Here are several other suggestions as to what you can do to have a better work-life experience.

Move

Exercise boosts mental health by producing dopamine, our body’s “happy” chemical, and serotonin, an anti-inflammatory chemical, that improves overall mood. It also reduces risks of dementia, depression and anxiety, while improving cognition and sleep.

Therapeutic Lifestyle Change (TLC) research found that the most effective exercise schedule for improving mood is 35-40 minutes of moderate physical aerobic activity (e.g. running or brisk walking repeated only three times per week).

Even if it is difficult to maintain an exercise routine, do not abandon workouts completely. Simple, regular movements like stretching and getting up every hour, climbing the stairs, and taking a short 10-minute walk can help reduce short-term anxiety.

Finding Inner-Peace

We live in a time and age where our brain is constantly receiving information 24/7. This may sometimes be overwhelming and cause physical and mental strain. This can be overcome by finding a preferred relaxation technique, for example, deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness, or a bit of exercise.

Something that SOLS Health staff are encouraged to practise is the 3-2-4 breathing technique: three seconds for inhaling through your nose, two seconds for holding your breath and four seconds for exhale. This can be helpful for employees in any field.

There is also the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding. This involves acknowledging five things you see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste around you. These simple exercises can lower your resting heart rate, muscle tension and chronic pain, while improving resilience and clarity of thought in dealing with stressors.

You can practice them regularly to prevent the build-up of pent-up stress that may lead to headaches, insomnia, irritability and lower productivity. Need extra help? You can make use of free mobile apps like Headspace or Calm to help kick start your journey of meditation and mindfulness.

Eat Healthy

Research has shown gut health directly affects our mental health. Do not worry as eating healthy does not mean eating expensive. We do not necessarily have to spend on overpriced superfoods or supplements. Some examples of affordable, healthy food include fish, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, vegetables and fruits.

Diets are versatile and there will almost always be a substitute for an ingredient that may be too expensive to afford. In some cases, minerals and vitamins work better when ingested naturally, such as vitamin E.

By the way, if you find it hard to resist coffee several times a day, maybe it is time to tone it down. A Cambridge research found excessive coffee intake leads to a state of intoxication known as “caffeinism”. This is characterized by restlessness, agitation, excitement, rambling thought and speech, and insomnia. Instead of making that second or third cup of coffee for a midday boost, try alternatives like fruits or honey, which are natural sources of glucose, the brain’s main energy source.

Fostering Change

The above suggestions are all evidence-based steps that you can take to reduce personal stress and improve overall quality of life during the pandemic. If they seem overwhelming, try picking up just one habit to cultivate. Start slow.

It will be easier to commit to something easy and build up a routine instead of just going all in.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and burdened, speak to a trusted family member or friend for support. If you are facing persistent emotional distress, it is important for you to seek professional help. You do not need to go through this alone.

No doubt, we are living through unprecedented and challenging times. But by having a positive mindset and taking action to adjust our ways of living to the new norms, it is within our power to transform this crisis into living and working in a healthier way. It is time for us to learn to care for our mental health. Hopefully, some lifestyle adaptation in the ‘new normal’ will help you become your own mental health advocate.


Chung Bhin Han is a Research and Advocacy Assistant at SOLS Health

SOLS Health is a community-based mental health centre that connects children, adults, families, and communities to accessible and affordable mental health services with an emphasis on combating the stigma of mental health in Malaysia.