health

5 of the worst things you can do for your brain during lockdown.

If you're not feeling like your usual self, please take a seat - 'cause you're not alone, friend.

While we're all aware that laying on the sofa, skipping the ol' daily walk and screening (read: rejecting) phone calls isn't exactly great for our health, it could actually be doing more harm to your brain than you might think.

And we're not just talking about being in a s**t mood 24/7. We're talking about cognitive decline and memory loss

Watch: Things you probably wouldn't say in the new normal of lockdowns and closed international borders. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

"Everything seems to get worse during lockdown. Our mental health spirals into an unsettling combination of anxiety and boredom; and obviously we are deprived of many of the pleasures which usually sustain us," said Sydney neurologist Dr Kate Ahmad.

"For some of us there are immovable barriers to having a positive lockdown – it’s hard to be happy when you’ve lost your job, your financial security or all your social contact."

However, the good news is that tweaking some bad habits in your day-to-day routine could not only change how your brain works (huge) but also help make lockdown a little more bearable. 

And whether you're two weeks or two months in - it's never too late to start.

Listen: Australia is over it. Here's why. Post continues below.

"Even where circumstances are difficult, there are some simple and evidence-based interventions which will improve your mood and function," adds Dr Ahmad.

Below, we've listed five bad habits you might be doing in lockdown, why they're important and what you can do to combat them.

1. Not moving your body.

If the furthest you've been walking is from your bed to the sofa, then same. But the truth is that the effects of working from home and not physically moving enough can really mess with your brain.

"In lockdown, those of us who work or educate ourselves from home lose a lot of the incidental activity which keeps us healthy. We have more time to sleep, no commute or walk to work, no jog between classes and all organised sport is cancelled."

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"You need to keep moving. There is a temptation in lockdown to lie in bed for longer, snooze on the couch with Netflix on, or sit all day in a Zoom coma," said Dr Ahmad.  

Anyone else feel... seen?

And we get it. We all know that moving your body in some way can be have an incredible influence on our mental health - but if you're anything like us, motivation is pretty hard to come by right now. 

But Dr Ahmad said there are a couple of simple things that might help.

"There are two solutions here. Firstly, build in hourly movement. A smart watch will often prompt you out of your chair for a few minutes every hour, but if you don’t have one, schedule it in." 

If you don't have a smart watch, a good alternative is setting a timer on your phone and making sure you get up every hour.

"Secondly, whilst we have very few legal reasons which allow you to escape home confinement - exercise IS one of them." 

"There is robust evidence that exercise improves anxiety and depression, probably for multiple reasons. Exercise induces the release of positive neurotransmitters and endorphins, encourages self efficacy and routine, and the effort has follow on effects on sleep and motivation."

2. Staying inside.

When was the last time you actually stepped outside? Spending time outdoors has more to offer than just a change of scenery and giving your eyes a rest from screens. 

Studies show that spending at least two hours a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Not only has it been shown to boost our immune system and lower our blood pressure, but also have a massive effect on our mental health - reducing chronic stress and improving our overall mood.

"You need to get a daily dose of nature. It’s usually very safe to do your exercise outdoors and pack in some extra benefits from the trees and water around you," said Dr Ahmad.

"Ecotherapy is known to reduce symptoms of mild-to-moderate depression, and also protects against Seasonal Affective Disorder. It grounds us, reminds us of our place on the planet, and interestingly seems to have beneficial effects on empathy," explains Dr Ahmad.

While multitasking is at the core of our day-to-day life, try leaving your phone and headphones at home and take a walk to your local park without any external distractions and see what it does for your mind.

"If you don’t have access to green or blue spaces in your 10 kilometre zone, even watching nature videos seems to help. Or create your own green space in the form of plant nurturing."

Read: Buy ALL the plants!

3. Not having a drive.

"Now we move to a more micro level. We all have varying amounts of the neurotransmitter, dopamine. Dopamine is released when we anticipate or experience something pleasurable or stimulating," explains Dr Ahmad.

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"Low levels of dopamine make people and animals less likely to work for things or feel motivated. We can actually adjust our routines to make dopamine work for us."

The key? Creating a drive. Dr Ahamd suggests using a ‘challenge/goal’ mindset.

And just to be clear - we're not talking about giving yourself a whole heap of harsh goals. We're talking about setting yourself small, achievable goals each day and celebrating the little wins. 

Whether it's meeting a step count or completing an exercise activity, setting and measuring these goals can help you use dopamine to your advantage.

"Record your goal digitally as this fuels the accomplishment part of your brain. Share any results or great experiences on social media, as positive feedback will also fuel your dopamine." 

"Speaking of social networks, we now move on to the most challenging part of maintaining brain health…" 

4. Reducing social contact.

Fact drop: Humans don't just like to be social, it's actually a crucial part of our make-up - we literally need to be social. 

In fact, according to a 2015 study, it was found that people who have weaker social relationships are 50 per cent more likely to die earlier than those with strong social connections. So, yeah. It's pretty important.

That’s why depriving yourself of social interaction, even if it's only for a short amount of time, doesn't feel good. You know the feeling? It's basically your body's way of telling you to have some social interaction so that you... stay alive.

Of course, these days getting our hit of social interaction has been made significantly harder. Especially for people who live alone - face-to-face contact is almost non-existent.

"Social contact and connectivity enhances our mood, health and longevity," said Dr Ahmad. "Yet in a world which currently sees other humans primarily as vectors, its challenging to maintain our social lives. For elderly people, the consequences of isolation can be particularly grave." 

"They are at risk of depression and apathy, and symptoms of dementia appear to accelerate. Rewinding the clock at a later stage doesn’t seem to be possible."  

So, what's the answer? How do we fix this if we're cooped up inside?

"There’s not an easy solution to this problem – reducing social contact is certainly effective for reducing viral spread and mortality."  

"However, practically there are a few options. Firstly, prioritise vaccination – once vaccinated with either vaccine, any incidental contact no longer carries a risk of severe illness or death." 

"It may allow some elderly people to stay with their families for the duration of lockdowns. Secondly, think about non conventional ways of staying in contact – regular phone calls, zoom calls, drive by drop offs, make more videos of family and even think about temporarily fostering a pet (if circumstances allow)."

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5. Consuming bad news every. single. day.

Sometimes you just need to switch off the 11am press conference and take a mental break from it all. 

While we want to stay on top of the daily news around COVID-19 - the new restrictions and the daily numbers - it's becoming more and more crucial for people to limit their media consumption.

"Don’t get consumed by the rolling news feed of misery. Limit your media consumption and ensure you’re only listening to reputable, scientific sources."  

"Use this time to remind yourself of the importance of the creative arts in our society – read amazing books, travel vicariously through the television and enjoy live drama and discussion on Zoom."  

If you're looking for some new books to read, you can find a whole list of the good ones here.

Most importantly, don't put off seeking professional help. 

"If the days are starting to overwhelm you, speak to your GP or arrange to see a psychologist."

"Both can be done via Telehealth and they have many approaches to improve mental health, centred initially on non pharmacological measures."  

Lastly, know you won't feel this way forever - things WILL get better.

Can you relate to any of the above? Share with us in the comment section below.

Feature image: Getty/Mamamia

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