The past year of COVID-19 restrictions have drastically changed our daily routines. After months of isolation and reduced social interaction, Audley Villages have launched a study into how these changes have impacted on our brain’s health.
As part of the research, Audley Villages partnered with psychology experts to determine five activities you can do to counteract the effects lockdown had on your mental well-being. With social interaction said to be one of the main contributors to maintaining good brain health, the experts also shared tips to coping with social anxiety as lockdown eases.
Most popular activities in lockdown
- Being in love. It seems that pandemic has made us a nation of romantics as falling in love was found to be the most popular activity during lockdown. Lee Chambers, an environmental psychologist and well-being consultant, commented: ‘This level of intimacy is said to be responsible for activating a range of neurotransmitters that make us feel connected, valued and appreciated all ultimately contributing to better brain health.’
- Sudoku. This was the second most popular activity during lockdown. Dr Lapa, psychologist at Ocean Recovery Centre rehabilitation clinic, stated: ‘Sudoku is said to be able to improve cognitive function as well as memory skills.’ He added: ‘Sudoku can help counteract the deterioration of our attention spans, an issue that can be derived from excessive screen time.’
- Watching TV. However, not all of the activities we took up doing lockdown were beneficial for our brains. Dr Lapa commented: ‘Studies have shown that excessive TV consumption can reduce our attention spans and, depending on the type of media viewed, impair cognition. Studies have shown that over the long term, excessive tv usage of those in their midlife resulted in lower cognitive function in their seventies. Also, blue light [from the screens] can disorient the circadian rhythm, which can lead to insomnia. Sleep is an essential element of maintaining mental well-being.’
Least popular lockdown activities
As we began to adapt to these new sets of activities in our day-to-day lives we began to spend less time doing some of the activities that provide the greatest benefits to our brains.
- Spending time with siblings. The least popular activity during lockdown was spending time with siblings, which is not surprising as travel and socialising has been restricted for much of the last year. Quality time spent with siblings has been linked to a greater ability to develop social relationships later in life as well as having positive effects on early development in children, according to a study by the University of Cambridge.
- Spending time with friends. Again, no surprise that seeing friends was another activity that significantly declined during lockdown. Social interaction with friends is extremely important to brain health and has even been linked to life longevity. It is often intellectually stimulating as friends often share a number of similar interests which play an important part in keeping your brain active and supporting cognitive vitality.
During lockdown, many of us spent long periods of time in isolation meaning our routines and activities were much more singular. Although activities such as puzzles and sudoku have been proven to increase brain health, Dr Rachel Allan, a chartered counselling psychologist, states social contact is one of the main contributors to maintaining good brain health and slowing decline. But some may feel nervous about easing back into socialising again. Lee Chambers shares his tips:
- Be kind to yourself; it’s natural to feel anxious. Aim to go at your own pace, gradually pushing your boundaries of comfort in a way that doesn’t induce panic.
- Share how you are feeling with others and ask for support if you need it.
- Plan and prepare for activities so you feel more assured for the challenges you may face.
- Research and find out what places are doing to keep you safe, so you feel informed and more in control.
- Gradually start to build a routine around getting back to a place of relative normality.
5 activities to improve brain health
As we re-enter a new ‘normal’ and our daily routines begin to shift once again, experts share five activities to counteract the harmful effects of lockdown on our brain health:
- Being in love. Being in love was the number one recommended activity to improve brain health. Gaining the benefits of nature’s connection, physical exercise, creative expression and mindfulness can significantly improve brain health.
- Jigsaws. Puzzles are a cognitive challenge that positively works our brains. They help us find where the smallest pieces fit, while also seeing the bigger picture. Studies have shown puzzles can improve our cognitive function and our overall brain health.
- Dancing. Dancing strengthens many aspects of our bodies, but it’s also great for our minds, getting the brain-boosting benefits from exercise, and the memory and processing practice of coordination especially when it comes to learning new dances.
- Meditating. Just small amounts of meditation daily can have a big impact. It helps us disconnect and regenerate our brains and help us to sleep better at night.
- Learning a new language. While it is often seen as a young person’s game, learning a new language at any age boosts our brains memory and creativity, and can even delay mental decline in older age.
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