As far as Januaries go, this just might be the bleakest one on record. A year into the Covid-19 pandemic and we’re still locking down. And despite a vaccine slowly doing the rounds, the death rate continues to soar.
With many workers furloughed, unable to see friends and family and long since having exhausted our supply of puzzles, it’s understandable that even the normally stoic among us may be feeling the strain.
The World Health Organisation writes that: “Fear, worry, and stress are normal responses to perceived or real threats, and at times when we are faced with uncertainty or the unknown. So it is normal and understandable that people are experiencing fear in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Alongside the fear of contracting Covid-19, the WHO advises that changes to our daily lives such as temporary unemployment, home-schooling of children and lack of physical contact with family members can all have an impact.
According to The Health Foundation, 69% of UK adults report feeling worried about the effect COVID-19 is having on their life, while 56% of us are feeling anxious.
Thankfully, understanding of our mental health has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, and especially among men, meaning more of us are asking for help. This is especially important now, when the NHS notes that the pandemic has added to feelings of loneliness.
And while a multitude of factors can help you manage your mental health (including: exercise, talking to friends or a professional, getting enough sleep, eating well and cutting down on alcohol), the NHS recommends one simple tool to help boost your mood: listening to a good podcast.
“When you’re at home, entertaining radio shows or podcasts are a good way to occupy your mind and keep you company,” it advises.
In 2021 mental health podcasts are ubiquitous. To help you find your way through the wellbeing noise to the really good stuff, we put together our pick of the five best mental health podcasts out there, covering everything from better sleep to the lighter side of mental health.
Best For Seeing The Funny Side — The Mental Illness Happy Hour
US comedian Paul Gilmartin (HBO Comedy Showcase) turns his own struggled with mental health and addiction into a tool for good with this frank and often hilarious deep dive into the inner workings of our heads.
Utilising a long-form interview style, Gilmartin creates space to delve into difficult stories from guests including Tiffany Haddish, Tim Minchin and Jameela Jamil.
It isn’t all doom and gloom, Gilmartin brings a sardonic sense of humour to preceedings, creating what the New York Times has called “a perversely safe place in which he and his guests talk about their fears, addictions and traumatic childhoods.” Subscribe here.
Best for building happiness — The Happiness Lab
Some approaches to mental health posit that happiness is a choice. Sure, you need to address the issues weighing you down, but behavioural activation – that is, forcing yourself to do things you usually enjoy, even though you don’t feel like it – can play a part.
Here, Yale psychologist professor Dr. Laurie Santos examines the latest scientific research around happiness, with tips on how to cultivate the best happiness habits. Hint: it doesn’t entail bagging that pay rise or getting more Instagram likes.
With episodes including ‘The Power of a Made-Up Ritual’ and ‘How to Kick Bad Habits (and Start Good Ones)’, this is your first step to feeling the way you deserve to feel. Subscribe here.
Best for working on anxiety — The Anxiety Guy Podcast
Anxiety is horrible but, spoiler alert: it’s a completely normal emotion. Instead of trying to hide from it, we need to lean into it, acknowledge it, then let it go. Which of course is easier than it sounds.
This is where the Anxiety Guy comes in. Alias life coach Dennis Simsek, these 20 minute episodes each explore a different area of mental health, bringing in experts to discuss the latest theories, news and developments in the field.
With uplifting episodes exploring everything from inner peaces vs emotional suppression, the defence mechanisms holding you back from feeling good, and guided meditations for banishing negativity and anxiety, there’s plenty here to help you take control of your mind, instead of your mind controlling you. Subscribe here.
Best for recalibrating — Sleep With Me
Often, the answer to a busy mind isn’t more thinking and worrying, but slowing down and learning to calm our thoughts. The number one tool in your arsenal to do this is sleep. Hence the phrase ‘let me sleep on it’.
Of course, it’s often our stresses and worries that prevent us from getting to sleep in the first place, creating a vicious cycle of exhaustion and rumination.
Here, host Drew Ackerman takes a unique approach to helping you get to sleep. Instead of whale sounds and chanting, these hour-long sleep stories get increasingly mundane as they go on, essentially boring you to sleep. Which might just be genius. Subscribe here.
Best for focusing on the now — Mindful
Whatever your stresses, many mental health advocates believe the act of mindfulness can help us achieve peace. When we fully concentrate on the present moment we let go of regrets of the past, and worries of the future.
Still think mindfulness is wishy-washy nonsense? Get with the times, a whole wealth of research has proven its benefits for a happier and healthier body and mind, including improved life satisfaction.
That said, meditation is hard to get used to, and can be daunting to begin. With meditations as short as just four minutes long, Mindful will help to ease you in with sessions on everything from alleviating physical pain through meditation to dealing with loneliness. Subscribe here.
Read next: the actually useful guide to daily meditation.