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It is well known at this point that physical exercise can benefit our mental health. We also may have experienced that when we are not feeling well mentally, e.g. when we are feeling anxious or depressed, it is more difficult to motivate ourselves to exercise. This paradox appears to have become more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A recent preprint (not yet peer-reviewed by an academic journal) surveyed over a 1,000 English-speakers (mostly Canadian) about their current mental health status and levels of physical activity between April-June of 2020. The authors found that physical activity was reduced in respondents whose mental health worsened during the pandemic. Conversely, people who engaged in less physical activity both during the pandemic, as well as before, also reported experiencing more anxiety and depression. There was also a shift in people’s motivations for engaging in physical exercise, with less of a focus on appearance and body image and more of a focus on stress relief and sleep quality. The study can not answer whether lack of exercise causes feelings of anxiety and depression or vice versa, but does highlight the interconnectedness of physical and mental health on overall wellbeing.
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Our ability to recognize the emotional states of others, particularly non-verbally, is essential for meaningful social interactions and interpersonal relationships. Some people are more attuned and sensitive to nonverbal displays of emotions than others and this difference appears to have an impact on our response to and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A recent study published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science surveyed people from Germany, Switzerland, and Australia (N = 469) within the first two weeks of lockdown. Participants completed an emotion recognition task and were asked about their current emotional wellbeing and responses to COVID-19 related media coverage. They found that an ability to correctly recognize the emotions of others through facial expressions and sounds was associated with fewer negative emotions and less emotional burden during the shutdown. Greater emotion recognition did not predict more positive feels, simply less negative feelings. Furthermore, the relationship was mediated by the amount of COVID-19 related media a person consumed; that is, people with higher emotional recognition abilities consumed less COVID news, which led them to feel less negative. Those who weren’t as good at recognizing nonverbal emotions in others still felt less negatively if they adapted certain emotion regulation strategies, like reappraising their situation.
The takeaway: Knowing how you respond to others might help you figure out the right coping strategies for you during this period of social isolation.
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Throughout time and place, music maintained an important place in our lives because of how it makes us feel good. Two recent preprints found evidence that musical activities (both playing and listening to music) was also beneficial for wellbeing during the early-stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. In both studies, people from all over the world, including countries in Western Europe, South America, North America, and Asia, completed online, self-report surveys that asked about their current activities, goals, personality, and basic demographic information. Music was found to be more effective than similar enjoyable activities like eating, reading, exercising, and watching TV, for achieving certain wellness goals, such as maintaining a positive mood, venting negative emotions and connecting with one’s self. This link between music and wellbeing was for the most part, persisted across gender, age, and culture. Furthermore, the hours people spent engaging with musical activities during the pandemic was associated with less distress and less depression, which again, was not found with other, similar activities. These findings suggest that for many people, musical engagement during times of crisis is a good way of maintaining and promoting wellbeing.
You can read more from these two manuscripts here. As they are preprints, they are still under peer review, so keep in mind that some details may change upon publication.