A healthy diet and avoiding the news helped prevent anxiety and depression during Covid-19 — even better than interacting with friends, following a routine, or pursuing hobbies, researchers have found.
Dr Joaquim Radua led a team of Barcelona-based researchers who compared how various health activities could reduce anxiety and depression during the Covid pandemic.
The final findings were presented at the annual ECNP conference in Vienna this week.
The researchers saw that 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. So we decided to test what worked best,” said Radua.
The researchers followed 942 adults for one year. Every two weeks, the volunteers rated the frequency of 10 selected coping behaviours and noted their levels of anxiety and depression.
They found that some of the behaviours monitored were associated with coping better during the 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.
“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 Radua.
In a previous pilot study, the researchers 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,” they added.
On the basis of results, the researchers 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.
“The results suggested that healthy eating, avoiding stressful news, drinking water, staying outdoors and taking part in relaxing activities showed a protective effect on mental health during this stressful period,” said Professor Catherine Harmer, Director of the Psychopharmacology and Emotional Research Lab (PERL) at the University Department of Psychiatry in Oxford.