Box sets and comfort food might make you feel better, but a few routines could help keep your body happy

It might be boring, but setting a routine can reduce stress, ease anxiety and help you sleep.

Our lives have all been disrupted by COVID-19, resulting in a big surge in anxiety and issues of mental health.

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A recent study, carried out by researchers from the University of Essex, delivered some stark findings.

The team used data collected from nearly 12,000 people who, for many years, have been asked questions about their mental health, and found that almost a quarter of respondents reported experiencing at least one mental health problem during lockdown – up from 10 per cent in pre-crisis times.

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As they put it: “The scale of this deterioration in mental health is of a magnitude unlike anything we have seen in recent years.”

One way to cope with the challenges this crisis has thrown up is to find a routine and stick to it.

The temptation, when you are stressed, is to watch box sets and eat comfort food (and a survey carried out by King’s College, London, found that almost half the population have been doing just that during the lockdown). Though that may feel like what you want to do, in the long term it won’t do you any favours.

© Joe Waldron
© Joe Waldron

I feel strongly that, from the point of view of your mental health, ensuring you are getting enough quality sleep should be a priority, and when it comes to sleep it is essential that you establish a routine. You should start by setting a ‘sleep window’ – the time within which you are planning to sleep – and try to stick to it as closely as possible, seven days a week.

I aim to be in bed before 23:00 and up at 07:00. The first thing I do when I wake is to open the curtains and get a good dose of early morning light. This is important for resetting your internal body clock, which drives so much of what your body will do over the course of the next 16 hours.

After that, I do some resistance exercises, like squats and press-ups. I know that if I don’t do them first thing then I will almost certainly not get round to doing them at all. Resistance exercises build and preserve muscle, something that is particularly important as we age.

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Studies suggest that after the age of 30, people who don’t exercise lose up to 5 per cent of their muscle mass every decade. As well as making sure you look good on the beach, doing plenty of resistance exercise has been shown to be a great way of improving sleep quality.

At the start of lockdown I could do around 25 press-ups in one go, now it is 45. Which considering I am now 63 is pretty good going.

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Other routines that I try to stick to include going for an early morning walk (to get more light) and finishing my evening meal by 20:00 so I get in at least a 12-hour overnight fast every day. With a few routines in place, my body stays happy, which helps reduce stress in these challenging times.