As a member of the health and fitness community, it’s my job to motivate others to exercise, to reach fitness targets and to challenge themselves. As the weeks have unfolded, we have seen a proliferation of fitness tips and home workouts, with our social media feeds blowing up with burpees and squat jumps on a daily basis. But don’t be fooled, not every fitness professional wakes up doing star jumps; there are low days, anxiety-ridden days, Netflix on the sofa days, as we all face huge uncertainty in our lives. Much of what we see on social media are examples of coping mechanisms of how people feel best-equipped to deal with their situation at that time, as our moods shift on a daily, even hourly basis.
It’s hard to know what to talk about, or how to approach interaction, because although we are all being affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, we are all affected differently. So I thought it might be good to talk about our moods and how best to serve our health, by adopting healthy habits during our self-isolating time, starting with ways to hack into our natural ‘happy’ hormones. And before you think it, I am not about to offer you a home workout; I have actually spent the last two days doing zero exercise, because that’s where my mood was at. So, let’s look at a few alternative sources of triggering our favourite neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, shall we?
Naturally occurring chemical, dopamine helps to move us into a state of action, focusing on goals and keeping us motivated. This is important right now, because it’s so easy to slip into a state of inactivity, of listlessness. Low levels of dopamine may lead us to procrastinate, we might slide into thoughts of self-doubt, which at this time is very natural, and we should take the time to notice and feel those feelings from time to time, but let’s also find ways to shift the balance to more of a feel-good state, or at least a feel-better one.
Food. Tap into your diet and make sure you’re consuming a varied diet of healthy foods where possible. Foods that are believed to boost dopamine levels include: dairy – cheese, milk, and yoghurt; eggs; fruit and vegetables; nuts – particularly walnuts and almonds; omega-3 rich fish, including salmon and mackerel; unprocessed meats – particularly chicken, turkey; and finally, dark chocolate.
Music. Listening to your favourite tracks can actually have positive health benefits, with research showing that our emotional response to particular songs can result in the release of dopamine. So, while you are confined to your home, spend some time creating playlists and listen to your favourite jams while you go about your day.
Without going into the medical aspect of things, as I am not a doctor, serotonin is another neurotransmitter involved in a number of bodily processes, including mood regulation, digestion and even sleep patterns by helping regulate your natural circadian rhythm.
Food. Similar to those listed above, these foods can also help to increase levels of serotonin.
Sunlight. There is also a link to sunlight helping to increase levels of this chemical in your body. This is certainly a tricky one if you are stuck indoors right now, but if you can get some sunlight for at least 10-15 minutes per day that could help to give you a boost. Maybe you’ve got a balcony or a garden, or if the regulations in your area allow you to exercise outside once a day, then use this and get some fresh air while you’re at it.
Often referred to as the ‘cuddle hormone’, the release of oxytocin is related to intimacy and social bonds, and is one that many of us are seriously lacking at a time of social distancing and self-isolation, particularly if you’re home alone.
Stay connected. If you are struggling to feel connected, my advice is to try to have at least one virtual interaction a day – with family, or friends, co-workers, or join an online fitness class, to keep that element of togetherness there. If you’re cooped up with your partner or family, then give out those hugs (and get them back), because that human contact really does wonders at a time like this.
More like indoorphins these days, but we learn to adapt, right? Endorphins are released in response to pain and stress, and they help to alleviate symptoms related to anxiety and depression, so it’s a good idea to work on ways to keep them elevated if you can.
Exercise. Exercise is crucial here; even the most basic movements will benefit your physical and mental wellbeing as we continue to see the Coronavirus numbers mount worldwide. You don’t have to be doing the latest Barry’s Bootcamp home workout (although I have heard great things), you could do some stretching, or marching on the spot. Once you get into it you’ll probably start running on the spot anyway. If you’ve got stairs in your home, walk up and down them a few times a day. The immunity-boosting effects of exercise are incredibly important at a time like this, when you want to keep your health at its peak, so that it is better equipped to fight off any viruses.
Laughter. Ah, yes, laughter really is the best medicine haha. A great way to just release and let go of stress, laugh it off. I know, this might sound incredibly naïve during a time like this, but why do you think there are so many memes circulating? It’s a coping mechanism, it’s an offering to give someone else a bit of the respite that you felt when you saw it. If you’re not a meme fan, then just put something light-hearted and comical on the television and take a little time out from the news feeds.