The Pandemic and Mind-body Connection

31st March 2021

A year on from the start of the Pandemic, Kieran, one of our loyal packing team wanted to reflect, and talk about the great taboo of mental health in these times. At Lee Greens we know the importance of eating vegetables for our good health but we also acknowledge that looking after our brains is just as an important factor in our overall wellbeing. 

This month's anniversary of the UK’s first lockdown has been a poignant reminder of the toll of the pandemic. We remembered the more than 126,000 people who have lost their lives to the coronavirus and the millions of bereaved.

For the rest of us there have also been many kinds of losses. Life has changed and everyone has been affected. 

At a personal level, the latest lockdown in particular has impacted my mental health. One of the best ways I have found to counter low mood has been to take walks in my local parks. Getting outside and into the rhythm of my steps helps me emerge from rabbit holes of rumination and negative thinking. I get out of my often over-thinking head and back into my body. I feel a bit more balanced and connected to myself.

Usually I listen to a podcast, and, feeling a bit out of kilter last Friday, stuck on one of  my favourites, OnBeing. The interview with clinical psychologist Christine Runyan gave some good explanations as to why we may have been feeling disoriented during the last year. It centred on how living through pandemic, much of it spent socially isolated, has impacted our stress levels and nervous symptoms, disrupting our “mind/body connection’. It has literally been a nerve-racking year.

According to Runyan, when our nervous system is in balance we are at our “most integrated and creative and aligned with ourselves”.  But to have lived in the midst of an infectious and often lethal disease has been dysregulating. Our fight/flight systems, designed to protect us by alerting our body to threat, get triggered, potentially leading to high arousal states of anxiety, stress and fear. 

Signs of our nervous systems being dysregulated are also seen in self-protective  “freeze” responses, characterised by below baseline states of “apathy, detachment...and numbing”. We may have had low mood or productivity levels, or found it harder to get pleasure from the things that used to spark joy.

A further bind is that in lockdown we’ve been deprived of our core need for social connection and closeness. We’ve missed physical touch (hugs!), which release numerous “feel-good” chemicals which make us feel calmer, content, soothed and nurtured.Fist bumps just don’t cut it.

We tend to personalise our struggles and can easily start to blame ourselves for how we’re feeling. But in this unprecedented time, the ways we are feeling are, says Runyan: “a normal response to incredibly unfamiliar, unusual, unpredictable and uncontrollable circumstances.”  Honouring and naming the difficulty, has, at least for me, been really beneficial.

Kieran Mullens, Lee Greens Packing Team 

Header photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash