Research is coming out of China into the effects of lockdown on mental health during COVID. Additionally, a review in The Lancet offers an insight into the psychological outcomes for people in quarantine, including hospital staff.

Mental health during lockdown

While staying inside to keep our distance, it’s likely that people will develop a range of symptoms affecting their mental wellbeing. Unsurprisingly, these include stress, anxiety and insomnia. However the most common symptoms that stand out are low mood and irritability.

Studies in The Lancet’s review show poorer mental health specifically during longer periods of quarantine. Furthermore, they reveal anger, avoidance behaviour and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Additionally, it’s not surprising that participants in the studies express boredom and frustration.

Support for mental wellbeing during lockdown

The UK’s NHS website offers advice, guidance and 10 tips for maintaining good mental health while staying indoors. One of their tips is for mindful breathing. This involves breathing exercises which they say can help if you feel anxious or suffer with stress.

Integrating breathwork into a patient’s treatment plan is becoming increasingly popular. In fact, an article in Psychology Today helps you find out how controlling your breathing can play a role in your mental wellbeing. It refers to research with healthy adults participating in diaphragmatic breathing exercises. Results of the research show an improvement in sustained attention, a decrease in stress hormones and a more positive mood.

Another study in Frontiers in Psychology investigates the effect of diaphragmatic breathing on cognition, affect, and cortisol responses to stress. It illustrates the potential for diaphragmatic breathing practice to improve cognitive performance and reduce negative subjective and physiological consequences of stress in healthy adults. They refer to diaphragmatic breathing as involving the ‘contraction of the diaphragm, expansion of the belly, and deepening of inhalation and exhalation’.

Diaphragmatic breathing

POWERbreathe Inspiratory Muscle Training (IMT) targets the breathing muscles, mainly the diaphragm and intercostals. It exercises these muscles to make them stronger and more resistant to fatigue. It connects you with your diaphragm once again. Diaphragmatic breathing is the most efficient way of getting enough air into your lungs.

This type of breathing has two very important effects on your body, according to Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust:

On the contrary to chest breathing which results in a ‘fight or flight’ response, diaphragmatic breathing has a relaxing effect.

It is typical of the regenerating processes such as when you digest food, are asleep, or when the body is at peace. You can see it in the way babies and children breathe.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust

Health benefits of physical exercise

In addition to breathing exercises, it is well known that physical exercise has numerous and positive effects on mental health:

Managing your mental health in lockdown

Mental Health UK say it is completely normal to have feelings of stress or anxiety at this time. They also offer a few simple steps on their website for looking after your mental wellbeing. And if you do need to get urgent help for mental health, the NHS list free listening services on their website. There is also guidance on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of coronavirus (COVID-19) on the Public Health England website.