More than one-third of Americans say COVID-19 is impacting their mental health. It comes as no surprise. And nearly two-thirds believe the pandemic has had a serious impact on their day-to-day lives, according to a national poll conducted last month by the American Psychiatric Association. Quarantine amplifies loneliness, anxiety and depression.
Don’t misunderstand. I am not one of those people who are saying that we shouldn’t stay at home. We still need to maintain these habits until the pandemic is under control. And those people who are out there protesting the stay-at-home orders are simply foolish to put their lives and the lives of others at risk. Just the other day as an MSNBC reporter who was wearing a face mask was doing a live shot from a beach in California, a man—I would guess to be in his mid to late 60s—walked straight up to him, without a mask on, and shouted to the reporter to take that damn mask off.
Yes, we are all on edge, but there is little excuse for the behaviors we are seeing all around us. Shoppers yelling at security guards who politely ask them to wear a mask before heading into a supermarket, which is mandatory here in Los Angeles County.
Mental health experts agree that it’s important to pay attention to routines, beginning with a healthy and balanced diet. When we are under stress, our bodies actually needs to consume more calories just to process the information and function. And in these times, we are turning to more comfort foods, such as mac and cheese and cookies than we normally do. And that’s bad.
The American Psychological Association reported 38% of Americans attribute unhealthy or excessive eating to stress in a given month, and that study was done prior to COVID-19.
In human and animal studies, according to the Harvard Neuroscience Institute, diets high in sugar and simple carbohydrates result in the shrinkage of the brain.
So what should we be eating and snacking on?
In 2017, researchers conducted the “SMILES” trial, which showed that when people consumed a Mediterranean-based diet with guidance from a clinical dietician, they showed a marked improvement in symptoms of depression.
The Mediterranean diet is ideal for mental wellness, because the foods are high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, which are commonly found in nuts, fish and olive oil. The idea is to feed the gut microbiome, eat nutrient dense plants and seafood, and avoid processed foods, simple carbs and simple sugars.
A Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce the risk for depression by about 30% according to Science Daily. Superfoods such as dark chocolate, kale and lentils are also known to improve mood.