As we enter our second summer under virus restrictions, many of us are feeling a bit jaded – mentally, physically and spiritually.
Are you tired of working from home or, if you’re unfortunate, not working at all? Maybe you’re struggling with the demands of home schooling while trying to hold down a demanding job? Perhaps you’ve piled on what are jokingly (or not so jokingly) referred to as Covid Kilos – we know how it feels to dislike what you see in the mirror but to trivialise your own concerns in the awareness that so many are having a much harder time.
Whichever way you look at it, there’s no doubt that the last 18 months has taken a toll on all of us, in one way or another. We take a look at ways toward recovery from the malaise you may not even realise (or fully admit) you’re experiencing.
Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay was a Korean TV drama that popped onto the international radar in summer 2020 when, let’s face it, we all still thought, or hoped, the pandemic would be over by Christmas. It’s an emotional, romantic drama whose main characters are each battling their own mental demons. At the time, online publication thenerddaily.com said: “At a time when mental health issues are rising alongside the global pandemic, a romance centred around mental illness and trauma might just be the catharsis you need.”
And by October 10 last year, ‘It’s OK not to be OK’ was a highly visible catchline trending across social media on World Mental Health Day.
But, how much notice did we take? How often, when asked “how are you?” do we still reply “fine” even when we know we’re really anything but? And, if we do reach out to friends or family, are we met with the common advice to: think positive, be grateful things aren’t worse etc. etc? This is known as toxic positivity, a term used by Dr. Jaime Zuckerman, a licensed clinical psychologist and trained cognitive behaviour therapist, who describes it as: “The assumption, either by one’s self or others that, despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset or — my pet peeve term — ‘positive vibes’.”
So, remind yourself as often as you need to that it really is OK to not be OK. And, once you’ve gained that important insight, it’s time to take action.
The first move is to see a doctor. If you are clinically depressed, you may well need ongoing medical help to fully recover. But, if you are, as is more common, experiencing very real (but nonclinical) depression, anxiety, extreme stress or other mental health issues, there are resources available to help and plenty of ways you can also help yourself.
Exercise is one way in which you can take back control. According to Better Health, from the Department of Health in Victoria State, Australia, together with Sane Australia, people who exercise regularly have better mental health and emotional well-being, and lower rates of mental illness.
Now, if you’ve spent several weeks, or even months, languishing in your bed or just carrying on with life but feeling generally below par, exhausted and pretty miserable, suddenly going out and running a marathon is clearly not an option. But getting up early to take a short walk is something all of us can manage and, even better, it’s free. No, it won’t solve all your problems, but it will get your day off to a good start giving you a sense of achievement, making it easier to get a handle on your other issues. Increasing movement is also likely to improve sleep quality – a key component of mental health.
Talk it out. If you’ve been avoiding friends and family, whether because you’ve felt the need to isolate for physical health reasons or you’ve withdrawn mentally; take the plunge and get back in touch. It could be a call or conversation with a loved one – this may feel even harder if your withdrawal has been via emotional rather than physical distance – a simple text can open a whole exchange. Chances are, they’ve been worrying about you and will be glad for the chance to offer support.
Arranging to meet a friend can be just as beneficial. You don’t have to get into deep conversation, unless you feel comfortable doing so, but just the act of connection can go a long way to making you feel better. It’s also something that helps restore a sense of normality. Even a casual coffee-shop exchange with a stranger can give a great sense of achievement.
Seeking further help too is always an option. The UK’s National Health Service has some great free tips such as simple mindfulness ideas, which can be found at https://www.nhs.uk/ mental-health/self-help/ and, in Bahrain, check out U Matter for local mental health resources.
Mental health professionals agree that specific nutrients play a role in not only treating depression and similar disorders but also have a preventative function. Specific vitamins and minerals to incorporate into the diet include:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids – found in foods such as fish and flaxseed and also available as dietary supplements.
Vitamin A – found in eggs, dark green leafy vegetables and orange and yellow vegetables or fruits.
Vitamin B6 – found in poultry, some fish, soya beans, oats, bananas and peanuts.
Vitamin B12 – found in mainly animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs but also available in supplement form.
Vitamin C – found in citrus fruits, peppers, strawberries, blackcurrants, broccoli, potatoes and many other fruits and vegetables.
Iron – found in dark green leafy vegetables, beans, lentils, tofu, cashews and whole-grain breads.
Folate – found in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, leafy green vegetables, peas, chickpeas and kidney beans.
Magnesium – found in green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
Potassium – found in bananas, oranges, cantaloupe, honeydew, apricots, grapefruit, cooked spinach and broccoli, potatoes and sweet potatoes.
Selenium – found in most meats, fish and shellfish as well as eggs and nuts, particularly Brazil nuts.
Thiamine – found in whole-grain foods, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes, green leafy vegetables and orange and tomato juices.
Zinc – found in lean meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds and soy products.
So, we’ve already mentioned the dreaded Covid Kilos. And, though the name might sound funny, we really do know it’s no joke.
The problems brought on by increased weight are many. Aesthetics is the first that comes to mind – your clothes getting ever tighter is a pretty miserable feeling, not to mention expensive when you have to go up a size or two.
But, it’s not all about looks. Weight gain can also affect your joints, heart, blood pressure — the list is seemingly endless. There’s also the risk of ongoing fatigue and, in extreme cases, sleep disturbance which leads to a vicious circle in which you know you need to exercise, but you’re just too flippin’ tired!
Now, admittedly, the above (apart from the tighter than skin-tight jeans) can all be experienced without significant weight gain. Perhaps you’re experiencing age-related deterioration, and no, this doesn’t only happen to ‘old’ people. According to Harvard Medical School ‘Age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia, is a natural part of ageing. After age 30, you begin to lose as much as three to five per cent, per decade’.
You may also have let your usual exercise regime slide a little due to the challenges of the last year, particularly if you’ve been tied to your home office or dining table.
Whatever the reason you’re not feeling great right now, check out these ideas to help you get back where you belong; to your best
Peloton Bike – A spinning bike that promises a convenient and immersive indoor experience streaming live classes from the company’s studio in New York. It also allows you to connect with other users around the world and take part in challenges.
Tip: Alternatively get outside on your bike or grab yourself a regular exercise bike and set it up in front of the TV using any of the many cycling apps available to create your own workout.
Running Challenges – From C25k (Couch to 5k) to Runkeeper and Map My Run, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of running apps available. Our current fave is The Outbreak Game, which invites you to ‘go on a fitness adventure in a zombie wasteland’. You use your real-world steps and exercise to traverse the wasteland and battle the zombies!
Tip: Team up with friends, family or co-workers to go on multiweek missions and, for added fun, why not even dress the part?
Charity Challenges – Why not sign up to a charity fundraiser, look to the future and get ready to climb Mount Kilimanjaro or walk the Great Wall of China. Having something to work towards makes sticking to your training programme easier. Imagine the sense of achievement you’ll have when you succeed.
Tip: Make sure the charity is something you believe in and the challenge is something you want to complete, that will be the best incentive to get on with it.
If those covid kilos are really bothering you, we’ve got news for you. We all know what they say about diets, right? They simply don’t work. You restrict yourself to lose weight (and that bit works) but as soon as you go back to eating ‘normally’ those extra kilos pile back on. Makes sense when you think about it. Nobody wants to live a life of permanent deprivation!
What’s needed is a fundamental change in the way you think about and interact with food. There are no good or bad foods. You don’t need to cut anything out or eat loads of anything. You simply have to be mindful of what you’re eating.
This is a fundamental of many weight-loss ‘treatments’ from hypnotherapy to tapping and even, believe it or not, weightloss surgery. They all work on the basic principle of making you think about what you’re actually putting into your body. So, what exactly is mindfulness and how does it work?
Writing for Food Insight, dietician Alyssa Pike defines it as: “A quality of consciousness that is characterised by continually attending to one’s moment-to-moment experiences, thoughts and emotions with an open, non-judgmental approach.”
Or, as internationally renowned hypnotherapist Paul McKenna would have it in his I Can Make You Thin programme, just follow these four golden rules
● When you are hungry, eat.
● Eat what you want, not what you think you should.
● Eat consciously and enjoy every mouthful.
● When you think you are full, stop eating.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But, trust us, it can be hard to get into the habit of mindful, or intuitive, eating. In a useful piece for healthline.com, Adda Bjarnadottir, a registered nutritionist, offers various suggestions to help you achieve mindfulness around food. These include eating slowly without distractions; learning to distinguish between true hunger and non-hunger triggers for eating, such as boredom or stress; and engaging your senses by noticing colours, smells, sounds, textures and flavours.
To learn more about intuitive eating, check out this great piece by Stephanie Dodier, clinical nutritionist and intuitive eating expert at Going Beyond The Food. https://thriveglobal.com/ stories/intuitive-eating-made-simple-a-step-by-step-guide/ And, of course, as with everything these days, there’s an app for that. Here are three of the best we’ve found to help you get into the groove:
Peace With Food offers the option to choose your notification frequency, check-in throughout the day to track your hunger levels, and again before you eat for encouragement to taste, go slow and enjoy.
Am I Hungry was created by Michelle May MD to guide you through the whole mindful eating cycle. In The Moment works to identify how you feel before eating, whether that be hungry, sad, bored etc., and offers guidance strategies for each feeling.
Many of us think that if we can get our minds and bodies sorted, everything will be just hunky dory. But there’s more to wellness than meets the eye.
Yes, we’re talking about the soul. Now, whether you think of this as a defined concept, as believed by some religions, or whether you understand it as an emotional and spiritual entity, there’s no doubt that it is just as important as mental and physical health.
If you’re feeling somewhat disconnected, maybe in need of direction, or just some downtime in which to relax and really listen to your inner self, there are therapies to help.
Reiki practitioners use a technique called palm healing or hands-on healing through which a ‘universal energy’ is said to be transferred through the palms of the practitioner to the patient in order to encourage emotional or physical healing. It may sound a bit off-the-wall, but it’s thought that, at the simplest, most obvious level, Reiki treatment helps lessen the impact of stress, releasing tension from the entire system. And, in a change in the perceived attitude to alternative therapies, it is now being used in many hospitals around the world.
Crystal Therapy or Crystal Healing is an alternative medical technique in which crystals and other stones are used to cure ailments and protect against disease. Proponents of this technique believe that crystals act as conduits for healing allowing positive, healing energy to flow into the body as negative, disease-causing energy flows out. There has been an upsurge in popularity in recent years, but this therapy is not recognised by the medical profession in general.
Qigong, which is sometimes spelled Chi-Kung (pronounced chee-gung), is the study and practice of cultivating vital lifeforce through various techniques, including:
breathing techniques. postures. meditations. guided imagery. Pranic Healing is all about using the body’s life force to heal the body energy. This therapy works specifically on the energy of the body or aura of a person. In this therapy, energy is used to clean the toxic from the body, thus accelerating the healing physical process.
Yoga is the great all-rounder, good for the mind and soul, great for the body. The word itself is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘Yuj’, meaning ‘to join’ or ‘to yoke’ or ‘to unite’. As per Yogic scriptures the practice of Yoga leads to the union of individual consciousness with that of the Universal Consciousness, indicating a perfect harmony between the mind and body, human and nature.
All of these therapies are available in Bahrain, some more widely than others. A quick Google search will lead you towards numerous practitioners, but it is always good if you can work on personal recommendations. So, if you find a therapist you are interested in, it’s always worth asking if they can put you in touch with previous participants to find out what they have to say.
BODY, MIND AND SOUL
If you want to take the next step in reclaiming your personal wellness, why not take part in a spiritual retreat – good for you across all disciplines? We’ve come up with a selection which sound both interesting, educational and, above all, rejuvenational.
Three-Days Private Spiritual Meditation Retreat in Wales, UK
Song of the River Retreat Sanctuary is all about connecting with higher energies with various meditation options on offer.
It is laid-back and the perfect place to unwind as you join in with therapies such as crystal harp sound, Egyptian healing and pyramid healing. Or just take time out to just relax by the River Clywedog, enjoy the profound stillness and spend your evenings star gazing
GO: Visit songoftheriver.org to find out more.
Six-Day Positive Self-Transformation Mindfulness Meditation Retreat in Koh Lanta Island, Krabi
Join a Mindfulness and Awakening Meditation Retreat by Naturbliss where you will enjoy a wide variety of mindfulness practices and techniques suitable for all beginner levels. Offering a chance to relax, reconnect with nature and rejuvenate your body and mind, it promises to leave you feeling inspired, refreshed, centred and peaceful. Beginner, intermediate and advanced courses are available and include five days of practice, massage, herbal steam sauna, mindfulness meditation sessions and more. There is also vegan, Thai or European food included in the package.
GO: Visit tripaneer.com to find out more.
Five-Day Private Meditation Retreat with Silence in Amonines, the Ardennes
Embrace the sound of silence in a gorgeous setting. This offers the ultimate option for tranquility, a chance to truly release yourself from the hubbub and stresses of everyday life. You can be alone with nature doing nothing but reflecting and meditating in silence. A daily rhythm of four meditations is usually possible and you can be in silence for all or just parts of the day. The package includes accommodation for four nights and daily vegan meals.
GO: Visit amonines.com to find out more.
Five-Day Enhance Your Wellbeing Mindfully Retreat with mindfulness, castles, and walks in Scotland
Based at Toadhall Rooms in Aberdeen, this retreat provides time to nourish your mind, body, and soul and ‘just be’. Enjoy the surrounding nature, walk away your cares and sample delicious home-cooked vegetarian food. Stroll along the cliff tops and listen to the sound of the waves crashing below then learn how to enrich your wellbeing through daily mindfulness workshops and outdoor meditations on the beach.
GO: Visit mindfulnessenergy.com to find out more.
10-Day Somatic Self-Compassion Journey Meditation Retreat in Bhutan
Bhutan has continually been ranked as the happiest country in Asia and one of the happiest in the world. It is also the world’s only Buddhist Kingdom. So, it’s no surprise that this retreat, which is actually a small-group tour, focusses on elements of both.
It’s a journey that blends Somatic Self-Compassion and secular Buddhist training with a cultural tour of this beautiful country. Group members will be supported by daily self- compassion practices, as they explore some of the country’s most gorgeous sites around Paro, Thimphu and Punakha. Participants are encouraged every day to tune in to how they are feeling and what they need, and to support each other in tending to those needs. Buddhism is an integral part of Bhutanese culture, so a cultural guide will explain this religious aspect of daily life as well as looking at secular ways to introduce a little of the Buddhist philosophy and psychology into each person’s selfcompassion practice.
Highlights include learning motivation to practice selfcompassion and learning the neuroscience of happiness and how neurochemicals can be manipulated to tend to stress.
GO: Visit bookmeditationretreats.com to find out more.
Eight-Day Nature, Beach, Mindfulness Meditation, and Hatha Yoga Retreat in Mavrovouni
Head to Greece where the Ellas Retreat invites you to join this Hatha yoga and Mindfulness meditation week in Mavrovouni. Enjoy a week in a serene Greek village for a chance to simply be, to feel, and to get out of your mind. Take this chance to connect to yourself, build long-lasting friendships, and be relieved from the hustle of the mind. The retreat is also just 10 minutes from the beach, a perfect setting for deep relaxation. Sessions on offer include Hatha yoga, mindfulness meditation, Nidra yoga and Pranayama (breathing). Two free-expression evening workshops bring the fun.
GO: Visit ellasretreat.com to find out more.