Eating a balanced diet and avoiding stressful news reports helped protect mental health during COVID pandemic

Throughout the course of the COVID pandemic many of us experienced increased feelings of anxiety and depression. According to the Office of National Statistics, around one in five adults in the UK experienced some form of depression at the height of the pandemic. This compares to around 1 in 10 before the pandemic.

We all coped with the challenges of the pandemic in different ways, but eating a healthy diet and not watching too many stressful news reports may have been the best way of staving off anxiety and depression, a study carried out by researchers in Barcelona suggests.

To make the discovery, the researchers had almost 1,000 adult Spanish volunteers note their levels of anxiety and depression, along with the free-time activities they carried out for one year during the COVID pandemic.

When presenting their findings at the 35th European College of Neuropsychopharmacology annual conference in Vienna, the team reported that following a healthy, balanced diet and not reading news updates about COVID too often were most associated with coping better with the pandemic. Taking regular exercise, going outdoors and relaxing were also seen to have a benefit.

However, some behaviours that were widely recommended to be beneficial, such as talking with relatives or friends, or spending time on a hobby, had a much smaller effect.

“This was a little surprising. Like many people, we had assumed that personal contact would play a bigger part in avoiding anxiety and depression during stressful times,” said lead researcher Dr Joaquim Radua, of the Institut d’investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer, Barcelona.

“The relationships between behaviours and symptoms were difficult to tease out because we were looking at what happens over time rather than just at a single moment of analysis.

Though the study is yet to be fully peer-reviewed, it could provide a valuable insight into how we can better cope with stressful situations.

“Our work was centred on COVID, but we now need to see if these factors apply to other stressful circumstances,” said Radua. “These simple behaviours may prevent anxiety and depression, and prevention is better than cure.”

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