5 tips for staying on top of your mental health during the lockdown period

By Elliot McHugh, in partnership with Get Active. 

This week (18-24 May) marks Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) and presents an exciting chance for everyone to raise awareness of mental health issues and solutions.

The lack of social contact for adults and children throughout lockdown has raised serious concerns around mental health with the government committing £5m to mental health charities before April.

For MHAW, GB U19s Water Polo goalkeeper and member of the Swim England National Youth Advisory Panel, Elliot McHugh has offered to share how he looks after his mental health. He writes:

During this period of isolation, it can be tough to stay on top of your mental health, but there are things you can do to help keep you feeling positive in your everyday life.

Below are five tips that have helped me keep on top of my mental health during this time:

Image taken from the Swim England website. .

1. Spending time exercising daily

I find that exercise helps to boost my energy levels throughout the day and, in the long run, can help to make you reduce the risk of you getting health conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes. It’s recommended we do 30 minutes a day but even shorter sessions are beneficial.

For example, taking a walk in your local park at quiet times, ensuring you stick to current government guidelines, can help to increase happiness and is proven to reduce stress levels – this is especially important when spending long periods of time indoors which can lead to restlessness and increased stress.

If you’re happier inside, stretching is a great way to improve your mobility. There are plenty of resources available like 10Today and Flexercise, both of which are available via Sport England’s Stay In Work Out resource.

2. Reading to keep the mind busy

I also love to lose myself in a good book. I’ve been enjoying autobiographies and personal development books recently including ‘The Miracle Morning’ by Hal Erold and ‘Long Walk To Freedom’ by Nelson Mandela.

Reading has been shown to help reduce stress and help with sleep – something causing lots of people issues during this period. If you’re stuck for a good book, there’s some inspiration here.

3. Healthy eating

Diet, although not commonly known, also plays a role in regulating mood and has been associated with feelings of wellbeing. I often eat foods that release energy slowly, such as porridge and wholegrain breads, which keeps your blood sugar levels steady and prevents drops which may leave you feeling tired, irritable and depressed. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is also important as is drinking plenty to ensure you stay hydrated. Mind, the mental health charity, have lots of useful guidance here.

4. Talking to others

One of my favourite ways to keep on top of my mental health is talking to family and friends and there are plenty of online video platforms to help you do this whilst maintaining social distancing rules. You could plan online group activities such as quizzes or games to stay entertained with the BBC producing this list of ways to stay connected.

With social distancing and self-isolation, it’s no surprise that some people are feeling loneliness or isolated. Such measures will, hopefully, prevent the spread of coronavirus but may also negatively affect your mental health. Hopefully these tips will help.

5. Meditation and reflection

As a water polo goalkeeper, I’ve found meditation has contributed to maintaining a high level of focus whilst training in a big way – but meditation can work for everyone. Spending a few hours a week on your own, focusing on your breathing and reflecting can leave you feeling much more positive. Sport England’s We Are Undefeatable’s campaign has some excellent videos to get you started here while Breast Cancer Now have similar resources available here.

I hope you find these quick and simple tips useful; they’ve given me plenty of support over recent weeks. If you’re interesting in learning more about some of the more sport-specific training I’ve been doing during lockdown check out this article on the Swim England website.

Good luck,

Elliot.