COVID-19: Here are 8 natural ways to cope with stress and improve mental health
Our lives have changed a lot ever since the outbreak of Coronavirus, leading to a nation-wide lockdown in India. While the restrictions have relaxed to various degrees in most parts of the country, there is a lot of anxiety in all of us, which has burdened our usual self. If you too have been feeling overwhelmed, Vasavdatta Gandhi, Director at Millennium Herbal Care, has some tips to cope with the stress and improve overall mental health.
1. Exercise or practice Yoga
Start your day with some kind of physical exercise or start practising Yoga. They help in relieving the stress and boost overall mood by decreasing cortisol (a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, which is related to stress and anxiety) levels and increasing endorphins secretion.
Yoga also helps in developing awareness of how mind works and that awareness can help you live more consciously. It also keeps the body in a state of relaxation.
The power of touch has an amazing effect on the body and mind. Massaging the body stimulates the production of serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitters, which promote well-being, satisfaction and feelings of happiness. Serotonin consequently stimulates the 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 can help to regulate stress and anxiety. A diet that includes prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods like yoghurt helps to promote a proper balance of gut bacteria. These good gut bacteria activate the neural pathways by releasing 95% serotonin neurotransmitter, which aids in mediating moods and regulating sleep.
One should also consume dry fruits like walnut, almond, berries, leafy vegetable and oily fish. They are full of antioxidants and omega fatty acids, which inhibit oxidation and thereby support the growth of new neurons and help to produce neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and serotonin.
4. Meditation and self-awareness
Meditation is a practice of thinking deeply or focusing on your mind. It will help you develop a stronger understanding of yourself and help you grow into your best self.
Meditation helps in decreasing negative neurological connections to the medial prefrontal cortex or ‘me centre’ of the brain, 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 the mind and the body are inextricably connected. It helps to gain self-consciousness and keep you away from the sense of fear.
5. Indulge yourself in activities
Keeping yourself busy is key to a healthy and happy mind. Involve yourself in activities that 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 properly.
6. Adequate sleep
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 weak immune system and mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Lack of sleep affects levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones in the brain, thereby impairing thinking and emotional regulation. So it is important that you take adequate sleep of at least 7 - 8 hours per day for mental wellbeing.
Ayurveda teaches us that sleep (Nidra) is one of the three pillars of health, along with the food (Ahara) and energy management (Brahmacharya). “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, sandalwood 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 neighbouring 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 behaviour, emotions, memory, and mood and immediately helps us 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, Shankhapushpi, Mandukaparni, Ashwagandha, Jatamansi and Vacha 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 neurotransmitters 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.