Things have been fairly strange for everyone lately, but any time of stress or uncertainty can take its toll on our mental health. Now more than ever, it’s really important to keep an eye on our wellbeing and to do what we can to protect our mental health.
Here are some tips for protecting your mental health during hard times
Many of these tips are taken from a series of videos I created entitled “Tips for surviving social isolation.” If you would like to watch the whole series of 18 videos, take a look at the video section of my Facebook page or my IGTV channel.
It sounds so boring to say “stick to a routine” and many people, when faced with no morning commute or school run, will immediately opt to drop all sense of routine. Here’s the thing though: human beings do well with a routine. We all know that children thrive with a routine and boundaries within which they can experiment. At school there is a predictable daily routine. In care homes, there is a predictable daily routine. If you were at work, you would most probably have some form of routine. Even if you only implement a loose morning routine, put something in place to mark the passing of time through each day. It can really help, especially if you have struggled with mental health concerns in the past.
When we’re out and about on a day to day basis, we may see hundreds of different faces over the course of the day – and we will have interactions with many of them too. This can range from a friendly chat at the school gates, to office meetings, to being served in a shop or perhaps socialising in a bar or cafe. When you’re in a position where those things are not happening, it’s easy to get to the end of a day or even a week and realise that you have seen fewer than five different faces each day. If you live alone, you may not have seen anyone at all. Often we are not overtly aware of this lack of human interaction, until we bump into a friend in the street and have a chat, and walk away buzzing from having had a proper conversation!
The answer to this is to be more intentional about connecting with people. Perhaps make it a part of your routine to call a different person each day, or arrange video calls with friends. Even just sending texts or voice notes to friends can make a difference.
Many people thinking about therapy will think of a similar scene to The Sopranos – secretively heading off to a small, beige room to speak to someone in business attire about your problems. But The Sopranos is twenty years old now, and times have moved on. These days you can access therapy online, from the comfort of your own home, and the cost might be more reasonable than you would expect.
There is much less of a stigma attached to the idea of going to therapy these days; many people see it as a part of regular healthcare, like a trip to the dentist. Speaking to a therapist can really help when times are challenging.
I am a big fan of meditation, and aim to meditate for at least twenty minutes every day. When times are stressful or I feel like I have too much to do, I try to meditate more because I know my brain needs that extra down time in order to keep up.
Meditation doesn’t have to mean sitting in the lotus position chanting Om; there are plenty of accessible guided meditations that are freely available. I love the Insight Timer app for this sort of thing. And if you’re put off by the idea of “meditation” just call it mindfulness instead, and spend five minutes paying attention to your breath. I demonstrated a really simiple mindfulness technique in this video.
Often when we’re stressed or not feeling our best, movement is the first casualty. I’ll often tell myself I’m too busy or stressed to fit in a workout, and then spend extra time on social media complaining that I’m stressed instead! Find ways to move your body whenever you can, even if it’s not strictly “a workout.” If you feel rubbish and don’t want to work out, even just doing ten squats while you wait for the microwave to cook your ping meal is better than not bothering at all!
Journaling is one of those things that people either love or think is a total waste of time. I find that journaling is a great way of ordering my thoughts, figuring out how I feel about a particular situation. Also if there’s a lot going on in your head, getting it all out and written down can really help to clear your mind before going to sleep.
Gratitude is one of those things that perhaps seems a little daft – but it can make a marked difference to your move. You can train your brain to look for the positives in situations, by purposefully looking for something to be grateful for each day. Anyone who follows me on social media will be familiar with my daily gratitude posts; if I’m having a hard time, sitting down and forcing myself to look for something good in my day can really help to remind me that there are positives out there.
The Internet is a very loud place at the best of times; there is a lot of content out there, and a great deal of it is negative. The content we consume has an impact on our mental wellbeing, whether positively or negatively. If you find that you are struggling mentally, it might be a good time to unfollow or mute people on social media, or perhaps commit to spending less time there. I curate my social media so that I’m not inundated with negativity all the time, and where it might cause problems to unfollow or unfriend someone, I will mute or snooze their posts instead. When it comes to the news, I avoid it completely and find that my life is actually enriched by its absence. If you don’t feel you can go as far as to avoid all news, perhaps try to get into the habit of only watching or listening to the headlines, and not getting caught up in the opinion and commentary that make up most of news programmes these days.
Much of the stress and upset in our lives comes from feeling that we have no choice or control over a given situation. There’s a saying that our stress comes not from the situation but the way we react to it – which is true, but difficult to consider when we’re in the midst of a stressful situation. There are many things in our lives that we can’t control, but it is always beneficial to look for the things we can control. Our attitude is one thing, though that takes a little practice. You may be in a stressful situation with a family member or work colleague, and perhaps the only control you have is to put a boundary in place regarding when you will and will not interact with them. There is always a choice to be made, and in making that choice we take back some control over the situation.