Covid-19: Five ways to stay positive through lockdown
The last few months have been awful for so many people, with millions dealing with grief, stress, financial difficulties, job losses and isolation caused by the pandemic.
Now, a new lockdown in England and similar restrictions across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are adding to the gloom of winter - a season that can be tough for many people even in normal times. But the country's leading mental health experts say there are things that many of us can do to give ourselves a lift. Here are some of their tips.
Getting outdoors for exercise can be difficult in winter, but pretty much all experts agree that it's a great way to boost your mood. "Our minds and bodies are completely inseparable", says Dr Brendon Stubbs, of King's College London.
Exercise triggers the release of endorphins into the bloodstream, relieving pain and producing a feeling of well-being. Research by Dr Stubbs has also shown that exercise also increases electrical activity in the emotional processing areas of the brain, particularly the hippocampus and the pre-frontal cortex.
"It's vital to keep active to improve your mental health and stimulate your brain including those areas", he says. "If you don't exercise, the activity drops." That's one of the reasons why a lack of exercise increases your risk of anxiety and depression.
Exercise can also boost the production of a protein, BDNF, or brain derived neurotrophic factor, which is crucial for brain health.
"You can think of it as a kind of brain fertiliser - it helps parts of your brain regenerate," says Dr Stubbs. Even short periods of exercise - just 10 minutes - can help. "Anything that leaves you slightly out of breath, like a brisk walk, or something like gardening, or a cycle ride, will do."