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5 things to check in with yourself after a year of COVID

It’s been over 12 months since the world was flipped on its head. While we might say we’re OK, are we really? Naturopath Natalie McGrath has a few things you need to ask yourself about.

Can you believe it’s been 12 months since Australia was first impacted by COVID-19? It is a year we will not forget. Our lives have been affected in so many ways and it looks like things won’t completely return to the ways we used to live, at least for a while yet.

We are pre-programmed to detect changes in our environment, it’s our instincts working to keep ourselves safe. In the caveman days, we were always monitoring changes like listening out for saber-tooth tigers in the bushes and changes in food supply. In 2020, it wasn’t about saber tooth tigers but an invisible virus that we were wary of (and running out of toilet paper).

Understandably, COVID challenged many people’s perceived safety; from the fear of contracting the virus to the safety of friends and family, restrictions, home schooling, and the impact it has on work and all other areas of our lives.

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Here are five things we can check in with ourselves to see how we are coping.

Sleep

Did you know there is a new term used called COVID-somnia? In the past year, sleep neurologists have reported an increase in sleep disorders such as insomnia, night terrors, and the misuse of sleep medications.

When we are stressed, sleep is negatively affected. Basically, it comes down to our bodies not feeling safe enough to be asleep (again, those caveman instincts).

When we get enough sleep, we feel great, energised and revitalised and that’s because the body goes into rebuilding, repairing, detoxing, processing and regulating mode.

Sleep is involved in-memory processing, learning, immunity, mental relaxation, hormone regulation and repair of the body. So how much is ideal? It varies a little from person to person, but it’s generally between seven and nine hours.

Gut health

The functioning of the digestive system can send us messages on how well we are coping. All the systems in our bodies are affected by stress, particularly the digestive system.

When we are stressed the body will prioritise functions in our body and shut down others. If we are face-to-face with a saber tooth tiger, it’s probably not that important to digest those berries we just ate, so it’s down-regulated. As a result, digestive secretions are limited, the actual movement of the gut can be sluggish or sped up. This can create bloating, reflux, inflammation and general discomfort. It can cause constipation and looser bowel motions. Yep, anxiety poo is a real thing.

Diet

Many people have struggled with the post-lockdown clothing predicament. Have you got clothes in your wardrobe that are a little more snug? We lived most of lockdown in our trackies and yoga pants, but now we return to our normal attire and things aren’t quite the same.

In the past year, we saw a lot more snacking and a lot more baking. All that banana bread. A COVID study showed that 34 percent of participants declared an increase in total food intake, including 33 percent in confectionary intake, and 18 percent in alcohol intake.

Now is a great time to take note of what your diet is like, has it changed in the past year. By implementing some mindful eating habits it won’t take long to get back on track.

Mental health

One in five Australians suffer with mental health issues in a given year. The past year has been incredibly difficult for some, it’s possible these statistics could be higher. Indeed, Google searches of panic and anxiety attacks increased between March and May last year by 52 percent.

So check in with how you are feeling. Are you more irritable than normal? Are you increasingly tired? Have you lost interest in the things you used to enjoy? These can be signs that you could be struggling mentally and not quite coping. There is even a Coronavirus Anxiety Scale so you can measure your ‘corona phobia’.

Connection

Our connection with others is a cornerstone for wellbeing that often gets overlooked. It was a lonely time for many during covid. The restrictions have eased for some of us, but have we returned to how we used to connect before. Have you returned to the sports, hobbies and social events that you enjoyed? We may be out of practice and stuck in being at home mode but it’s such an important human thing for us to do to connect with our friends, family and community.

Take some time out, disengage with the busy world around you for a moment and get connected with yourself. Reflect on the above points. Are any relevant for you? Can you bring more well-being back into your life?

Natalie McGrath is a Perth-based naturopath, environmental biologist, lecturer, and speaker with over 16 years of experience specialising in women’s health.