Updated: Feb 1, 2021
In this article I am hoping to share the tips, techniques and practices that we have learned from the first and second lockdowns as we proceed into and through lockdown 3. As we move into 2021 there are many coping mechanisms that we can learn from and a few that we can probably agree to leave in 2020 (food and toilet paper hoarding).
Protecting and promoting your own mental health is more important now than ever, we are all trying our best to get through this pandemic healthy, hopeful and safe.
It may sound pessimistic or negative to remind yourself of the realities of living under pandemic restrictions but hopefully you will see that it is not, it is merely a way of accepting the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves living in and releasing ourselves from excessive "doing" at this time. We are not on holiday, we have not been given a reprieve from our normal responsibilities and tasks, we are still required to do most, if not all of them. Quarantining is not our normal and it is not the way we want to live and work, however, at the moment it is what is required to keep us safe and well. The following recommendations are a selection of practices and ideas from many wellbeing and mental health professionals, including myself.
Reality checks and setting the bar low.
In the 1st and 2nd lockdown, it seemed fashionable and even fun to post on social media and write about the amount of tasks and "stuff" you were getting done now that you had all this free time at home. People were posting that while they were still working virtually for 40+ hours a week they were managing to home school several children, cook Michelin starred meals, learn how to speak Japanese and do several online workout classes a day...
I think that we have learned to set the expectation bar much lower. There seems to be a general acceptance that we are all trying to just get through this experience and keep ourselves and our families safe, healthy and as well as possible.
In lockdown 3, people should not be overloading themselves with unrealistic tasks and demands that are both unnecessary and unmanageable during a global pandemic. Many experts such as, resilience specialist Dr Kristen Neff, suggests that instead of aiming to get everything on your checklist done in a day try - to be content when the core tasks are completed: the dinner is on the table, most of the school work is completed, you managed to attend your work webinars, and everyone is safe.
Normalizing feelings and keeping a realistic perspective.
Mental health experts have agreed that keeping things in perspective and normalizing how we are all feeling is very important. Brene Brown, suggests that having honest "check in" conversations with your close support group is vital to keeping a realistic perspective of our current circumstances - telling each other how we are actually feeling during the day, actually naming the feeling, not making everything sound positive and rosy especially when we are not really feeling it. Knowing it is ok to say you are scared, frustrated, angry, sad, panicked or tearful - we are dealing with a pandemic that has changed almost every aspect of how we live our lives - we are not supposed to be ok. Feelings that are pushed away and buried have a way of wriggling their way loose, so naming them and giving them some space actually helps to deal with them and diminish their negative effects.
Enjoy the first 30 minutes of the day.
The Mind Medic, Dr Vohra suggests protecting your first 30 minutes after you wake up - avoiding social media, newsfeed, work emails and phone calls that can alter how you feel and behave going into the day. The alternative is to spend your first 30 minutes enjoying your coffee/tea, going for a walk, watering your plants or savouring your shower and choosing how to meet your day.
Making and adhering to a (realistic) daily routine.
It has been found that having a realistic routine to follow helps you to feel more grounded and less stressed and anxious. Routines afford our mind and body a sense of normality - setting a realistic wake
time and bed time, meal times and time to spend outdoors can be hugely beneficial to wellbeing.
Breaking up the week.
Monday: Get a take away dinner from a local business.
Tuesday: Have a zoom lunch with some of your friends or family.
Wednesday: "Fancy Meal"- make dinner an event, use your "good" table-wear, light a candle, savour the time, the setting and the person or people you are eating with.
Thursday: Allow yourself some extra sleep.
Friday: The end of the work week, organise a call or a zoom with family and friends- maybe a virtual game night or maybe you want a quiet night no screens, no phones just time to be still.
Sleep a little longer...
Allowing yourself to go to bed earlier or wake up a little later has been proven to be very beneficial. "Extra" sleep can help to reduce the amount of anxiety you may experience and may also aid in digestion, mood regulation and reducing blood pressure.
Avoid reading and watching more than 20 minutes of news a day.
Watching the news or reading about the news for more than 20 minutes a day can leave many people in a heightened sense of anxiety and trigger the fight, flight and freeze response. Many people find the news and being constantly reminded of the deadly pandemic, unemployment, illness and mayhem both overwhelming and panic provoking. The suggestion is that watching or reading just the news highlights - just enough information that you are up to date should be sufficient.
If you are someone who finds the news overwhelming and anxiety provoking using the idea of a palate cleanser has been very useful. For example, you watch the news and are up to date with restrictions and government advice but before you go to bed or move into your next activity, change the channel and watch something silly like, Modern Family or Friends for 5 or 10 minutes - this will allow your frame of mind to change from anxiety and stress to more balanced and open-minded.
Everyday, no matter the weather or your mood just go outside. Spend some time outdoors, walking, biking, listening to the birds or just wandering around your local neighbourhood, park or woods. The important part is that you do it everyday, 15 minutes or more, it can help to regulate your mood, avoid aches pains and it can and aid in better digestion and improved sleep.
Keep your daily goals small.
Having a sense of accomplishment is important, particularly at the moment when you may be between jobs and unable to continue with your previous plans and goals. Keeping your daily goals small is useful in maintaining your mental health and allowing you to feel that you are still moving forward and taking care of yourself. Small goals could be: time outdoors everyday, savouring a meal, connecting to family and friends, time for something fun/silly, researching for future goal, taking care of weekly budget, changing the sheets and covers on your bed, making your kids laugh and organising your work station.
Set time aside to check in with how you are feeling and improve your self-awareness.
Self-awareness, in my opinion is like a Jedi skill. Knowing yourself as well as you know your best friend, warts and all, is a very powerful tool to have in times where resilience, empathy, patience and focus is required. Becoming more aware of what you feel, where you feel it and how you manage those feelings and sensations are all part of becoming self-aware. Setting some time aside everyday to check in with yourself either by meditating or journaling are very useful methods for cultivating awareness and maintaining a balanced perspective on yourself, your life and the current pandemic.
Keep in touch with friends.
Stay in regular contact with your friends and family that make you laugh and that you can be real with. People with whom you can say how you really feel and that can make you laugh even while we are all in lockdown 3.0 (it is not to say that we need to ignore people in our lives who may not be as fun or jokey, it is just to remember that boosting our own spirits is extra important at the moment).
Be kind to yourself.
We are all doing our best and we have good days and bad days. It is ok to be scared, angry, frustrated, tearful and anxious. We are all worried about the future- our education, job prospects, money, health, housing, Brexit, family, travel and much much more. One of the things we share in common is a desire to be free of Covid-19 and all we can do to achieve that is physically distance ourselves from others, wear masks, stay home as much as possible and be kind to each other.