Coping Mechanisms Best Strategies During Covid: Eat Well, Avoid Doomscrolling!
A healthy diet and avoiding stressful news helped prevent anxiety and depression during Covid, even better than interacting with friends, following a routine, or pursuing hobbies. A preliminary finding about diet was published earlier this year and the final findings are presented at the ECNP conference in Vienna, Austria.
The Covid-19 pandemic increased anxiety and depressive symptoms in the population. Health bodies recommended several behaviours to cope with them, but no studies had followed the effect of these behaviours on anxiety and depressive symptoms over time; there was no real evidence on how much they work. That is why a team of Barcelona-based researchers led by Dr Joaquim Radua decided to test what worked best.
The researchers followed 942 Spanish adults for one year. Every two weeks, the volunteers rated the frequency of ten selected coping behaviours and noted their levels of anxiety and depression. At the end of the period, the researchers analysed which behaviours at a given time were associated with fewer anxiety/depressive symptoms in the subsequent four weeks.
They found that some of the behaviours monitored were associated with coping better during the Covid pandemic. These included following a healthy/balanced diet, not reading news updates about Covid too often, physical exercise, staying outdoors, and drinking water. On the other hand, some behaviours that had been generally thought to be beneficial, such as talking with relatives or friends, or following a hobby, had a smaller influence on the mental health outcomes investigated in this study.
Dr Radua said, “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. 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. For example, in a previous pilot study, we found that those who followed a hobby showed less anxiety and depression. However, we did not know whether people first do hobbies and then feel relaxed/happy. Or conversely, people first feel relaxed/happy, and then these feelings make them follow hobbies. We wondered if, rather than the hobbies preventing depression, we were seeing that those who get depressed give up their hobbies. We also needed to correct the effect of past symptoms on future symptoms”.
He continued, “This shows what makes this study unique: it is based on evidence gathered over a long follow-up. We think it’s important that people continue to follow what works for them and that if you enjoy seeing friends or following a hobby, you continue to do so. However, on the basis of these results, we recommend that everybody follows a healthy/balanced diet, avoids watching stressful news too often, spends more time outdoors, does relaxing activities, and does physical exercise. Our work was centred on Covid, but we now need to see if these factors apply to other stressful circumstances. These simple behaviours may prevent anxiety and depression, and prevention is better than cure”.
This work was presented at the 35th European College of Neuropsychopharmacology annual conference in Vienna from 15-18 October.