In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, self-care and emotional wellness are key. Two Mediclinic experts weigh in.

Gaining weight, feeling sluggish, burnt out, unmotivated or unable to focus? Don’t wait until disease or depression sets in – take care of yourself the minute you sense something is off.  Self-care isn’t just about taking time out; you also need to be proactive about your physical and mental health.

“Preventive care aims to mitigate a future decline in health, to not only prolong life but also improve quality of life,” says Dr Chris Pannell, a GP at Mediclinic Kloof. “COVID-19 showed us how general health and factors like obesity, uncontrolled hypertension and diabetes can worsen outcomes from acute illness. By taking care of your health now, you reduce your chances of serious illness in the future.”

Dr Pannell adds that early detection and treatment of disease reduces the chance of complications later on. Healthy people under age 50 should have check-ups at least once every three years, those over 50 should schedule annual visits, and people with chronic diseases should check in with their healthcare providers even more frequently.

Mental health matters

Wellness encompasses far more than your physical health. “In today’s stressful world, caring for your whole self, including your emotional life, is more important than ever,” says Dr Mokgadi Setwaba, a clinical psychologist at Mediclinic Limpopo.

“Nurturing your emotions and processing any frequent negative emotions can help you decrease stress, calm your nervous system, cope with tough situations, and boost your mood. By practising emotional self-care, you will give yourself a head start in leading a happier, healthier life.”

Physical and mental health are clearly interrelated. “It’s long been known that psychological factors affect other medical conditions,” says Dr Pannell. That’s why a holistic healthcare approach is vital.

“By approaching a patient as an individual – with a body, mind, emotions and spirit – within a family and community, instead of just a constellation of symptoms, we get to a deeper understanding of the root causes and underlying issues that may be contributing to physical and mental health issues.”

The stress cycle

“Everyone reacts to stress differently and it affects us in different ways,” says Dr Setwaba. Besides affecting you mentally, it can also affect your physical health. This may lead to:

  • Increased blood pressure and uncontrolled diabetes
  • Higher risk of heart disease,
  • Gastrointestinal problems (diarrhoea, heartburn, stomach ulcers, etc.)
  • Headaches
  • Back or neck pain

“Nurture healthy relationships with friends and family to improve your mental wellbeing.”

Dr Chris Pannell, GP at Mediclinic Kloof.

Practical self-care tips

Both Dr Pannell and Dr Setwaba agree that a healthy lifestyle is the key to an effective self-care routine:

  • Eat right, limit alcohol, and don’t smoke. “Avoid diet fads and aim for dietary changes with proven benefits, such as increasing your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, fibre, lean meats and healthy fats,” says Dr Pannell. “Limit highly processed and sugary foods, which are bad for your physical health as well as your emotional wellbeing.” Drink enough water to stay well hydrated, limit alcohol intake and avoid smoking.
  • Exercise regularly. Aim for at least 150 minutes per week. Combine aerobic, strength, and mobility training.
  • Start your day mindfully. Ease into your morning with a short yoga, slow breathing, or meditation practice, and/or writing down what you’re grateful for. These are ways to calm yourself and self-reflect.
  • Get adequate sleep. Lack of sleep or low-quality sleep has a big effect on how you feel the next day. It can make you more irritable, as well as reduce your concentration. Seven to nine hours of sleep is recommended for adults.
  • Reduce screen time. Spend time in nature instead, ensuring you have adequate sun protection. Make time for hobbies and personal interests.
  • Ask for help.Nurture healthy relationships with friends and family to improve your mental wellbeing. Ensure you have someone you can confide in when you feel stressed or negative feelings are piling up. If you’re concerned about your mental health, seek help from a medical or mental healthcare professional.

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