Lisa Stanton-Smith is our resident nutritionist here at Gisborne Health Essentials. In this article, Lisa talks us through the mental health impacts of the Australian bushfires and indeed any crisis, and what you can do both mentally and physically. With some practical, easy-to-implement ideas, you can ensure you maintain a healthy outlook even during challenging times.
Originally published here, this article has been republished with permission.
Like many Australian’s, 2020 has been a challenging start for us. On New Years Day a bushfire started a few hundred metres from our home in Sunbury. We spent most of the day checking updates as our town was in a Watch and Act alert. Thankfully, the wind moved the fire away from town, and thanks to fire-fighters it burnt a mere 100 hectares of land without any homes or lives destroyed. In a haze of smoke, over 15 million acres (6.3 million hectares) of land burnt throughout the rest of Australia. And it’s still burning.
Impact on mental health
It’s becoming more and more obvious that this environmental disaster is having devastating effects to our mental health. So many clients, colleagues and friends report feeling anxious, helpless, and deeply saddened by recent events. So I thought it a timely reminder to prompt all of us to go inward.
Having an effective stress management toolkit is essential to optimal health and wellbeing, and it’s something I often talk to my clients about. After all, poorly managed stress or mental health can have negative effects on our weight, gut health & immune system. Plus many of us tend to have poorer food choices when under heightened amounts of stress.
Meditation can help
As far as research is concerned, meditation is one of the most effective strategies in reducing stress. Meditation can be performed on its own or as part of a broader technique such as yoga. For those of you reading this who are type A personalities and find meditation ‘too hard’: trust me, it gets easier. Like most things, the more you persist with it, the greater the benefits. It’s important to note, that you don’t have to be amazing at meditation to reap its benefits however. It simply becomes easier to switch off and ‘just be’ once you’ve practiced a few times. For beginners, going to a guided meditation can be hugely helpful. For locals, Reflection Wellness in Gisborne do some great guided meditations, and Bodyfit do a weekly meditation by gold coin donation.
For those preferring a more private practice: there are now numerous apps which are worth checking out. Some of the most popular are Headspace, Calm, Smiling Mind & 10% Happier.
Try practicing gratitude
Still not convinced meditation is for you? The art of practicing gratitude is also hugely beneficial in reducing stress and overwhelm. There are different ways you can do this but whilst we are inundated with sad news stories I would highly recommend starting AND finishing your day with this exercise. Grab a journal and jot down 3 things you are grateful for right now. It can be as simple as having a roof over your head or clean water to drink. Really connect with why you are grateful for these things: what feelings pop up when thinking of these.
Other methods many people find helpful to mental wellbeing include music therapy: listening and singing to your favourite bands; time in nature (obviously away from fire areas); gifting random acts of kindness or getting a massage. Keeping up your exercise regime (perhaps modified to indoors when smoke is an issue), is also vital to your mental health. If there is something else you know that works for you – do this. We are each unique, and it’s important to honour your own body, in your own way.
With or without a state of disaster: these techniques really do make a difference to your wellbeing: both physically and mentally.
Please note: if you find yourself unable to shift out of a deep feeling of sadness or anxiety, it is important to reach out to your health practitioner to discuss. I am more than happy to provide suggestions of highly respected counsellors and psychologists both locally to the Macedon Ranges and Melbourne if required. I can also assist from a nutritional & general health perspective.