As of the time of writing this article (the morning of 14th June 2021), it appears Boris Johnson is set to delay ‘Freedom Day’ by perhaps another month from 21st June 2021 to 19th July 2021. The argument will be used that the so-called ‘Indian’ or ‘Delta’ variant has driven cases to levels not seen since February (a 240% increase in one week), however, a two-week review will be built-in to enable an earlier release from restrictions if cases do not lead to a high rate of serious disease. Why would we mention this in the context of an article about mental health following COVID, you may ask? Because the media speculation and ongoing uncertainty are adding to people’s anxiety, frustration, and even anger. This is understandable for those whose businesses may be adversely affected by such decisions, but after nearly 18 months of erosion to our collective psyche, isn’t it about time we prioritise our mental health and that of our loved ones above all else? And assuming you agree we should, how?
Take a hammer to your ‘smartphone’ and tablet
OK, you don’t literally need to do this, but if you can find a way to not just avoid looking at your electronic devices every two minutes but make sure you can’t, the results can be absolutely transformative. Having grown up in the emerging era of portable internet-connected devices constantly pinging for our attention, it is easy to be blind to the damage they cause. But do not be fooled. Read some of the literature and books on this matter, and you will almost certainly be left without any doubt that smartphones are corrosive to mental health.
In his book entitled, ‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’, Matt Haig recommends that we should try to exercise accepting uncertainty, “the temptation to check your phone is down to uncertainty. That is what makes it so addictive”. By simply accepting that the world is uncertain and that us checking the news or our social media feed every two minutes is not going to change this, our minds are effectively free to think about other, more empowering things.
With regard to the news media, Haig reminds us that terrible events have always happened, but the difference is that through the medium of the internet, we experience ‘breaking news’ in a much more visceral and impactful way than ever before. One story is projected at our minds from every conceivable angle through multiple channels, and this has the impact of ‘multiplying’ the perception of danger. Whereas the events of world war II were relayed through text in the newspaper and grainy images on Pathé news, in the modern 4K digital media-rich environment, it is almost like we are immersed in the middle of a battlefield seeing the devastation around us. Ditching the phone will allow you to regain perspective and distance yourself from bad news, and see the world in a more positive and refreshing light.
Indulge in a little regular ‘eco-therapy’
According to the mental health charity, Mind, eco-therapy is a type of “therapeutic treatment which involves doing outdoor activities in nature”. Academic research confirms unequivocally that spending time in nature benefits the human body in a variety of ways, including lower blood C-reactive protein (CRP is a key indicator of inflammation within the body) and cortisol (the stress hormone), in addition to improved blood pressure, mood, self-esteem, resilience to stress, relief from depression, and connection to society. And all of this means we live longer and have a better quality of life. Is there a pharmaceutical pill that has the same efficacy? Almost certainly not. The challenge for many is simply getting up and getting out. However, without a mobile device to hand, you are almost certainly more likely to explore your physical environment, because if nothing else, it is something new to do with your reclaimed time.
Ditch the digital and go analogue with nature. Pack a picnic and take yourself and your family for a walk in the woods, up a hill, or along a river or lake, and remind yourselves that the world around you is still the same and that nature has been getting on with life while humans have been focused on COVID-19.
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