stopping you falling asleep or keeping you awake in the middle of the night, being able to relax both your body and your mind is key to getting you to sleep. Switch off screens at least 30 minutes or even an hour before you want to get to sleep, because the blue light from phones, laptops and other electronic devices interferes with the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Use relaxation techniques, such as visualisations, progressive muscle relaxation and breathing, or mindfulness and meditation to help calm the body and the mind and get them in the right state to drift off to sleep easily. Counting sheep is actually quite a good thing to do, as it can be a way of focusing the mind away from anxious thoughts and worries.
Insomnia is one of the issues I specialise in. Please do contact me if you’re having problems sleeping and would like help to get a refreshing night’s sleep.
Exercise – The Government obviously recognised the importance of exercise for physical and mental health when setting out the lawful reasons for leaving home during lockdown. Whilst it’s perfectly possible to exercise indoors in a small space, being outdoors in the fresh air adds an extra dimension to wellbeing. The Japanese have recognised for decades the positive effect that walking in woods or shinrin-yoku, forest bathing, has on lowering blood pressure and decreasing stress hormones. There’s something about trees that’s calming, so even if you can’t get out for a walk in woods, walking in a park or down a tree-lined street can help lift the spirits.
Whether you exercise outdoors or indoors, it’s so important to maintain a regular exercise routine to keep the body functioning well. Exercise releases endorphins, the ‘feel good’ hormones, so it’s one of the best things you can do to combat low mood, as well as deal with stress and anxiety.
NHS guidelines are that adults aged 19 to 64 should be active daily, break up periods of sitting with light activity, and do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week and strength exercises that work all the major muscle groups on two or more days a week. However, if you’re not used to exercising regularly, start gently, build up your activity gradually and check with your GP before doing any strenuous exercise. Also, be aware that exercising too vigorously for extended periods of time causes stress on the body. Most of all, find exercise that you enjoy doing, whether that’s working out with Joe Wicks, cycling round your local roads or dancing round your sitting room. That way, you’re more likely keep up a regular exercise habit.
How to survive and thrive in lockdown? To sum up: make sure you’re meeting the physical ‘human givens’ needs:
- Eat for health and nutrition – carrots not cakes, cucumber not crisps.
- Drink plenty of water and cut down on alcohol and caffeine.
- Use relaxation techniques to help get 7 hours’ sleep a night.
- Work those muscles! And exercise outdoors near trees.
I’ll cover the rest of the ‘human givens’ needs in later blog posts, talking about the all-important psychological and emotional needs that we neglect at our peril. I’ll also give you details of how you can access my self-care audit in later posts. Look out for these, coming soon.
In the mean time, I’m offering special ‘Uplift During Lockdown’ sessions to help with the following:
– unhealthy snacking and overeating
– sleep problems
– motivation to exercise
Contact me to book a free 30-minute phone consultation to get some top tips on what to do and how hypnotherapy can help – phone 0208 546 2122 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.