It can be tempting to isolate when struggling through a difficult time. Seeing others can feel overwhelming and effortful when you have no energy left to share. In violation of this natural incline however, there's strong evidence suggesting the harmful effects of social isolation are in fact elevated during stressful times. Those who are socially isolated have been found to have elevated responses to stress within the body; increasing the risk of long-term physical and mental harm.
On the flip side, it's been found that those with strong social support networks go as far as halving their risk of mental health issues compared to those with weak networks. Why? Scientists reckon it's all linked to the increased resilience to stress which socialisation provides. So whether it's advice, the release of pent-up emotions or the feel good hormones released when we interact with others- reaching out to friends, family or even a support group can make a real difference.
Whilst it might sound a bit like the latest airy-fairy, fluffy self care trend, there's actually substantial scientific evidence backing the power of mindfulness practices. Crucially, these are now being taken seriously by mental health experts. These range from reduced physical and emotional symptoms of stress in the short term, as well as lower anxiety and depression, improved sleep, lower blood pressure and improved immune functioning in the long term.
So whether it's guided meditations, deep breathing, journaling or an unplugged walk in nature- there's plenty of free options to help you access these benefits. Meaning despite high potential gains, you’ve nothing to lose in giving this powerful technique a go during a difficult time.
Getting a good night's sleep can offset the harmful effects of stress by reducing the release of stress hormones. It’s also been found to boost our immunity and ability to manage emotions in stressful situations. It’s a pillar of health at any time, but if you're going through a difficult time the science suggests extra time to rest and restore is especially important. And if nothing else, it’s a good evidence-backed excuse for your next Saturday lie in.
4. Moving your body
Similarly, regular physical activity has been shown to have transformative effects on improving mental health. Through raising our feel good hormones and boosting brain chemicals, it’s even been found to reduce symptoms of depression as effectively as medicine, in many cases.
Making time for a form of movement which works for you can be a powerful way to take back control, even when you feel powerless; offering an evidence based strategy to safeguard your mental health and do something good for yourself when things get tough.
Countless research has shown direct links between food and mental health. Through directly impacting gut health and the feel good chemicals released in our brains, the food you eat will indirectly impact the thoughts in your head and the state of your mind. That's why during stress, it's important to fuel and nourish properly.
Whilst reaching for the comfort food can feel tempting, it can generate swinging highs and lows in mood. Sugar packed sweets or that tub of ice cream could feel good in the moment, but leave you un-nourished and back at a low by the time the next Netflix episodes even up. Thinking less sweets and more colourful veggies for a more sustained feel-good replenishment. Offering yet another layer of mood-boosting strategies to help safeguard your mental health going forward.
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