Lockdown has revolutionised the structure of our days. As our capacity to socialise and experience outdoor living is restricted, much of the UK has adopted practices, hobbies and habits that work to safeguard our mental health and boost cognitive function.
Here, behavioural specialist Lauren Woolnough at the entertainment brand SoapHub reveals the 5 most popular anxiety easing and cognitive boosting habits that we have adopted in lockdown by analysing google trend data. Also, Woolnough presents the science behind how they ease anxiety and boost cognitive function, whilst giving her thoughts on why each habit is sure to outlive lockdown.
Piecing it together – 3,333% lift
According to Google Trend Data, the search term 1000-piece puzzle has received a 3,333% uplift within the last 3 months alone as the UK reaches for time consuming products that stir a sense of nostalgia and comfort. However, according to Woolnough, the nation soon realised that completing jigsaw puzzles is not just a method to pass the time whilst we self-isolate. ‘Completing a puzzle works our visuospatial function’, says Woolnough. ‘Visuospatial function refers to the cognitive processes that are required to recognize, integrate, and assess space and structure within multiple dimensions. Put simply, regularly completing puzzles is scientifically proven to improve special awareness, enhance the speed of visuospatial processing and boost concentration’.
According to Woolnough, puzzles can also aid in easing anxiety. ‘When working on a puzzle, your brain releases the neurotransmitter Dopamine. When the brain releases Dopamine, it signals to the body to repeat the action that is encouraging its release. It is for this reason that many find puzzles relaxing – and addictive’.
‘Puzzles are a great option for people who struggle to focus when practicing the likes of meditation. They encourage you to focus on the present moment and allow for the distractions of your surroundings to pass as you consistently refocus on the task in hand. If you find that working from home is full of distractions and cannot focus, completing puzzles is a great option for you’.
‘I predict that the puzzle industry will continue to boom post lockdown. The Uk is getting creative with their efforts and instead of breaking them up when they are completed, people are choosing to frame them and even gift them. In addition, they no longer present stuffy pictures. Major fashion houses are producing puzzles along with leading food retailers and artists.’
The practice of Meditation – 8000% lift
Lockdown has seen a huge 8000% rise in the search term how to practice meditation. It is no secret that meditation encourages relaxation however, it also boosts concentration and increases the attention span. Mindfulness in mediation is not a millennial phenomenon. It is an exercise that has been in place for thousands of years and refers to the practice of being consciously present in the current moment.
‘Research has revealed that meditation enhances counter habitation, the ability to reserve paying attention to new happenings and noises that occur in your surroundings’, says Woolnough. ‘Amazingly, the nutrients of your meditation practice that help to improve the attention span can last for up to 5 years’.
‘Regularly committing to the practice of meditation can reduce symptoms of stress long term. Persistent meditation lessens the activity in the brains amygdala whilst enhancing the links between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. This supresses the body’s symptoms that act as a response to stress. Meditation also quickens the fall of cortisol when it spikes, allowing the body to return to its natural state after it encounters stress.’
‘I predict that those who have adopted the practice of meditation throughout lockdown will continue to implement the practice throughout their day. It fast becomes a necessity and does not need to take long. Just 10 minutes of meditation can radically transform your day.
The year of Netflix binging
Watching your favourite TV shows also releases Dopamine. ‘Dopamine is supplied by the hypothalamus, otherwise referred to as the brains ‘pathway to reward’ says Woolnough. ‘Dopamine plays an instrumental role in motivation and incentive in fact, when we achieve an objective or goal, the sudden feeling of euphoria is partly due to a sudden spike in our Dopamine levels. As you feel a sense of euphoria, dopamine tells the brain that you are enjoying the activity and you should continue practicing it. This can cause you to crave watching your favourite TV show as your brain yearns for the release of dopamine’.
‘There is some truth to the expression, ‘that show is addictive, so I binged watched the series.’ Dopamine isn’t exclusively accountable for addiction however, as it’s released via the reward pathways of the brain, it plays an instrumental role in why we do what we do and take the actions we take.’
Outdoor workouts -197.73 lift
‘There are huge benefits to working out outside as oppose to indoors’, says Woolnough. ‘Exercising outside can feel less laborious as research reveals that its lowers blood pressure as well as heart rate.’
‘Of course, as we spend more time indoors, exercising outside serves as an opportunity to top up our levels of Vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D can contribute to fatigue, a low immune system and even low mood. As lockdown plays havoc with our sleeping patterns, working out outdoors can aid in our sleep hygiene. Understandably, any activity that will boost our immune system is the current climate can only be a good thing.’
‘Gyms will continue to be closed for the foreseeable future. When they open, I predict that people will mix up their outdoor exercise for the gym and PTs will take their sessions outdoors on a more permanent basis’.
A change in friendship dynamics – 2,766% rise
The search term How to use Zoom has seen a 2,766% uplift in searches throughout Lockdown. As many participate in online quizzes and even digital drinks, individuals are finding that they
are speaking to their friends and family more than ever.
According to Woonough, there is a science behind why talking to friends and family makes you feel good. ‘Catching up with people that you love reduces the cortisol levels in the body. Studies have revealed that participants experienced less anxiety when placed in stressful situations if they were surrounded by their loved ones. A study conducted by Harvard University analysed 5,000 people over the course of 20 years. The study revealed that a person’s happiness moves through their social circles, as far as the three degrees of separation. The impact of this can last for up to one year’.
‘Pre lockdown, a common conversation around the globe was the possibility that technology was taking over and that we are all glued to our screens. A positive outcome of self-isolation is that much of the population has recognised the importance of human interaction and checking in with loved ones. This is sure to outlive lockdown as many are keen to socialise and not take company for granted’.
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