How to Look After your Mental Health in Later Life During a Pandemic

Mental health problems can affect people at all stages in their life, including during retirement. Sadly, advancement in years brings with it a number of issues that can all affect how you feel, these can include:

  • Loss of the routine and social contact that came from full-time work
  • Ill health related to age and new medications
  • Finding it difficult to do things you used to be able to do easily
  • Bereavements
  • Loneliness
  • Falling into the role of carer for a spouse or grandchildren.

All these can cause you to experience negative feelings, low moods and anxiety. This of course is not helped by the fact the world is experiencing the coronavirus pandemic.

So what can you do to manage these feelings and be in a place mentally that helps you actually enjoy these later years?

1. Keep physically active

Keeping active through regular exercise is a great way of looking after your mental health. “Exercise is great for your mental health because it releases feel-good hormones, promotes better sleep and helps to manage stress, anxiety and a busy mind,” says Leah Jackson, Wellness Navigator at Inspired Villages. “We have a variety of different activities available at Inspired Villages from beautiful organised walks outside in the fresh air, to digital exercise classes bringing residents together to help to improve both body and mind.”

Cycling is another great exercise for older people that can be done outside. Conversely, if you’re looking for some simple exercises that you can do from within the comfort and privacy of your own home, why not try the workout videos put together by Steph Archer, Wellness Navigator at Millbrook Village, on our Virtual Village Centre?  

2. Keep in contact

It sounds obvious, but the best way to combat loneliness and the low moods that brings is work at keeping in contact with people or finding ways to make new connections.

This can be hard to do if you’re already feeling low, let alone in the middle of a pandemic when social distancing is encouraged.  However, technology can be a help here. From picking up the phone to make a good old-fashioned phone call, to using video calling software so you can see the faces of friends and family, there are lots of ways you can still stay in contact with people. Read Durrants Village resident Mike Case’s article here on how you can use technology to your advantage in lockdown.

Making new friends can also be done in these times thanks to social media. You can join our Virtual Village Centre on Facebook and connect with thousands of other people with shared interests, for example.

Alternatively, some charities, such as Age UK, are looking for telephone volunteers or ‘pen pals’ to match up with people who are feeling isolated.

3. Get enough sleep

Sleep is important for giving your body and mind rest and time to repair, if you don’t, lack of sleep can lead to low moods, poor concentration and irritability.

Things you can do to improve your sleep, include:

  • Not looking at a screen for at least half an hour before bed time, read instead
  • Avoid too much caffeine, sugar and alcohol in the evenings – it’s nice to have an evening tipple with your dinner but regularly overdoing it is not great for sleep
  • Keep a regular bed time and don’t nap too close to your regular bedtime
  • Make your bedroom a comfortable and relaxing place to be with things such as soft bedding and lighting
  • If you think a new medication is affecting your sleep patterns, talk to your GP.

4. Keep your brain active

Keeping your brain active can help to keep negative thoughts at bay. There are numerous ways you can do this:

  • Use this time in lockdown to do an online course – Open University runs free courses via it’s platform OpenLearn, for example
  • Take up a new hobby like knitting or painting
  • Lots of museums and galleries are offering virtual tours right now, so take advantage of this opportunity to see new places and learn new facts from the comfort of your sofa
  • Try and use your memory instead of writing lists or mental arithmetic rather than a calculator
  • Do puzzles like crosswords and Sudoku or play boardgames with a household member
  • Read books, newspapers and magazines
  • Download a brain-training app like CogniFit.

5. Be mindful of what you eat and drink

The foods and liquids we consume have an affect on our mental health. Remember to:

  • Stay hydrated – the NHS advises 1.2 litres or six to eight glasses of water a day
  • Eat at least five pieces of fruit and veg a day – apples are particularly good for those struggling with their blood sugar levels, meanwhile leafy greens like spinach have been linked to lower cognitive decline
  •  Keep your consumption of caffeine and alcohol in moderation and not too much in the evenings so it doesn’t disturb your sleep pattern.

If you continue to struggle with low moods and you feel like you can’t cope – please contact your GP, or call helplines like Samaritans (116 123), The Silver Line (0800 4 70 80 90), Rethink  (0300 5000 927) or Mind (0300 123 3393) for professional advice.

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