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Beating the lockdown blues

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Beating the lockdown blues

“We are conducting arguably the largest psychological experiment ever,” wrote clinical psychologist and stress expert Dr Elke Van Hoof in April 2020, when 2.6 billion people around the world were plunged into some form of lockdown or quarantine due to COVID-19.1 One year on, the mental health impact of the pandemic and its control measures is just beginning to be seen. 

According to a recently published study of eight countries, the COVID-19 pandemic is associated with “highly significant levels of psychological distress,” with soaring rates of stress, anxiety and depression being reported in the general population.2 This is bad news for physical health too, as stress, anxiety and depression are known to wreak havoc on the immune system.3

To coincide with Stress Awareness Month, we’ve put together a guide to some simple strategies for beating stress—all supported by scientific evidence. They’re not a substitute for seeking professional help if you need it, but these lifestyle changes and natural therapies can help keep stress levels at bay during the pandemic and beyond. 

Go outdoors

Spending time outdoors, especially in green spaces, appears to reduce stress.4 And combining it with exercise may bring even bigger benefits. In fact, ‘green exercise,’ exercising in nature, is associated with better mental wellbeing compared to exercising indoors, with immediate positive effects.5 

So go for a walk in your local park, field or forest as much as you can, or take up gardening, to keep stress levels in check. (And see page 65 to find out about health and beauty brand Weleda’s 100 Places in Nature project.)

Try aromatherapy

Aromatherapy, the use of aromatic essential oils to boost wellbeing, may help ease stress. Lavender aromatherapy has been found to reduce salivary stress markers.6 And lavender aromatherapy combined with massage has been reported to be beneficial for work stress and burnout.7 Check out Neom, Tisserand and AromaWorks—brands offering a brilliant range of aromatherapy products using 100 percent natural essential oils.

Get a pet

Obviously, the decision to get a pet shouldn’t be taken lightly, but pet ownership has been associated with improved mental health,8 and just petting a dog or cat for 10 minutes can significantly reduce stress levels.9  According to Unnati G. Hunjan, a psychologist, animal-assisted therapist and founder of Therapeutic Paws in India, companion animals are especially beneficial during the pandemic as not only do interactions with them provide a source of respite from daily stressors, but they also release chemicals that can boost the immune system and enhance health and wellbeing.3

Eat well

High stress levels may well have you reaching for the cake, chips and chocolate, but unhealthy eating can make stress even worse.10 Instead, stick to a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet, especially focusing on foods rich in prebiotics, probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids, as these appear to have anti-stress effects.11 See the box below for some ideas.

Foods to fight stress






Fatty fish






Flax seeds



Chia seeds

Raw garlic


Hemp seeds






Seaweed and algae



Several nutritional supplements appear to have anti-stress effects:

Vitamin C. Research suggests this vitamin helps normalize stress hormone levels.12 In a study of young adults, those taking vitamin C for two weeks had better mental and physiological responses to a psychological stress test compared to those taking a placebo.13

Suggested dosage: 1  g three times/day

Omega-3s. Docosahexaenoic acid or DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, has been found to prevent increased aggression at times of mental stress.14 And medical students taking it during a nine-week period of final exams had reduced levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine.15

Suggested dosage: 1.5–1.8 g/day

Multivitamins. Several studies suggest that taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement can help with stress.16 In one, there was a significant reduction in stress, anxiety and depression as well as an improvement in alertness and general day-to-day wellbeing in the multivitamin group.17

Suggested dosage: follow the label instructions

Opt for adaptogens

Adaptogens, nontoxic plants that help the body adapt to stress—whether physical, emotional or environmental—are a great option if you’re struggling to cope. It’s best to consult with a practitioner to work out what’s right for you, especially if you’re on medication, but here are some of the top ones to look into.

Rhodiola rosea. Extracts of this wonder herb have been found to reduce stress and fatigue, ease mild to moderate depression and boost mental and physical performance.18

Suggested dosage: 200 mg twice daily of a standardized herbal extract

Ashwagandha, a celebrated Ayurvedic remedy known as rasayana, meaning rejuvenate, has proven stress-relieving and anti-anxiety effects.19

Suggested dosage: 240 mg/day

Panax ginseng, also known as Korean red ginseng or Asian ginseng, is known to regulate the hormonal changes that are triggered by stress.20 A study of people with high stress levels found that those taking Korean red ginseng had significant reductions in the stress hormone epinephrine and improvements in cognition.21 It’s also been reported to improve feelings of calmness.22

Suggested dosage: 200–400 mg/day

Take up yoga

Numerous studies show that practicing this mind-body technique can slash stress and anxiety. In a review of 35 trials, 25 of them found that stress or anxiety symptoms reduced after a yoga program was implemented.23

Check out regular WDDTY contributor Charlotte Watts’ yoga course for stress and anxiety via

Consider acupuncture

This traditional Chinese technique can reduce stress levels—and it’s not just a placebo effect, as skeptics often claim. When a group of highly stressed college students and workers were treated with either acupuncture or fake acupuncture once a week for three months, while both groups initially enjoyed similar decreases in stress levels, the true acupuncture group reporter significantly greater reductions three months after the treatment ended.24

Acupuncture has also been found to reduce stress, depression and anxiety in the elderly.25

To find a qualified acupuncturist near you visit


Meditation is a well-known tool for easing stress. And a recent study of Italian teachers during the pandemic concluded that it can “effectively mitigate the psychological negative consequences of the Covid-19 outbreak,” especially in vulnerable individuals.26 If you’re new to meditation, YouTube is a great resource for simple, guided meditation exercises to get you started, or check out or for a range of books and audio downloads on the subject.

Try  tai chi

Regular practice of this ancient Chinese mind-body technique, which combines deep breathing and relaxation with gentle movements, is proven to reduce stress as well as anxiety, depression and mood swings.27 Qigong, a related technique, is also an effective stress-reduction therapy.28 Look online for tai chi or qigong classes near you, if restrictions allow, or for a virtual course.   




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J Ginseng Res, 2017; 41: 589–94


J Ginseng Res, 2019; 43: 402–7


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Altern Med Rev, 2012; 17: 21–35


J Acupunct Meridian Stud. 2017 Jun;10(3):165-170


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